Review by: D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review – May 2023
Livingsky is the story of a woman both on the run and investigating those who are invested in keeping their lives secret, injecting its tale with thriller components. It also covers the special challenge of returning home, as Merry Bell returns to Livingsky, Saskatchewan to open her own PI business and start over financially and professionally.
Her first case involves an arson investigation that quickly grows into a series of conundrums to test her investigative prowess and personal boundaries.
The story opens not with Merry, but with fellow PI Nathan Sharpe’s surprise late-night visitor—Merry’s roommate, Julia Turner. Nathan would do anything for Merry, but the news Julia delivers isn’t something to help Merry, but implicates her in a murder case and tests Nathan’s resolve and convictions about Merry’s character.
In short order, Merry’s desire to return home to make money and open a branch of Sharpe Investigations challenges Nathan to either step up and support her or contest her reasons for leaving Vancouver, a city she loves, for the relative backwoods of Livingsky.
His decision to support her leads Merry on a journey through the undercurrents of Saskatchewan, which are revealed to readers as Merry’s case leads her through unexpected routes of discovery in both social issues and crime:
“Within the invisible but very real boundaries of Alphabet City, where Merry was soon to take up residence, it was widely known that the poor, the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, were routinely taken advantage of. Merry herself had just begun to experience the bitter taste of that same sour candy. Unable to afford reasonable living quarters, subsisting on cheap wine and day-old doughnuts, unsure where her next dollar was coming from, it was a tough life, all at the mercy of a not-so-underground economy that exploited those who lived it.”
Anthony Bidulka’s attention to drawing out the interplay between perp and investigator, focusing on Merry Bell’s dual roles, makes for an especially intriguing story that moves between the big city affairs of Vancouver and its small-town mirror, Livingsky.
As Merry’s probes lead others to question their own guilt and complacency in criminal matters, so the noose around her tightens, as well.
Bidulka excels in contrasting matters of the heart with investigative mysteries, and this will especially intrigue mystery genre readers who look for stories and settings beyond a simple whodunit.
Some characters look for reasons not to go home. Others, such as Merry, find that their home is not all they’d thought. Undercurrents of the LGBTQ+ community enter the bigger picture to add further intrigue and unexpected insights to the plot.
As Merry navigates these emotional secrets, she discovers that “The decision to return to Livingsky had made Merry’s life cheaper, but definitely not simpler.”
Libraries and readers interested in a mystery milieu that goes beyond obvious patterns of problem-solving to delve into matters of social and cultural transformation will find Livingsky vividly portrayed, layered with different kinds of tension, and hard to put down.