Livingsky by Anthony Bidulka

Livingsky by Anthony Bidulka – Merry Bell is coming home. Vancouver housing has become so expensive she is sleeping on a friend’s couch. She asks her former employer, private investigator Nathan Sharpe, if he will allow her to open a satellite office of Sharpe Investigations in Livingsky, Saskatchewan. Unconditionally her friend, Sharpe agrees and Merry goes back to Livingsky. He does not mention to Merry that he has been told that she killed her physician, Dr. Elliott Vanstone.

Merry is welcomed back by an “arctic wind”. Winter in Saskatchewan is for the hardy.

Livingsky, with over 300,000 people and being set on the South Saskatchewan River, is clearly inspired by Saskatoon.

While Livingsky is cheap she can afford no more than two small rooms for her business in a converted downtown house. The realtor described her view as “urban chic”. The view is of a back alley. With money scarce, Merry sneaks in her modest belongings and makes her office her home. Lacking clients. the filing cabinets become her closets.

Unfortunately, the phone does not ring at Livingsky Sharpe Investigations (LSI).

Searching for the least expensive housing in the city she meets Gerald Drover. The Drover name is widely despised in Livingsky. His father was infamous as a slum landlord. (Grover rhymes with the surname of a real life notorious Saskatoon landlord.)

The book is set in Alphabet City, the area of Livingsky defined by the streets that run from A to Z. Most of its residents are poor and the buildings reflect that harsh reality. Gerald tells Merry that he rents to those who have no choices.

Merry is familiar with discrimination. Despite authorial clues I had no inkling she was transgender and had completed her transition to being a woman. It was Gerald who figured out she had transitioned.

Gerald wants her to investigate a fire in one of his apartment buildings. He is suspected of causing the fire. Gerald denies involvement. He wants her to find out what happened as it is bad for business for him to be an arson suspect.

As with Merry, Gerald surprised me. His unusual appearance is defined by an orange mullet. Merry hopes he is a man of integrity. Gerald, while politically incorrect in conversation with Merry, likes and respects her.

When Merry tries to elicit some information about the fire from Detective Sergeant Veronica Greyeyes of the Livingsky police services she is startled when Greyeyes asks her questions about Vanstone.

I was hooked, though mentally off-balance from the succession of surprises.

For the first time in my reading experience a true crime podcaster plays a role. Roger Brown became a credible, unique in his own way, sidekick to Merry. He would prefer to call himself an intern.

The Vancouver murder investigation is an ever present distraction for Merry. It was also a distraction for me. There was more than enough excitement and tension in Livingsky.

The story is crisply told in 258 pages. The only other mystery under 300 pages I have read this year was What’s Past is Prologue by another Saskatchewan writer, Gail Bowen.

As with his last book, Going to Beautiful, Anthony challenges the book industry. Livingsky is not a classically structured mystery.

Merry is a great character. She so intrigued me, my next post is all about Merry.

Livingsky is an excellent opening book in the Merry Bell series. I remember the delight with which I read Amuse Bouche, the first Russell Quant mystery. Livingsky is more reflective than delightful. I am anxious to read Merry Bell’s next adventure. (April 3, 2023)

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