Following hard on the heels of his last year’s award-winning standalone GOING TO BEAUTIFUL comes the first installment in Anthony Bidulka’s new series featuring Merry Bell. Merry is a young trans woman who has recently completed surgery and who finds herself deep in debt as a consequence. She decides to leave expensive Vancouver and return to her native Saskatchewan where she hopes to earn her keep by setting up a small business as a private investigator. She has had both training and experience as a detective and Livingsky, the fictional city she is headed for, has space for another investigator. With the somewhat reluctant but ultimately positive support of her former employer, Merry arrives in Livingsky only to discover that settling in and making a go of her new business will be harder than she had imagined.
First of all, Livingsky, like pretty much everywhere, is short on affordable rental housing. Cheaper than Vancouver, yes, but still not cheap. She winds up in a dubious neighbourhood in a rundown building on a closed-down scrapyard behind a wire fence. But at $300 a month she can afford it. It is owned by the same landlord who showed her another flat and who has an unfortunate habit of addressing her as “Hot Lips.” He will ultimately become her first client.
Her first, and pretty much her only. Bidulka is more interested in establishing the foundation for a forthcoming series than developing an elaborate menu of mysteries to be solved. Instead, he pays careful attention to the details of Merry’s settling in not only to her new surroundings but also to her new body that at last corresponds to the individual she has always known she was. The Merry of LIVINGSKY is developing, not a finished creation and her author presents her with both her attractive aspects and with her sometimes irritating obsessions and insecurities. The reader cannot help but admire her courage as she moves from her familiar, warm surroundings in Vancouver to a small, cold, Prairie town without a penny to her name and does it while she is still not fully comfortable in her new body. But she does sometimes reveal glimpses of the social conditioning of her pre-trans existence and these may be off-putting to the attentive reader. And then there is her fixation on her boots – red-soled Louboutins that must have cost around $2000 Canadian and that really weren’t made for a Saskatchewan winter.
On the other hand, at a time when certain areas of the country sometimes seem to be trying to follow the example set by their American counterparts in demonizing the trans population, it is reassuring to find Merry accepted with little or no comment by her new Livingsky acquaintances.
Although the weakest element in this novel is the crime and its solution, I can recommend it all the same as it is an engaging read that provides a rich soil for future developments. It is always a treat to get in at the debut of a series that promises to become one of those that we look forward to each year and put on our shopping lists without waiting for the reviews.
§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She’s been editing RTE since 2008.
Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2023
Full review can be see at Reviewing the Evidence