Review of FROM SWEETGRASS BRIDGE by Anthony Bidulka (New Release)


 4 Stars


I really liked Livingsky, the first in the Merry Bell trilogy, so looked forward to reading the next book, From Sweetgrass Bridge. I very much enjoyed my second visit to Livingsky, Saskatchewan.

Merry, a transgender woman who has returned to her hometown after gender-affirming surgery, has set up shop as a private investigator. Her business has had few clients however, so she is happy to take a new case: to find a missing man, Dustin Thomson. Dustin is a celebrated player for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the team’s first quarterback born in the province and first indigenous quarterback and a local hero. Merry begins by interviewing people connected to Dustin, including his roommate, teammates, and family. Though she has no employees, she does get assistance from Gerald Drover, her landlord; from Roger Brown, a cross-dressing true crime podcaster who is married to Brenda, a designer with an office next to Merry’s; and Veronica Greyeyes, a police detective who once arrested Merry.

Merry is as likeable as ever. What’s not to like about someone who recognizes the importance of having money for chocolate and wine? What is particularly admirable is her determination; even when she seems to hit dead ends and mistrusts her abilities, she falters only briefly before persevering. Though it’s summer and they probably don’t have bootstraps, I like to think of her pulling herself up by the bootstraps of her Louboutin designer boots! My admiration for her even increased when she chooses not to say something to Brenda in a conversation she has with her at the end of the book. What makes Merry authentic is that she has personal struggles with a floundering career and with emotions like isolation and loneliness. She also admits that she has not completed what she calls the four stages of the transition process.

It was fun to re-connect with other characters, all of whom remain faithful to their depictions in the first book: “a morally ambiguous, mullet-headed, flamingo-legged landlord; a prickly, serious-as-a-heart-attack cop; a true-crime obsessed crossdresser, and a sickly-sweet interior designer.” Of course there are new characters introduced as well. Admittedly, I have a personal bias, but my favourite new character is Doreen – besides the name, I can identify with some of her decrepitude (though I also like to think of myself as reliable and trustworthy)!

I love the writing style which is eminently readable. I like the pop culture references, like a coach delivering a “Ted-Lasso-worthy speech,” and the gentle humour sprinkled throughout. For instance, in a discussion with Greyeyes about a poem written by Dustin, Merry muses, “Getting information from Greyeyes was like pulling molars with needle nose pliers. Would it help if she asked her questions in iambic pentameter?”

The book draws some attention to issues affecting our First Nations peoples such as boil water advisories, lack of education and opportunities for youth, many cases of missing people, and high suicide rates. I understand the author’s wanting to explain these problems, but it’s awkward that Merry seems to know little or nothing about these problems, though she immediately understands the meaning of the word kôhkum?

My interest was maintained throughout such that I didn’t want to put down the book. Though I guessed the guilty early on, I certainly didn’t know the details. Though the resolution lacks some credibility, I did find that considerable effort was made to make it as convincing and believable as possible.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Though From Sweetgrass Bridge can be read as a standalone, I suggest readers begin with Livingsky first if they have not already done so. I certainly look forward to seeing more of Merry and company – especially Doreen of course – in the next installment.

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