Thursday, June 1, 2023

Merry Bell, after years away and after gender-affirming surgery, decides to return to her hometown of Livingsky, Saskatchewan, where the cost of living is lower than exorbitant Vancouver.  Because of her experience as a private investigator, she decides to start her own private investigating business in Livingsky.  Her first case comes from her potential landlord, Gerald Drover, who wants her to uncover who started a fire in one of his rental properties.  That investigation brings her into contact with shady characters from both sides of the tracks that divide the city.  To complicate matters, Merry herself is considered a suspect in the murder of the Vancouver doctor who performed her surgeries.

Merry is an engaging character.  It is impossible not to like her.  I loved one character’s description of her as “’brave and wonderful.’”  Her Louboutin designer boots are a perfect symbol for her attitude.   She has flaws which make her realistic, though I did find that at times she is not totally convincing as an investigator.  She never considered that she’d have to have two months’ deposit in order to rent an apartment?  She doesn’t investigate Peter Wells before meeting with him?  Only afterwards does she “take a deep dive into the life of Peter Wells”?  She has a tendency to make assumptions, often incorrect ones.  And she is always being surprised by the unexpected:  “He was not what Merry expected” and “Merry was jerked out of her wah-wah-poor-me stupor by the unexpected question” and “The house was nothing like what Merry expected” and “This was not going as expected” and “She hadn’t expected to hear back from him so soon” and “This was not at all what Merry expected to hear” and “The door was opened by the last person she expected to see.”

The book gives readers an understanding of the struggles of a transgender woman:  “the prices she’d paid, physically, financially, emotionally . . . all the surgeries – genital, facial feminization, tracheal shaping, implant.”  Of course, a transgender woman would be worried about sex:  “’Imagine, if you can, waking up one day to find that the sexual organs you’d always hoped for, the ones you should have been born with, are suddenly right where they were always supposed to be.  It’s like having a brand new toy you have no idea how to play with, and there’s no one around to show you. . . . Finding partners is not an easy thing, especially partners who know and care about what you’re going through.’”  Then there are the concerns like clothing, hair, and make-up.  Initially I wondered why Merry didn’t reconnect with any family or friends in her hometown, but then it makes sense that such reconnections might not be easy:  people might not be accepting of her.

There are other interesting characters.  I especially enjoyed Gerald Drover, the happy gopher.  The description of him when he first appears is so perfectly detailed:  “He was very tall, six-and-a-half feet at least, and slender as a streetlight.  He wore a Heavy Metal band t-shirt, skinny jeans that still required the assistance of a belt to say up, one of those wallets with a chain that hooked onto a belt loop, and crusty cowboy boots that’d seen one too many rodeos. . . . Atop Drover’s perfectly oblong head was a full-on mullet, ginger red.  His cheeks were puffy, his chin pronounced, his ears and nose super-sized.  . . . The eyes were like nothing she’d seen before, the colour of an aquamarine sea sprinkled with specks of sand, rimmed with lashes so thick Merry wondered if he was some kind of mutant with double sets on each lid.  Like many of his other features, Drover’s lips were far too big for his long, narrow face, but they were so pleasantly plump and cherry-pink they looked like a chewy chunk of double bubble.”  And he has the over-sized personality to match that physical appearance.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Saskatoon but I think Livingsky is modeled on that city.  I certainly remember walks along the South Saskatchewan River.  Isn’t Alphabet City an actual area of Saskatoon?  But the Holodomor memorial described reminds me of the one in Regina.  I imagine using a fictional setting allows the author more freedom so he can change details to suit his purposes.   I must say I do love the name chosen – a reference to the slogan “Land of the Living Skies” which I believe appears on Saskatchewan license plates?

The book has something for almost everyone.  There’s mystery, though the killer of the Vancouver doctor is obvious almost from the beginning.  There’s humour, often at Merry’s expense.  I love that she’s not above laughing at herself.  And there are also hints at a possible romance, or two, for Merry.

Like several of the chapters, the book ends with a teaser so I’m assuming that this is the first in a series featuring Merry Bell.  I will certainly look out for the second installment.

See more at: Schatje’s Shelves