The Crooked Knife: A Nell Munro Mystery by Jan Morrison

I could be wrong, but I believe that The Crooked Knife is the first novel I have read which is set entirely in Labrador. That was refreshing in itself, as I am quite unfamiliar with that particular part of Canada. However, it was also stimulating to read a good, solid mystery set in an Innu community that the author herself was very familiar with, having lived and worked in Sheshatshiu (“Shesh”), a federal reserve 30 kilometres north of Goose Bay. Her experiences and the community’s issues factor prominently in The Crooked Knife.

Nell Munro is an RCMP Community Constable in Shesh and she walks a fine line between being a liaison with the community’s youth and an enforcer of the law, which is the white man’s law, so Nell needs to work hard to keep her credibility intact with all concerned.

Jay Tuck, a respected teacher has been found murdered in his classroom and an Innu youth named Pashin is the main suspect, as he was the last person to see Mr. Tuck alive. But Pashin cannot be immediately accounted for, and the storyline takes off as Nell is pulled in on a Sunday (her day off) to help investigate. The result is a page-turner of a novel, and not of the “cozy mystery” type, but more on the “noir-ish” side of investigative mysteries. Witness this passage when Nell goes knocking on some doors in her investigation:

I went to the front door and rang the bell. Belinda answered within seconds, looking, as she had the few times I'd met her, like a whipped dog. I think she'd at one time been an attractive woman, but now had the curved shoulders of someone who'd given up. Maybe she was in her late 40s. Her fashion choices added to her general air of dowdiness. She wore dun-coloured slacks, a greyish shell and an oversize sweater in a shade of cat vomit.

Nell herself comes from a sketchy past and as a result is fearless and forthright, which often gets her in hot water with Sargent Renaud, her immediate superior. She also gets threats from some unknown individuals who do not want her investigation to continue. Add in an overbearing, misogynistic Staff Sargent and you’ll quickly side with Nell in whatever verbal threats he utters against her.

Jan Morrison is successful in creating an environment (real and imagined) that, while familiar to her, remains mysterious to the reader, turning what could be just another murder mystery into an immersive reading experience. Her characters, both white and Indigenous, are credible and non-stereotypical. Overall, a recommended read for fans of the genre, and I anticipate more of Nell Munro in the near future.

About the Author

Jan Morrison was raised in the back of an avocado green station wagon. An airforce brat, her family was either relocating or taking to the back roads on summer holidays. While working with Innu youth in Sheshatshiu, Labrador, Jan, a playwright, poet and psychotherapist, was inspired to write The Crooked Knife, her debut novel. When not writing, Jan is in her garden or rambling the shoreline near her home in Prospect, Nova Scotia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Boulder Books (May 20 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 250 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989417469
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989417461

James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.