I normally review poetry, where there’s no issue of spoilers. In a cozy murder mystery like The Last Unsuitable Man, towards the literary side of writing, I don’t want to spoil any turns, and there are doozies. It is a vivid and compelling read from a writer with a sharp and complex mind.
There’s a pile of detailed observations and characters that sounds like people you have met, or at least people I’ve met. At the start I wondered where it is going, with a ambiance of anomie, blank facial expressions, lack of caring, frustration and depressive echo in landscape but that’s the Great Canadian Literary novel’s influence and the personality of the narrator. The weather and landscapes are nearly characters. It isn’t atmospheric as a stultifying pace but as a sure presence. There’s a sure hand at work here, not a potboiler stamp.
It is primarily a coming of age story with social commentary laced through it. For example, p. 205, she speaks of working in opera, “so mirrored in real life, so unchanging through the centuries, the women characters, created by men—suffering, always suffering—had eventually made her sick.” I can hear that. Her life is more feminist than most I’ve seen in a murder mystery; women divorce, choose abortion, and accept or hate exes. In a particularly poignant poetic phrase, (p. 222) the narrator speaks of her ex, “we are none of us perfect, she had learned, no matter how much we love.”
Carson is also a poet, and I’ve read two of her previous collections quite a long time ago, but none of her fiction. She has also, while I wasn’t watching, put out a fantasy trilogy and a series of 5 Maples’ mysteries. I would guess as a rough category it is boxed with the popular The Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun. Knowing the dark acerbic view of Carson, from what I have read, I would guess the similarity ends there, there’s a cat and a murder.
The Last Unsuitable Man is a stand alone, not in the series. It is not yet another adolescent story but a coming to peace with oneself as a senior, as a survivor, as grey-haired, as luckier than you might have been. The narrator is tough and overlooked and looking back over her life. Which would be simpler if bodies followed by police didn’t keep happening as you’re trying to rest, heal and write your next novel while on a writing retreat. It is meta in an amusing way. It winks as if to say, murder mysteries are diverting, sure, but different when they barge into your own life in all their all-consuming ways. She’s just here to do a bookstore reading.
It is has some sweet commentary of writing life in asides. It is offbeat and off the beaten track for where is goes and how it gets there with a narrator who is kind of like A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Not a sunny soul, more beleaguered.
I read the 256-page book over 3 days. I have been going over moments and reveals for weeks in my head and can still see the ocean side cottage and sunny cafe in British Columbia as if they were my own memories.
Being inculcated into the genre by another Louise, Louise Penny, I felt meal scenes as security touchstones, but it isn’t a foodie novel as some of Penny’s.
The rocky start gave me pause. What kind of person gives directions to their house as past the puppy mill sign? Eventually we find that is more foreshadowing of the kind of rough Quebec neighbourhood the narrator goes to & it fits the direction-giver.
The uniquely grounded novelist narrator is aware of herself as an older white woman, still nervous walking along the highway but feeling protected by her presentation, aware of not being indigenous and young in B.C. on a lonely coastal strip. She has a theory of mind oh how things look to the police questioning all the neighbours and how they would perceive her as they investigate a murder when they find a murder manuscript.
It is organized and themes by music, a touchstone. The four sections are: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo and Presto. If you are more of a music person than me these probably hold echoes and resonances.
About the Author
Born in Montreal and raised in Hudson, Quebec, Louise Carson studied music in Montreal and Toronto, played jazz piano and sang in the chorus of the Canadian Opera Company. Carson has published fourteen books. She lives in St-Lazare, Quebec, where she writes, teaches music and gardens.
- Publisher : Signature Editions (Oct. 15 2022)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 177324115X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773241159
Pearl Pirie's WriteBulb is now available at the Apple store. A prompt app for iOS 15 and up gives writing achievement badges. Pirie’s 4th poetry collection was footlights (Radiant Press, 2020). rain’s small gestures (Apt 9 Press, 2021), minimalist poems, won the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize. Forthcoming chapbooks from Catkin Press and Turret House. Find more at www.pearlpirie.com or at patreon.com/pearlpiriepoet