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Mordecai's Ashes (Larsson Investigates Book 1)

by Arlana Crane

Rating: *****

In Mordecai’s Ashes, we meet divorced, ex oil-worker Karl Larsson, down on his luck and disengaged with his family. When he inherits a detective agency from the Grandfather he never knew, it gives him something focus on. Joined by his cousin, Kelsey, they throw themselves into the routine work. However, all that changes when a reporter with a personal grudge enlists Karl to investigate drug smuggling on Vancouver Island…

I found Mordecai’s Ashes to be a first-rate, gripping thriller. The opening chapter was slightly hesitant but the novel soon takes off and then it’s very hard to put down. Ms Crane sets up some juicy conflicts in the early stages and Karl is a very well-rounded, likeable main character with enough personal demons to maintain interest and empathy. Indeed, all of the characters are nicely drawn; understated yet individual. Kelsey could have been irritating but she becomes indispensable and written with a touch of tenderness so that you care about her almost as much as you do Karl. Gabe Ross is given a shade of the sinister from early on; small, simple physical details and nuances that betray him to the reader and yet there is a slight compassion in his portrayal that gives you pause. I thought Alex could have been developed further but I suspect she will reappear in subsequent books.

The plot was skilfully crafted for a novel forming the first in a series, giving enough backstory but retaining some ambiguity. When Karl begins to work undercover as a dockhand, the book really moves into fifth gear. The tension is absolutely nail-biting and yet the story does not become far-fetched. There are enough clever little twists that keep you guessing the further Karl becomes involved. I did not see the main twist coming and I think it was a wise move to include it near the end of the book; it would have spoiled the main plot had it come earlier and would have seemed a little unbelievable.

Mordecai’s Ashes contains some lovely, intelligent writing. The words flow warmly and comfortably across the page. The chapter where Karl attempts in buy drugs in a pub was richly alive with humour and thoughtful detail. I also loved the name of the other pub (Copper Owl) where Karl goes after work. Ms Crane’s love and knowledge for Canada shines through and despite myself knowing nothing about the Country, it felt instantly familiar and was an intrinsic part of the novel.

An engrossing, original and excellently-written thriller. Highly recommended.

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