2017-11-23 / Opinions

Book Review

My Darling Detective
By HOWARD NORMAN
Reviewed by PEGGY BARNETT

Jacob Rigolet was at an upscale art auction on behalf of his employer when a woman walked up to the item being shown and threw a jar of black ink at the famous photograph. The incident was startling and horrifying enough, but especially for Jacob, since his mother was that woman.

He had thought that his mother “was safely tucked away in Nova Scotia Rest Hospital.” Nora had been appointed head librarian at the Halifax Free Library after working in the library system since she was 30. She was respected and admired by everyone, including her son, but had a nervous breakdown. Gradually the reader learns what the breakdown was like, but details of her life and her motivation for attacking the photograph are not fully revealed till the very end.

Seeking answers to that mystery are Jake and his fiancĂ©e, plus her team at police headquarters, Detectives Tides and Hodgson. Martha takes the lead since she was the one who interviewed Nora after the ink episode. She bonds with Nora and visits her at the hospital every week, while also investigating Nora’s police file. There were two unsolved murders in April, 1945, evidently committed by a killer who may still be alive.

The photo that she attacked was a famous one taken by Robert Capa in April, 1945. It was of an American soldier killed by a German sniper in the closing days of World War II. Jake has known that his father was killed at about that time in Leipzig, although he is not the slain soldier.

A mysterious figure, Robert Emil, appears in Nora’s file. He may be the murderer from an old case but disappeared long ago. Martha learns that he may also have been Jake’s real father. It all becomes more complex. Meanwhile, there are interesting parallels in a radio detective story that Jake and Martha listen to regularly.

Mrs. Hamelin is Jake’s wealthy employer. His task, in addition to various helpful duties around her home (he lives in a cottage on the estate), is to attend art auctions and bid on pieces she would like to acquire at prices she decides ahead of time. He enjoys this work, but after he fails on several commissions because of complications with his mother and Martha, she reluctantly fires him. She and her companion become friends of the family, however, and add interesting sidelights to the story.

The story builds over the year until Emil shows up and threatens the characters we have come to care about. Howard Norman is an award-winning writer who writes in varied styles. He has taught at several universities, currently the University of Maryland. In My Darling Detective, he takes us on a suspenseful journey into relationships and dangers. It is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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