Translated by David Warriner
Today it’s my turn on the blog tour for the French-Canadian author’s latest crime thriller, set around Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, and the third to feature DS Joaquin Moralès. While I would love to now read the first two, there was not too much backstory to Moralès, so this novel stood up well on its own.
The Gaspé Peninsula sits on the southern side of the St Lawrence river delta, above New Brunswick. Wikipedia tells me that it is a region the size of Belgium, yet only has 140,000 or so inhabitants. The main strand of the novel though, starts from even more isolated parts – the Magdalen Islands which sit off the peninsula in the St Lawrence Delta and the fishing port of Cap-aux-Meules.
The peninsula’s mainland is now where Moralès is based, after recently splitting up with his wife after many years of marriage, but his story is really the second thread to this thriller. The main story concerns fisheries officer Simone Lord, a rare woman inspector in a man’s world, who has transferred to the Magdalen Islands for the winter to monitor and document the seal hunts, which are nearly over. There is a storm brewing, and one last vessel has been chartered to go out hunting for seals, and unexpectedly, Simone is assigned to go with them on the Jean-Mathieu, it should have been her colleague.
As the novel began, the first character we met is one of the crew. Ship’s cook and hard man Tony McMurray is truly evil and just happened to be camping out in an empty house next door to Simone’s lodgings. He’d been watching her with bad intent on his mind, thwarted when her colleague arrived to give her the assignment. With the exception of the ship’s captain, Chevrier, the rest of the crew are no good sorts either. Marco Painchaud, whose charter it is, is the druggie nephew of the boat’s owner – he owes money and needs a profitable trip. The other two crew are Lucien Carpentier, a poacher who’d had to sell his boat, and Michael Lapierre, neither of whom are happy to have a woman on board at all…
Simone, although they have to admit she does her job of recording and tagging the seal kills well, is obviously in very dangerous territory, having to take refuge on the bridge with the captain many times. And as the true purpose of this trip becomes clear, her position gets more perilous every moment.
Meanwhile, Moralès has been reluctantly persuaded to go on a ski-cruise holiday with colleagues; Erik from the Gaspé squad, who had set him up with a date with Simone (which went well), and forensic psychologist from his old team in Montreal, Nadine Lauzon, who will join the cruise ship up the St Lawrence late and have to bring her work with her as she investigates the death of a teenager from Moralès’ old neighbourhood.
Bouchard cleverly works to gradually converge the two cases, just as Simone has to fight for her life in more ways than one, wounding herself on a piece of jagged metal which gets infected, as she ingeniously sets up a sign to anyone approaching the ship that not all is well. Will Moralès be able to reach her in time?
Although Simone’s super-tough exterior would have us believe that a trawler can be a place for a woman with a job to do – and it can, of course, but that is not so with this particular crew of badduns, (Captain excepted). It was borderline for Miss Smila, and resulted in murder in Simenon’s Grand Banks Cafe and non-Maigret roman dur The Pitards. But never has it seemed such a dangerous place for a woman as in the Whisper of the Seals!
A word of warning though. This novel does feature graphic descriptions of seal hunting, clubbing and the processing of the seal bodies, their blood on the ice so red. There is also a notable encounter with a bunch of activists who arrive by helicopter, and manage to injure a baby seal which has to be put down. As a government official, Simone has to stand her ground with both sides.
Although we didn’t get much of Moralès in this novel, I liked him very much and want to read the previous two novels in the series, We Were the Salt of the Sea, and The Coral Bride to get his full back story. Co-starring though in all three books is the Gaspé peninsula and outlying islands, which come to life through Bouchard’s obvious familiarity with the area. Warriner’s translation is seamless as it should be, keeping the right amount of the flavour of the Frenchness of this area.
Bouchard’s series is yet another great crime discovery from Orenda books, who are publishing so many new to me thrillers. Love it! And this book also fits in with #WITMonth.
Source: Review copy – thank you! Orenda Paperback original, 277 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.