Murder on Vancouver Island (DI William Gibson #1), by Kathy Garthwaite

Eight stars

Looking to add a little Canadian flavouring to my police procedurals, I turned to the work of Kathy Garthwaite. With a murder on Canada’s far West Coast, the reader meets the gritty Detective Inspector William Gibson and his role within the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit (VIIMCU), all While looking into the murder on university grounds. Garthwaite’s Murder on Vancouver Island is a great debut in a series with much potential. Recommended to those who like something away from the ‘major’ police procedurals out on the market today.

DI William Gibson cherishes his days off, particularly when it allows him to leave his Victoria home early in the morning and spend some quiet time in his kayak. When he is interrupted doing just that, DI Gibson knows it must be something significant and makes his way to the campus of the University of Victoria.

When DI Gibson arrives, he takes in the scene. A maintenance man, Robbie Spencer, has been murdered after being struck on the back of the head with a baseball bat. Spencer is still in civilian clothes, making it seem the attack occurred while he was just arriving. When the body is moved, an errant, unused condom is found under him, which leads to many questions. With a preliminary time of death between 5:30-7:00am, many of Spencer’s colleagues appear likely suspects.

DI Gibson turns to his partner, Detective Sergeant Ann Scott ‘Scottie’ Cruickshank to handle the scene. She begins interrogating the other maintenance men, all of whom cite their presence at a safety meeting that began around 5:30am. However, talk about a Hallowe’en party the night before opens up some possibilities, when one of the crew got into a skirmish with Spencer. Questions about Spencer’s sexual orientation are bandied about, even as he has a wife and child at home, which leads DI Gibson to wonder if the brutal attack might have been targeted.

While Scottie and Gibson begin trying to hash things out, the burning question of the brutality of the attack cannot be dismissed. DI Gibson begins to wonder if a hate crime might be on the table, even as his superiors refuse to entertain the idea. After an awkward interview with Spencer’s wife, the police learn that the victim was sitting on quite a large sum of money, which was to be dispersed amongst a few key family members. With a few motives and a handful of suspects, it will take some serious legwork to make sense of things.

While the case slogs along, DI Gibson is pulled into his personal life, when his wife, Katherine, has a nervous breakdown over the phone. It is the anniversary of her sister’s death and Gibson cannot promise when he will be home. It worries him, though he tries to deflect it, hoping that Katherine will understand and promises to be home soon. Still, he cannot help but wonder if there is more going on under the surface.

When forensics offer no clear suspect, it is up to a few secondary interviews by Scottie and DI Gibson that will narrow the field of possibles, with one at the centre of the case. An attack on a homeless man leaves DI Gibson wondering if there is a connection, even if it might dismiss his hate crime angle. Time’s running out and a killer remains on the loose, potentially free to strike again.

Kathy Garthwaite does a great job taking the reader on a Canadian adventure in this thriller without tapping into too many of the stereotypical expectations that many may have. Set in Victoria, the story’s setting offers something unique and adventurous, while also fuelling some great subplots throughout.

William Gibson does well as the protagonist in this piece, providing the reader with a little backstory and some great development. A transplant from Ontario, he leapt at the chance to work within the VIIMCU and has not looked back. He can appear narrow minded when it comes to his work, but he feels his time with the police has honed his gut instincts. Able to balance his professional life with what seems to be a somewhat challenging personal one, Gibson does the best he can. His grit will hopefully continue as the series develops, but I am eager to see where Garthwaite will take him in the next few books.

Great secondary characters keep the reader intrigued about the story and how they interact. The reader is given some great people in the supporting cast, who are able to keep the narrative moving and the plot thickening. The Gibson-Scottie duo is one that I am eager to see blossom a little more, as I can see there being something there on a professional level. Same goes for the Gibson-Katherine storyline, as the latter has already revealed some things in a subplot the reader can find for themselves. Garthwaite also uses her characters to tackle some social issues, which may be of keen interest to the reader.

The story may not be unique, but the elements offer up an individuality that will stick with the reader. Hate crimes, sexual orientation, and bullying in the workplace all play key roles in the narrative, which is pushed along with some great writing. Garthwaite mixes different chapter lengths into her novel to keep the reader hooked and pushing forward. While the book does not appear to be long, there are moments that it gets intense and the reader will slow their pace so as not to miss anything. I am eager to get my hands on the second novel in the series to see how it compares.

Kudos, Madam Garthwaite, for a great debut. You have me very curious and that means I’m ready to take the plunge into BOOK 2!

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