The Alley, by Kathy Garthwaite

Eight stars

After devouring her DI William Gibson series, I returned for the newest novel by Kathy Garthwaite. Still using Vancouver Island as her setting, a new protagonist emerges. Detective Sergeant Marlowe Flint heads up a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) team in rural British Columbia. Faced with a murder, they must track down a killer on the lam with a motive yet unknown. All the while, Flint has yet to fully process the trauma that befell her. The Alley is one of those novels that pulls you in and challenges you to put it down. Perfect for those who have enjoyed some of Garthwaite’s other work, as well as the reader who finds something exciting about Canadian police procedurals.

DS Marlowe Flint has suffered a great deal. The death of her husband, Martin, left her empty and seeking answers. With a young daughter in tow, Flint returns to her hometown of Castlecrest, British Columbia, where she hopes living with her parents will help ease the burden.

Put in charge of a small team, DS Flint heads up the RCMP detachment in Castlecrest. When she hears shots while in the local diner, she rushes over to the jewelry store. A man is dead, shot at point-blank range. When backup and her team arrive, the hunt for the killer begins, but is fruitless. As the investigation commences, leads are few, which does not help. Murder is something new for this team and for the bucolic community as well.

Trying to learn a little more about the victim, Stan Kingston, DS Flint and her next most senior officer, Corporal Naomi Thornberry, begin looking into the man’s past. A transplant from Vancouver, Kingston appears to have fled the big city, only to be struck down in a small community. Picking the brains of those who knew him away from work, Flint and Thornberry discover that Kingston was a quiet man, but did enjoy a little socializing at one of the local pubs. Might he have upset the wrong person and found himself as part of a personal attack, rather than a robbery gone wrong?

As the investigation gains momentum, DS Flint and her team discover something not altogether kosher within the jewelry store, which may lend credence to a blackmail scheme. However, nothing seems to stick and the team appear to be chasing their tails.

While DS Flint juggles work and her home life, she soon realises that there is a significant imbalance and something will have to give. Alienating a young child is sure to have consequences, something that is sure to have repercussions years down the road. Still, a killer is out there and surely no one wants the bad guys to get away, right?!

This is another stellar piece by Kathy Garthwaite, showing that she has a great deal of versatility when it comes to writing. Sticking to what she knows best, Garthwaite keeps things in her backyard on Vancouver Island, yet is still able to provide a uniqueness to the story and characters that no one will accuse her of reinventing her DI William Gibson series.

DS Marlowe Flint has quite the backstory, something that reveals itself little by little throughout this piece. A gritty cop who was widowed one night on the job, Flint is also a single mom trying to make the best of it. Her relocation was meant to be a reprieve and provide her daughter with safety, though it would seem that recent events have proven that Castlecrest can still attract serious crime.

Garthwaite effectively adds a supporting cast to keep the reader enthralled, all of whom complement DS Flint in their own way. The Castlecrest team offers a variety of personalities, none greater than Corporal Thornberry. She’s got Flint’s back, but is not afraid to speak her mind. Should this blossom into a full series, I can see some recurring characters being key to success, while there have also been some wonderful one-off personalities, as I like to call them. The bantering and small amounts of character development made for some great reading and kept me guessing throughout the process.

The story as a whole was quite intriguing and kept me wanting to know more. I will be the first to say that I hope Kathy Garthwaite has plans to turn this into a new series, as there are many questions that are left unanswered and plots that could develop based on the community and those living there. Garthwaite uses her wonderful narrative style to pull the reader in and then builds things up effectively with strong plots and interesting twists. A mix of chapter lengths is, as I often say, helpful to capture the reader and string them along. As this is the fourth Garthwaite book I have read in a short time, it is impossible not to draw parallels between this novel and the DI Gibson series. Both are strong and show great police work, though they can stand on their own, not overshadowing each other. Who knows, there could even be some crossover work, should Garthwaite have ideas in that regard!

Kudos, Madam Garthwaite, for a stunning standalone. DS Flint has something and I hope she is back on the streets of Castlecrest before too long.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: