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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

‘Burn Country’ by Michael J McCann

Published by The Plaid Raccoon Press (Canada),
24 March 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-927884-09-6(PB)

Crime fiction set in the USA is a common feature of British bookshops; a Canadian setting is rather less so, so exploring the law enforcement system north of the border is at the very least an interesting exercise.

Burn Country turned out to be a lot more than that. It not only follows a murder investigation through from start to finish; it also sets up some intriguing characters and relationships, and looks at the tensions between a local police force and the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

It opens as an investigation into a series of arson attacks, but it's soon evident that the latest fire is not the work of the same perpetrator. This time there's a body, and the victim was dead before the fire.

The RCMP get involved when it emerges that the body belongs to a well-known artist who was also a controversial member of the government, leading to a suspicion that terrorism might have been involved. Detective Inspector Ellie March, recently promoted and with a lot to prove, finds herself fielding both the federal police's demands and the protests of her own squad. Surprisingly, Assistant Commissioner Danny Merrick, the RCMP officer in charge, turns out to be stressed, but polite, easygoing and, not to put too fine a point on it, quite fanciable – quite unlike the demanding and overbearing federal detectives the squad have encountered in the past.

So – is the murder a terrorist attack, or should they be looking for the more usual motives of sex and money? Ellie and her team, including up-and-coming detective Kevin Walker, stolid but efficient Constable Carty and class clown John Bishop, co-operate with the RCMP but refuse to let themselves be side-tracked; they investigate in a meticulous, painstaking way which eventually solves not only the murder itself but also several other crimes along the way including the arson attacks.

The characters, police and civilians alike, are all sharply drawn individuals, and the contrast between smart, almost opulent Ottawa and poverty-stricken rural Ontario is made almost painfully clear. All the leading characters have a life outside work, and the backstories the author creates suggest that a series will follow. In fact, Burn Country is already the second novel featuring Ellie March and her gallant crew. I for one would be glad to see a third and fourth.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Michael J. McCann lives and writes in Oxford Station, Ontario, Canada. He was born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario. He attended Trent University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English, before moving to Kingston, Ontario, where he earned a Master of Arts in English at Queen's University in 1981. Mike worked as an editor for Carswell Legal Publications (Western) in Calgary, Alberta, where he was Production Editor of Criminal Reports (Third Series). After a stint in freelance writing, when he published several short stories in literary magazines, Mike worked for Canada Customs for fifteen years as a training specialist and a manager at their national headquarters in Ottawa. Mike is the author of Blood Passage, a Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel, and The Ghost Man, a supernatural thriller.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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