|By the Time You Read This
By Giles Blunt
Published by Henry Holt & Co
February 2007; 0805080619; 352 pages
Nothing bad could ever happen on Madonna Road. It curls around the western shore of a small lake just outside Algonquin Bay, Ontario, providing a pine-scented refuge for affluent families with young children, yuppies fond of canoes and kayaks, and an artful population of chipmunks chased by galumphing dogs. It’s the kind of spot–tranquil, shady and secluded – that promises an exemption from tragedy and sorrow.
Detective John Cardinal’s and his wife, Catherine, lived in the smallest house on Madonna Road, but even that tiny place would have been beyond their means were it not for the fact that, being situated across the road from the water, they owned neither an inch of beach nor so much as a millimetre of lake frontage. On weekends Cardinal spent most of his time down in the basement breathing sawdust, paint and Minwax, carpentry affording him a sense of creativity and control that did not tend to flourish in the squad room.
But even when he was not woodworking, he loved to be in his tiny house enveloped in the serenity of the lakeshore. It was autumn now, early October, the quietest time of the year. The motorboats and Sea-Doos had been hauled away, and the snowmobiles were not yet blasting their way across ice and snow.
Autumn in Algonquin Bay was the season that redeemed the other three. Colours of scarlet and rust, ochre and gold swarmed across the hills, the sky turned an alarming blue, and you could almost forget the sweat-drenched summer, the bug festival that was spring, the pitiless razor of winter. Trout Lake was preternaturally still, black onyx amid fire. Even having grown up here (when he took it completely for granted), and now having lived in Algonquin Bay again for the past dozen years, Cardinal was never quite prepared for how beautiful it was in the fall. This time of year, he liked to spend every spare minute at home. On this particular evening he had made the fifteen-minute drive from work, even though he had only an hour, affording him exactly thirty minutes at the dinner table before he had to head back.
“There’s more shepherd’s pie, if you want,” she said.
“No, I’m fine. That was great,” Cardinal said. He was trying to corner the last peas on his plate.
“There’s no dessert, unless you want cookies.”
“I always want cookies. The question is whether I want to be hoisted out of here by a forklift.”
Catherine took her plate and glass into the kitchen.
“What time are you heading out?” he called after her.
“Right now. It’s dark, the moon is up. Why not?”
Cardinal glanced outside. The full moon, an orange disc riding low above the lake, was quartered by the mullions of their window.
“You’re taking pictures of the moon? Don’t tell me you’re going into the calendar business.”
But Catherine wasn’t listening. She had disappeared down to the basement, and he could hear her pulling things off the shelves in her darkroom. Cardinal put the leftovers in the fridge and slotted his dishes into the dishwasher.
Catherine came back upstairs, zipped up her camera bag and dumped it beside the door while she put on her coat. It was a golden tan colour with brown leather trim on the cuffs and collar. She pulled a scarf from a hook and wrapped it once, twice, about her neck, then undid it again.
“No,” she said to herself. “It’ll be in the way.”
“How long is this expedition of yours?” Cardinal said, but his wife didn’t hear him. They’d been married nearly thirty years, but she still kept him guessing. Sometimes when she was going out to photograph, she would be chatty and excited, telling him every detail of her project until he was cross-eyed with the fine points of focal lengths and f-stops. Other times he wouldn’t know what she was planning until she emerged from her darkroom days or weeks later, clutching her prints like trophies from a personal safari. Tonight she was subdued.
“What time do you think you’ll get back?” Cardinal said.
Catherine tied a short plaid scarf around her neck and tucked it inside her jacket. “Does it matter? I thought you had to go back to work.”
“I do. Just curious.”
“Well, I’ll be home long before you.” She pulled her hair out from under her scarf and shook her head. Cardinal caught a whiff of her shampoo, a faint almondy smell. She sat down on the bench by the front door and opened her camera bag again. “Split-field filter. I knew I forgot something.”
She disappeared downstairs for a few moments and came back with the filter, which she dropped into the camera bag. Cardinal had no idea what a split-field filter might be.
“You going to the government dock again?” In the spring Catherine had done a series of photos on the shore of Lake Nipissing when the ice was breaking up. Great white slabs of ice stacking themselves up like geological strata.
“I’ve done the dock,” Catherine said, frowning a little. She strapped a collapsible tripod to the bottom of the camera bag. “Why all these questions?”
“Some people take pictures, other people ask questions.”
“I wish you wouldn’t. You know I don’t like to talk about stuff ahead of time.”
“Sometimes you do.”
“Not this time.” She stood up and slung the camera bag, bulky and heavy, over her shoulder.
“What a gorgeous night,” Cardinal said when they were outside. He stood for a moment looking up at the stars, but the glow of the moon washed most of them out. He took a deep breath, inhaling smells of pine and fallen leaves. It was Catherine’s favourite time of year too, but she wasn’t paying attention at the moment. She got straight into her car, a maroon PT Cruiser she’d bought used a couple of years earlier, started the engine and pulled out of the drive.
Excerpted from By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt Copyright © 2006 by Giles Blunt. Excerpted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted.
Autumn has arrived in Algonquin Bay, and with it an unusual spate of suicides. The most shocking victim yet is Detective John Cardinal’s wife, who has finally succumbed to her battle with manic depression. As Cardinal takes time to grieve, his partner, Lise Delorme, handles an unsavory assignment: a young girl appears in a series of unspeakable photos being traded online, and background elements indicate she lives in Algonquin Bay. Delorme is desperate to find the girl before she suffers more abuse.
When Cardinal receives a string of hateful anonymous notes about his wife’s death, he begins to suspect homicide. His colleagues believe he is too distraught to think clearly, and he’s forced to investigate alone. In doing so, he comes up against a brand of killer neither he—nor the reader—has ever seen before.
In his most masterful and thrilling novel yet, Giles Blunt confirms his reputation as a rising international star in crime fiction, and positions Detective John Cardinal among the finest characters in the genre.(back to top)
Giles Blunt was born in 1952 in Windsor, Ontario and grew up in North Bay, Ontario (which Algonquin Bay is very thinly disguised North Bay). He spent over twenty years in New York City and has written scripts for the TV series including Law and Order, Street Legal and Night Heat.
The first John Cardinal novel, Forty Words for Sorrow, won the British Crime Writers' Silver Dagger, and the second, The Delicate Storm, won the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for best novel.
He once again lives in Toronto, Canada.