Fall into a Book, By Rosalie MacEachern
Blood on a Saint does mark return to familiar stomping grounds
Front cover art for Anne Emeryâ€™s Blood on a Saint, the latest in her line of Collins-Burke mysteries.
Blood on a Saint (ECW Press, $24.95) is Anne Emeryâ€™s seventh in the Collins-Burke mystery series featuring a quirky blues-playing lawyer and an intellectual, street-smart Catholic priest.
Unfortunately, it isnâ€™t the best in the series. Coming after the richly readable Death at Christy Burkeâ€™s, itâ€™s a little disappointing.
On a positive note, the setting is back in Halifax, which marks a return to the familiar landscapes and watering holes. References to Bruce MacKinnonâ€™s cartoons are another plus.
Itâ€™s Brennan Burke, with his politically-charged history, his colorful personal past, his razor-sharp intellect, esoteric interests and street-fighter instincts, as well as his unique approach to Catholicism, who carries this series. Lawyer Monty Collins, always a man in transition, is a bit of a smoother for Burkeâ€™s sharp edges. Collinsâ€™ semi-estranged and sharp-tongued wife and children provide a broader domestic context for Burke and Collins and the kindly Monsignor Michael Oâ€™Flaherty, with whom Burke shares a parish, is usually a perfect foil for the younger priest.
Collins shows signs of becoming reformed, which is only interesting if you knew him in messier times, and Oâ€™Flaherty comes off as a fool when he has always been more complex.
The story begins with a fired church secretary who claims to have been visited by the Blessed Virgin on the parish grounds, precisely where a statue of St. Bernadette stands. Soon after, at the same location, a young woman is murdered. The taciturn Burke is livid when miracle peddlers move into the church yard and heâ€™s ordered by the bishop to appear on a tawdry talk show to get in front of the fuss.
Emery, who is herself a Halifax lawyer, gets full marks for creating a positively vile character in television host Pike Podgis, who is the initial murder suspect. His diabolically twisted attempts to torment Burke are unnerving and heâ€™s the bookâ€™s most memorable character, though not because you want to remember him. Thereâ€™s something contrived, though, in him being so quickly arrested as a suspect and itâ€™s too much of a stretch that he winds up as Collinsâ€™ client.
Equally interesting and considerably more endearing is the character Ignatius, a homeless but strangely gifted man who becomes the second suspect in the murder investigation.
The female characters in Blood on a Saint are under-developed, perhaps intentionally so, and this gives the book a sort of random interaction of people and events thatâ€™s perhaps consistent with everyday life or possibly even a gentle jibe at church hierarchy. Although the series is set in the 1990s, this book comes closest to addressing current issues â€” in this case the bullying of young people.
If you havenâ€™t read any of Emeryâ€™s previous books, Blood on a Saint may not inspire you to go looking and thatâ€™s a shame because theyâ€™re good reading. Burkeâ€™s character is too thin this time around. Thereâ€™s little politics, inside or outside the church, no personal baggage or complications and not even a great sense of his relationship to church theology. Granted he does have a touching meeting with an idolized singer and he does break into an apartment, but he is a shadow of his usual self.
Itâ€™s also debatable whether Collins on the mend makes a better book.
Blood on a Saint is, hopefully, just Burke and Collins on a bad day and we can look forward to further adventures.
Rosalie MacEachern began reading history books as a child and the world opened up when she got her first library card. Childrenâ€™s or adultâ€™s, fiction or non-fiction, mysteries, biographies, short stories, cookbooks, political tomes and sports sagas all manage to engage her on a regular basis. She is a resident of Stellarton. If you have a book you would like to suggest, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.