Hydrostone: Murder and Mystery in Nova Scotia is a story of a rambling police investigation centred in Halifax-Darmouth with a lively side trip to Truro.
The writer, Malcolm MacLeod, is a mostly-retired history professor who still teaches one course at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. MacLeod grew up in Armdale and his knowledge of the area shines like a beacon through the book. When a getaway car speeds off you get a full description of the street names and their geographical features. This is fun for people who share a knowledge of the area, whether it’s the unique Hydrostone neighborhood, the Dingle, College Road up to NSAC or the maze of country roads out towards Greenfield.
Hydrostone has a two-page foreword, in which MacLeod explains why he chose the setting for the book and what his aspirations are for his main character. Some people appreciate this kind of preface, while others get cranky with writers who explain their books rather than getting on with the story. Foreword aside, the story gets underway quickly as an aspiring Halifax property developer is dead by the third page.
Veteran police detective Wallace Walker is charged with investigating the crime, which takes place in the property developer’s Hydrostone home. Walker is a bit of a throwback, relying on tools such as magnifying glasses of different sizes to unearth his clues. He’s just not that into crime labs and DNA, you quickly conclude. He’s a bit of a Columbo-like character, who carries around a lawn chair and peruses crime scenes from a reclining position. Actually, he only carries the chair around if he can’t find a policewoman to provide that service.
“While others shifted and carried, or chased and surveilled or looked and listed, the Inspector sat back, very comfortably arranged in the shade outside this suddenly sinister house in the Hydrostone,” MacLeod writes.
Wallace’s powers of deduction are aided by his partner, the athletic, sensibly-shoed Evelyn Leslie, attentive and deferential to her boss, but clearly a cop of another generation.
The case has all the usual suspects — the wife of the victim, in particular; other family members; neighbors; and business associates. It’s more a case of Walker’s intuition than the evidence establishing the shape of the investigation, but Leslie does manage to put factual flesh on some of Walker’s opinions. Particularly notable is the difference in how Walker and Leslie occupy themselves outside of work hours.
A shape-changing car/delivery van figures in the shady business in Halifax and a police chase in Truro. Anyone remember the Batmobile that was so popular at Christmas 15 or 20 years ago? With a few quick adjustments it went from a sleek but unobtrusive machine to a menacing winged vehicle. Something similar — and maybe just as unlikely — takes place in Hydrostone.
If your taste runs to local fiction, this book is a cornucopia of popular themes — police chases and stakeouts, fast cars, strip clubs, bad guys who muscle into town, downtrodden but honest business people, environmental issues and hockey.
Some readers might be surprised by the amount of information willingly conveyed by a wide range of people to the investigating Walker. It sure makes a guy’s job easier when folks are so willing to cough up information. Perhaps it’s all part of Walker’s charm.
Rosalie MacEachern began reading history books as a child and the world opened up when she got her first library card. Children’s or adult’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.