When the naked corpse of a girl known only as Sparrow is found wrapped in barbed wire on a storm-swept beach, community coroner Elias McCann must investigate the sadistic killing. Suspects abound in the One Earth Family, a gaggle of homeless youths led by a grizzled veteran of Canada’s mean streets. But menace also seems to lurk around the neglected property that so fascinated Sparrow before her death. The property is slated for transformation into a seaside resort by a developer who seems intent on acquiring all of Tofino-and Elias’s girlfriend, Vhanna Chan. To find the killer Elias must first unravel the mystery of Sparrow’s past.
Published by Dundurn Press Castle Street Mystery, 2004: 272 pages.
2004 Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Finalist for Best Novel.
Zuehlke has really caught the culture and pace of his Tofino setting, and McCann, the local coroner, is a well-developed character with smarts and charm. The plot is solid. Excellent.
Perhaps the most notable element of Zuehlke’s narrative style is his attention to detail, which is essential for any good whodunit. Descriptions of setting are rich and almost poetic, demonstrating a profound admiration for the province’s wildlife and natural resources. Zuehlke’s knowledge of forensics and legal procedures lends a high degree of credibility to both the characters and the chain of events. The facts of the case, as well as local reaction to it, are given in great detail, through the eyes of an incredibly perceptive and empathetic protagonist. Both major and minor characters are fleshed out with attention to personal quirks and the intricate web of relationships within the community. Zuehlke’s imaginative and disturbing construction of the murder itself is also effective. Not only does the author illustrate the base, cruel side of human nature, but also the heroics and compassion necessary to solve a crime of this nature.