CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 21 . . . . February 2, 2018
Approximately two years ago, I reviewed A Murder for Max and proclaimed "the novel is strong enough that readers will hope that there will be a long line of Maxine Benson mysteries." The novel under review, Murder Among the Pines, is the third of this line with Murder Below Zero being the second. All three are part of the "Rapid Reads" series, one that features many accomplished writers: Gail Anderson Dargatz, Norah McClintock, Kim Moritsigu, Richard Wagamese, and Zoe Whitall, among others. Reynolds rightly takes his place amongst these authors, all of whom write serious, fully fleshed novels, not just short novellas, fiction for a fast paced world.
Having read Murder For Max, and knowing the titular character, I thoroughly enjoyed the third novel in this series novel and welcomed knowing more about the back story of Maxine Benson, especially her failed marriage. The novel is particularly good dealing with the clash between a small town police department and the OPP. As well, Max continues to battle the sexism of small town Ontario, the kind of sexism where one particular OPP officer tells Max:
As one can imagine, Max solves the "serious stuff" and leaves the OPP officers looking foolish.
As with most whodunits, this novel starts with a murder, but this one does not trot out a long list of suspects, as Murder for Max did; instead, the reader (and the OPP) focuses in on James Benson, Max's ex husband, a former police officer from Toronto. In the process, the reader learns about the Benson's marriage and the various reasons why she left Toronto to come to the sleepy Muskoka village of Port Ainslie. As well, Henry Wojak, the sole officer under Max's command, is given a few nice moments in the book where he impersonates an ex-jeweller and catches the murderer.
James Benson has come to Port Ainslie to show off his current girlfriend, Lana Jewel Laverne, and perhaps to reconcile with Max. The first night they are in town, however, James and Lana have a fight, and by the morning she is dead. Using video evidence and their own intuition, the OPP look no further than James, but Max feels she knows her ex well enough to realize that he could not have committed the murder, nor indeed commit any murder. In 13 tight chapters, the case is solved, making the novel a good quick read in one sitting for some, or read in many sittings for the reluctant reader. If there is one criticism I have for the novel, it is that teenagers, the audience Orca Books is, in part, targeting, may not inherently find detective stories all that interesting. As a high school librarian, I get far more people taking out other imprints from Orca – "Orca Currents" or "Orca Sports" – than I do the "Rapid Reads" novels .The Orca website claims "Rapid Reads" novels "are intended for a diverse audience, including ESL students, reluctant readers, adults who struggle with literacy and anyone who wants a high interest quick read." In fact, the website even invokes Ian McEwan's assertion that "the novella is the perfect from of prose fiction."
While it is stretching matters to invoke the author of The Cement Garden, and also perhaps overdoing things to harp so much on the rivalry between local and provincial police forces (Reynolds also plays that tune – pun intended – in A Murder for Max), the entire "Rapids Reads" series, including Murder Among The Pines, should find a place on the shelves of both local and high school libraries. Plucky Maxine Benson is an engaging and triumphant character. I welcome even more of these Maxine Benson Mysteries.
Adam C. Hunt is teacher librarian and Head of Social Science at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville, ON.