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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 1:00 am

Outcast heroine sorts out her demons

Reviewed By OLINE H. COGDILL | Associated Press

Canadian author Sheena Kamal continues to show how cultural touchstones reverberate into adulthood in her intriguing look at Vancouver research assistant Nora Watts.

Nora technically isn't a detective, though she's worked for one, and her skills at finding people are unmatched. But Kamal's second novel delves deeper into Nora's prickly personality, shaped by her biracial background and the series of foster homes in which she was raised.

Nora is approached by a stranger while walking her dog in a park. The man claims to have served in the Marines with her late father, Samuel, while they were stationed in Lebanon. He suggests that Samuel didn't commit suicide as Nora and her sister, Lorelei, have long believed, and that his death may be related to her father's life in Detroit. Nora's trip to Detroit also yields a link to her mother, who left when she and Lorelei were toddlers.

Back in Vancouver, private investigator Jon Brazuca, with whom Nora has a fractured relationship, is hired to investigate the drug overdose of a billionaire's pregnant mistress. Without resorting to cliches, Kamal deftly intersects the investigations in a believable plot. Both find themselves targets of killers, and neither knows why.

Kamal's affinity for the unusual, character-driven mystery excels here. While Kamal supplies plenty of action and close calls, she concentrates on the characters' motivations. Nora's background has given her a mistrust of people and made her wary of emotions. Jon, who also was her AA sponsor, has never been able to break through her wall.

A sense of sadness permeates the novel, from Kamal's gritty look at Detroit and unflinching look at Vancouver's neighborhoods to the flawed characters. Yet Kamal also injects a sense of hope and closure for Nora and makes readers root for their future.