I love this series. It is a thing of beauty. So when I heard that a new novel was on the horizon from Roxanne Bouchard I was so happy. A huge thank you to Orenda Books for, first of all, bringing this series to our shores and, secondly, for sending me an advance copy. My thanks also to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including me on the tour schedule. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
Fisheries officer Simone Lord is transferred to Quebec’s remote Magdalen Islands for the winter, and at the last minute ordered to go aboard a trawler braving a winter storm for the traditional grey seal hunt, while all of the other boats shelter onshore.
Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès is on a cross-country boat trip down the St Lawrence River, accompanied by Nadine Lauzon, a forensic psychologist working on the case of a savagely beaten teenager with Moralès’ old team in Montreal.
When it becomes clear that Simone is in grave danger aboard the trawler, the two cases converge, with startling, terrifying consequences for everyone involved…
The award-winning author of The Coral Bride returns with an atmospheric, race-against-the-clock thriller set on the icy seas in the midst of a brutal seal hunt, where nothing is as it seems and absolutely no one can be trusted.
Okay. One to get out of the way. If you are a vegetarian/vegan, offended by the use of animals for meat, an animals rights activist, or just someone who cannot stand the thought of seals being killed for food etc, then this may be a book you want to think long and hard about reading. There are scenes, few in number, but which, speaking as an animal lover and someone who takes a boat trip every summer just to see seals and other wildlife, are hard to read. They are not unnecessarily gruesome, or, whilst more graphic perhaps, overly gratuitous in nature, but they do serve to make clear the harsh reality of life as a fisherman, of the hunter as it is probably better to call them. It is an accepted way of life for the characters in the book, although not without meeting protestors along the way. It informs the story, but it is far from being the whole narrative.
There are echoes of the sadness, and sometimes anger, with which Fisheries Office Simone Lord oversees the whole process of the hunt, that run throughout the text, and from the very beginning I could feel the weight of an almost tragic inevitability of what would come to pass. A sense of foreboding that seeps from the pages – this story was not set to have a happy ending.
But for me that is one of the magical parts of this series. There is no absolute need for the perfectly positive resolution to the stories we are told. In terms of the framing, there is always a mystery at the heart of the book – be it a murder or, as in this case, that knowledge that the seal hunt is just a front for something that is even more dangerous than setting sail in the face of an impending winter storm. But that is just one part of a bigger, deliciously lyrical and almost mystical story of a community whose lives and fortunes are dependant upon the sea. From the moment we joined Detective Morales in his new life in We Were The Salt Of The Sea, we found ourselves subject to the turbulent whims of the sea, and those who seek to master her.
And yet, unusually perhaps for this series, the ocean forms only a backdrop to the story in Whisper of the Seals. Although Simone’s journey along with the crew of the Jean-Mathieu is treacherous, navigating icy waters along the coast to find their own treasure of ‘grey-gold’ it is fair to say that the real danger takes on a far more corporeal form in this book. I think I’d rather my chances in the ice-cold waters than with the rag tag bunch of highly dubious characters that Simone finds herself on board the boat with. The threat is often far more than implicit, and from early on in the book we know exactly the level of peril that she is being placed in. And that constant sense of danger, of the fragility of her position as a woman, no matter how mentally strong, in a mans world, adds to the sense of inevitability and melancholy that I had throughout the book.
I know I’m making a bit of a hash of this review, making the story sound rather depressing, hard to read maybe. That is a touch unfair to the book as it is so much more than a woman in danger/out of her depth kind of tale. There are threads of the story which bring us back full loop to Detective Morales, ones which seek to emphasise the jeopardy that Simone has been placed in , but which also clarify what has brought such a mismatched bunch of hunters together in the first place. This is a story driven by the characters who inhabit it, and if there is anything that Roxanne Bouchard excels in, ably brought to life in the English language by translator David Warriner, it is in creating character and setting. Once again we have a wealth of unique, multi-faceted characters who bring light and shade to the story.
From the light-hearted, well meant intentions of Lefebvre, to the tough and yet somehow vulnerable Simone, every motivation, each action, is brought to life so vividly that I can’t help but be invested in their story, drawn into their world even if it is somewhat tinged by darkness. I love that the author has invested such complexity into the central characters to the story. Not a single one of them, not even those who pose a threat to Simone, are flat, one-dimensional personalities. Each adds something unique and important to the story. The people who inhabit the worlds of Morales, Simone and Lefebvre add colour and vibrancy, and often moments of mirth which lift what could in the wrong hands be a very dark and heavy story. We feel every gut wrenching punch all the more because of the softness and emotion that is imbued within the narrative.
I do love Morales as a character but for all the melancholy we have witness before, the dramatic changes in personal circumstance that preceded and arose from his move to Gaspé, I think that we feel his emotion, his sense of loss, far more in this book. It is echoed in the atmospheric, tone of the book. The sense of isolation, both physical and emotional, that pours from every page. I felt his weariness and yet in spite of that his innate ability as a Detective never quite switches off, even when on holiday. Which is just as well as it is his sense of urgency, of almost desperation that helps to drive the conclusion to the story and you can feel that step change in pacing when it occurs, the almost jarring moment when the two stories collide with inescapable consequences.
I know I haven’t done this book justice with this review. Haven’t captured the simple beauty of the text, or the almost lyrical way in which Roxanne Bouchard brings the Gaspé peninsula to life with her writing. There is a stark beauty to the imagery that she brings forth in her writing, one which I am determined to see for myself one day. And with a story, and a series, that will make you smile but also has the potential to break your heart, I can’t recommend it enough. The closing chapters of Whisper of the Seals are likely to stay with me for quite some time. Bravo Ms Bouchard.
And so I have to give it one of these.
This may not be as long as its predecessor, or as fast paced or suspenseful as some other novels I’ve read of late, but it is beautiful, emotive and the kind of book that leaves an indelible mark.
About the Author
Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. Her fifth novel, the evocative, atmospheric, beautiful, We Were the Salt of the Sea – her first to be translated into English – achieved exceptional critical acclaim. Its sequel, The Coral Bride, the second in the Detective Moralès series, was on the bestseller list in her native Quebec, before being published in English and around the world. Roxanne lives in Quebec with her partner, and is working on the third book in the series.
About the Translator
David Warriner translates from French and nurtures a healthy passion for Franco, Nordic and British crime fiction. Growing up in deepest Yorkshire, he developed incurable Francophilia at an early age. Emerging from Oxford with a Modern Languages degree he narrowly escaped the graduate rat race by hopping on a plane to Canada – and never looked back. More than a decade into a high-powered commercial translation career, he listened to his heart and turned his hand to the delicate art of literary translation. David has lived in France and Quebec, and now calls beautiful British Columbia home.
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