Friday, June 6, 2014


by R.J. Harlick

Some books you read because they're familiar and comforting. You know the setting, it could even be your own hometown, or you know the type, maybe a police procedural and all that implies or on the other hand, a traditional puzzle. But sometimes it's good to read a book that transports you to a new setting, a new culture even. That's the type of book you get with Silver Totem of Shame.

If you've read the first four books in the Meg Harris Mystery series, you'll already be familiar with the Aboriginal backdrop and the fact that Meg, not of First Nations' heritage, is deeply immersed in this society, living out in Western Quebec near the Migiskan Reserve. But this time, Harlick transports Meg and her new husband, Eric Odjek, former Algonquin tribal chief, to the West Coast where they both are introduced to the Haida culture. It's a fascinating look at this proud Matriarchal society and the awesome landscape of Haida Gwaii.

The story of the death of a young Haida man just starting out in the tradition of a carver, draws the reader into this culture where tradition is dominant and some stories may not be for sharing. Meg and Eric are visiting Vancouver. It's a holiday for her; business for him; a delayed honeymoon for both. When the murdered carver turns out to be Eric's nephew, the adopted son of his estranged sister, the recent past blurs with that of the ancient peoples in a tale of greed and revenge. As they follow the trail through the wilds to the remains of the long-gone village, the killer is finally revealed in a standoff between the Matriarch and those would wish to take over.

This is Harlick at her best! She manages to immerse the reader in the fascinating culture of this coastal tribe and to reflect a current day where old traditions meld with the modern world. Her descriptions of the islands of Haida Gwaii, the lush forest growth, the awesome coastline of steep cliffs and sheltered inlets, and the relentless sea truly transport the reader to this land. The fact that she's done an immense amount of research and in fact, traveled around Haida Gwaii are readily apparent. This all adds to the complex mystery and the inevitable outcome.

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