Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


THE BIRDS THAT STAY by Ann Lambert: Book Review

What could be more peaceful than the small village of Ste. Lucie, set in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains?  That is, it was peaceful until handyman Louis Lachance went to do a small repair job for a neighbor, Madame Anna Newman, and found her body lying in her garden.

Chief Homicide Inspector Roméo Leduc is called to the scene.  Madame Newman’s house is almost pathologically neat and clean, devoid of any knickknacks or artwork with the exception of several beautiful needlepoint landscapes on the walls.  The only unusual thing was a necklace one of the policemen found in her garden, a gold chain with a charm hanging from one of the chain’s broken pieces.

The charm is the Hebrew letter chai, a word that means life in English, Leduc tells the young officer.  Leduc is more familiar with Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols than most non-Jews because he worked as a shabbos goy for Orthodox Jews in Montreal, doing work (lighting stoves, turning lights on and off) that they were forbidden to do on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.  But there were no other signs of Judaism in the house–no sabbath candles, no mezzuah on her front door.

Marie Russell, another resident of Ste. Lucie, is writing a book on science for children while she’s on sabbatical from her college teaching position.  She’s wondering how explicit she should be about the mating habits of insects–do the youngsters need to know that earthworms are hermaphroditic and can mate twice at the same time, for example, or that male honeybees explode after impregnating the female and then die?

Marie returns to her former neighborhood in Montreal, to the street where she grew up, to visit her mother who is now in the throes of dementia.  The families who lived on the block when she was a child are almost all gone now, but it is the block itself that is really the center of the story, the place where Marie’s childhood memories begin to unlock the mystery of Madame Newman’s murder.

When Marie finally makes the painful decision to place her mother in a memory care facility, she sees another visitor whom she believes she recognizes from her childhood neighborhood, and the disparate strains of the story start to come together.  And so do Roméo and Marie.

Even though the secrets of this murder go back decades and started in a country far from Canada, once the secrets are unearthed they touch the lives of Marie, Roméo, and many others in the community.  The novel’s characters are totally believable, their personal problems compelling.  And the author makes the city of Montreal and the town of Ste. Lucie come alive; they almost become characters in their own right.

Ann Lambert is a playwright whose works have been performed in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Australia.  She has taught English literature for thirty years at Dawson College in Montreal and is the former head of The Playwriting Program at the National Theatre School of Canada.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Leave a Reply