1672 A noir novel for teens
by Brooke Carter
Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2022
$10.95 / 9781459831605
Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn
Sulfur Heart is a wonderfully dark and gritty story with all the elements readers crave in a noir novel: crime, murder, tragedy, whodunnit, revenge. It took me less than ninety minutes to read, and it will no doubt whet the appetite of many readers who would otherwise be intimidated by a lengthy and dense noir. Between the short length and the captivating plot, Sulfur Heart is sure to draw readers in and show that everyone has something to hide and something to protect. How far are they willing to go for those secrets?
Will is brought back to his hometown of Hope, British Columbia, when his father is found dead at the local sulfur mill. Questions arise almost immediately as to the cause of death: was it murder? A terrible accident? Suicide? As Will begins to ask around town and run into people from his past, the questions rack up and the answers get farther away, casting doubt and suspicion on everyone. Author Brooke Carter has made the right decision to place this novel in the town of Hope, as the theme of hopelessness is tangible as Will struggles to find answers.
There are moments when the dialogue stumbles a bit and becomes disjointed. These few conversations don’t flow as I expected them to, and they forced me out of the story in an effort to understand what was being said. Though these moments are few, they stuck out since I was keeping in mind the accessibility of the novel. As they don’t do much to detract from the overall plot, I only wanted to mention these moments and avoid critiquing them. Perhaps they were even purposeful, meant to throw the reader off guard and make them pay attention.
Will’s story has some good twists and keeps the reader engaged. But I’d be lying if I said that the small page count wasn’t also a motivation to continue. It was comforting to know I could read it in one go, without the commitment I normally make to novels that take many hours or days to read and absorb. Sulfur Heart engaged me, showed me its world, and provided me with a satisfactory conclusion in a few short hours. After I finished, my first thought was that it should have been longer, more complex, deeper. I wanted more. Now I understand that it was much better the way it was written: the shorter presentation keeps the exposition and time-consuming aspects to itself, much like the secrets that the characters keep from each other.
Sulfur Heart is part of a series of Hi-Lo (“high interest accessible”) novels published by Orca Books called Orca Soundings. These Hi-Lo novels are meant to provide teens with short, easy-to-read stories that remain interesting and engaging to teens for their subject matter. A noble endeavour, and one that I hope brings more young people and teens into the world of reading. Sulfur Heart fits this classification very well and makes the noir genre accessible to teens.
Reading accessibility is a multi-layered issue, and one that has been partially solved by the ingenuity of libraries. The ability to borrow books instead of having to buy them has raised the literacy of many communities and helped to grow an interest in many types of available reading formats, from paper copies to e-books to audiobooks.
Many books in genres like noir and crime thrillers are written at a higher reading comprehension level. This book is rated for ages 12-18, but I would lean towards a 14+ rating due to some of the subject matter. It’s a great place to start getting into gritty crime thrillers, even for those on the younger side of that range. More experienced readers may find it lacking the meat — but Sulfur Heart is the bones and gristle of a larger animal, one that will help many to explore a genre they may not have previously felt privy to. And it will leave every reader craving more.
Myshara Herbert-McMyn is a book reviewer and aspiring writer living in Kelowna. She runs the blog Lit&Leta. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Thompson Rivers University. Editor’s note: Myshara Herbert-McMyn has recently reviewed books by Becky Parisotto, Sara Desai, Tara Moss, Sonya Lalli, Tamara Goranson, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster