1832 ‘Rife with suspects and motives’

To Track a Traitor: A Lane Winslow Mystery
by Iona Whishaw

Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2023
$18.95 / 9781771513876

Reviewed by Ginny Ratsoy

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Iona Whishaw doesn’t allow her heroine much time for grass growing underfoot in this, the tenth in the Lane Winslow Mystery series. It is spring 1948, and fast on the heels of the tragedy and scandals of Framed in Fire, Lane and her husband, Inspector Darling, investigate mysteries that illustrate the indelible traces of war. Lane sets out to Scotland to assist her ailing grandfather and probe the Second World War activities of Diana, her younger sister. Darling confronts a triad of cases: the recent disappearances of a local war hero and a woman with whom he had an affair are complicated by an unwelcome directive to travel to England to investigate the death of a nurse in England during the Great War. War lingers long after treaties are signed.

At almost 500 pages, To Track a Traitor is not undemanding of the reader. As it weaves its way between the present and past and among strands of crimes, the novel relies heavily on character flashbacks. In typical Whishaw fashion, a short prologue sets up a murder—in this case, one of several—before the reader is immersed in a comforting backdrop of rural B.C. in which the relative newcomer has become easily entrenched. A quotidian atmosphere of gardens, neighbourly chats, and the like provides relief from, and highlights, the crime. As I noted in previous reviews, a strength of Whishaw’s series is the psychological element; that is, the blissfully wedded protagonist, genial, attractive, and popular though she is, is not a stranger to the sadness engendered by a childhood disrupted by war, a wartime romantic betrayal, and the aftereffects of her stressful war work.

Author Iona Whishaw. Photo Anick Violette

Darling’s multi-pronged quest—aided by Ames and Terrell, amiable and stalwart officers back home—is Byzantine. The case of the vanished First World War veteran, husband, and father of two, is rife with clues, red herrings, and suspects. Ben Arden, it turns out, is anything but the war hero, ideal son, and loving father as initially painted. A suspect war medal, a depleted bank account, a robbery at a print shop, strange wedding invitations, a deserted cabin, and ambiguous handwriting analysis lead Darling and his team (collaborating by phone) to various suspects—a cuckolded husband, a betrayed wife, a deserted lover, and an old school chum. The path to the missing woman proves less convoluted, if slow going. However, it takes the crew some time (even after the redoubtable Lane passes on some beauty parlour gossip) to discover a crucial link between Arden and the body of the nurse in England: Francine and Ben were lovers, Francine’s brother was Ben’s old school chum, and Francine’s husband was Ben’s commanding officer. But who killed Francine? Again, this case is rife with suspects and motives.

Lane’s quest proves equally complex—and more harrowing. She arrives in Scotland to find her grandparents alarmed at Diana’s recent disappearance. A bedroom search leads the inveterate sleuth to conclude that the sister she regarded as immature and silly was undertaking important and dangerous work in South Africa during the last war. Although a subsequent visit to London’s War Office yields little, an interview with Diana’s friend points to a love interest that lead to Diana’s war work. It is soon clear that the danger in Diana’s path is ongoing—and extends to Lane herself. Unbeknownst to Darling, Lane joins her sister in a village near Eastbourne, where Diane reveals all. This—the most suspenseful facet of the novel—comes to a head back at the grandparents’ home, where only some fast thinking by an initially sceptical female major, a maid, and, above all, Lane, prevents severe miscarriage of justice—not to mention death. Crime solving is a collaborative effort in Whishaw’s world.

In the denouement, as she and Darling walk the chalk cliffs of southern England, Lane reflects on the important, exciting work both women signed up for during the war, her own ebbing difficulties adjusting to the reduced roles for women in civilian life, and her sister’s ongoing ones.

In true cozy-mystery fashion, To Track a Traitor ends with Lane and Darling happily back home, Lane ever the more appreciative of her idyllic environment and feeling a new affection for her brave younger sister, and Darling’s indignation at the manipulative directive that sent him to England somewhat assuaged by the outcome and the success of his crime-solving team. Blissful domesticity—even in a post-war era in picturesque British Columbia—may be short lived. The larger world, both present and past, is bound to intrude.

Nelson, British Columbia. Photo by Gerry Ten

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Ginny Ratsoy is Professor Emerita at Thompson Rivers University. Her scholarly publications have focused on Canadian fiction, theatre, small cities, third-age learning, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. In addition to counteracting ageism by maintaining a growth mindset through freelance writing and community engagement, she promotes later-life learning through her involvement as a board member, coordinator, and instructor for the Kamloops Adult Learners Society. Her recent course, “Canadian Short Fiction: National Literature and Serving the Story,” brings together work by Miriam Toews, Maria Reva, and Mavis Gallant. Editor’s note: Ginny Ratsoy has recently reviewed books by  Elizabeth Bass, Karen L. Abrahamson, & J.E. Barnard(eds.),  Gregor Craigie & Kathleen Fu, Cynthia FloodReed StirlingMaria Tippett, and Gillian Ranson for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: 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 now 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. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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