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November Hunt by Jess Lourey

I’m only a few pages into this book and I feel a need to check out definitions. Naturally, I follow in the footsteps of our young folk and pick up my copy of the Oxford English. That kontiki thing set up by Heyerdahl and the great white wales was on strike recently. Who can trust such a fly-by-night site with something as vital as human knowledge? Anyways up (or down, if you prefer) I was curious to see what meaning is currently given to “genre”. It seems, despite the best efforts of the marketers to introduce certainty into the different classifications (otherwise how are we mere mortals to know what style of book we’re to buy), the word itself remains flexible. Indeed, those subversive dictionary folk think a book can simultaneously belong to several genres. Now that creates problems for those poor people in bookshops whose job it is to place books on the right shelf. Just think. Bookshops might have to buy multiple copies of the affected titles and place one or more copies on each genre shelf. That’s potentially good for the publisher’s business although more returns to handle.

So why get all excited, you ask. Well, November Hunt by Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink, 2012) is a humourous book about PIs with some romance mixed in. Disconcertingly, our heroine’s defences melt. Her bruised lips and ears come under attack. . . albeit it’s all described in the best possible taste. Now everyone and his dog knows PI novels are hardboiled with laconic and violent people slouching around the landscape doing noirish things to catch bad guys and, most importantly, never showing fear to anyone. They are not about young lady librarians who are afraid of thermostats and have strong hands on the small of their backs. Yet, that’s what we have here. The publishers have given their marketers and book shelvers a real headache with this one. It’s a wisecracking breath of fresh air into the normally stale back rooms where tough guys duke it out with crime bosses or their henchpersons. And, the air is certainly fresh in the sense of cold as we start off this story in the November snows of Battle Lake, Minnesota with what might look like a hunting accident to the local police. Except, of course, one of the deceased’s family harbours suspicions and needs a quiet investigation. Enter Mira James who, as a result of this commission, may finally be on her way to picking up that elusive PI licence.

Jess Lourey with her back to the wall

November Hunt is the seventh in the series featuring this investigator. She started off on May Day and is well on her way to December. Fortunately, she’s surrounded by opportunities to show off her crime-solving abilities while struggling to keep her head above water financially and hoping she’s found the right man for herself — on that front, she’s testing out the abstinence theory. It therefore makes a pleasant change to have someone relatively normal as the investigative wizard. Anyone who checks out PIing for Morons before starting off is my kind of person. Except, of course, like a doctor who finds strangers at parties asking for an immediate diagnosis and treatment, wannabe PIs can be offered unusual commissions, e.g. to find a lost mojo.

Putting this happy badinage to one side, books of this genre (sic) ultimately depend on the quality of the mystery to be solved. No matter how amusing or romantic in the touch-me-not-my name’s-temptation sense of the word, there must be real ingenuity in the puzzle to be solved. Equally important is the need for the author to play fair. Once the facts of the puzzle are established, we should be able to look over the heroine’s shoulder as she navigates from bafflement to that satisfying Eureka moment when all becomes clear. In this instance, there’s no clear indication there’s a murder to be solved. We simply set off on each day with half an eye on what people are saying or doing. In the process we discover a source of pot if we should ever be in the mood for a hit and that vitamins bought from the internet may have unintended side-effects. The interesting feature of this investigation is that we’re never directly interested in the first death itself — no rooting around the crime scene, if such it be. The death remains in the background as our PI grows increasingly proactive, inserting herself into various situations around town until she works out why someone might have wanted the man dead.

I think the motive that underpins the entire plot is particularly ingenious. It’s one of these “in plain sight” factors but, unless you were in that situation, it’s not something you would immediately think about. Sorry, I should personalise that. Being unlucky enough only to have a ten-watt light bulb for a brain, it didn’t occur to me. There’s a nice switch about identities in there too. The only vague feeling of dissatisfaction is the element of contrived melodrama at the end. I know it’s conventional to have our heroine metaphorically tied to a railway track as in the Perils of Pauline, but these deus ex machina resolutions leave me cold. I prefer my PI to type up her recipe for a whodunnit solution and post it to her editor before the deadline.

Put all this together and we have a genuinely enjoyable read. Yes, November Hunt blurs the genres but that’s no bad thing. Jess Lourey lets the spirit take her where it will. In the end, the test is whether a book is good or bad. In this case it’s excellent.

For reviews of other books by Jess Lourey, see:
December Dread
November Hunt
The Toad House Trilogy: Madmen.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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