GAIL BOWEN – Verdict in Blood. McClelland & Stewart, hardcover, Canada/US, 1998. Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 edition; no date. TV movie: Shaftesbury Films, Canada, 2002; with Wendy Crewson as Joanne Kilbourn.


   [The original version of this review began with an attempt to straighten out the bibliography of Gail Bowen’s mystery fiction. As a Canadian author and largely distributed by a Canadian publisher, her books have appeared in this country on a very sporadic basis. They may not be difficult to obtain, but they are not found without a deliberate search for them. The list at the end of this review is complete, I believe, but does not contain specific publisher details.]

   […] In any case, it’s easy to see that you ever find one of Gail Bowen’s mysteries and want to read another one, they’re not going to turn up in local bookstores all that quickly. Mystery specialty shops will have them, and almost no one else.

   They seem to have gotten good reviews, and I liked this one very much. St. Martin’s published either two or three and then seems to have dropped the series. Why? Here’s my guess. They’re too Canadian. We’re too provincial down here.

   Here’s an example. A sizable subplot of Verdict in Blood concerns the problems faced by Canada’s aboriginal Indians in a society which at best ignores them — not a hot topic in the United States, by any means.

   On the other hand, it’s something Joanne Kilbourne is confronted with every day. Besides being a busy mother, an incipient grandmother and a professor of political science at the local university in Regina, the current man in her life is Alex Kequahtooway, whose nephew Eli is having severe problems adjusting to the death of his single parent mother. And this is starting to have consequences with her relationship to Alex.

   More. Joanne’s house guest, the elegant 83-year-old Hilda McCourt, was one of the last people to see her friend, Judge Justine Blackwell, alive. Known as Madame Justice Blackheart for most of her career on the bench, in the last year of her life she seemed to have taken a complete U-turn in her view of herself, becoming a champion of those she deemed she had treated unfairly. She’s now a murder victim, perhaps at the hands of one of the ex-convicts she recently befriended.

   It’s a complicated story, and there’s lots more to tell you, but this is as far as I’d better go with the basic outline or I’ll keep you here forever. My impression, though, and this is a distinct one, is that these are adults we’re dealing with, even Taylor, Joanne’s six-year-old adopted daughter, who’s very precocious and instinctively caring. Even with setbacks, Joanne’s progressive views of how to deal with the world are an essential part of the story, if not the mystery.

   Joanne tells the story herself, in first person, and when she misses some warning signals that something is amiss in her relationship with someone else, one person in particular, the reader does also, making him or her (or what the heck, me) feel the letdown that follows as painfully as she does. It’s an understated but certainly effective way to tell a story, and it’s one that hadn’t occurred to me before.

   The ending seemed rushed just a little, compared with the generally slow and even pace before then, but that’s a small quibble, and everybody should do it once in a while. I read this almost as fast as I did the Gil Brewer book [reviewed here ], even though they are miles apart stylistically — and almost every other way you might want to compare them — and maybe even faster. Enjoyable? Yes.

— October 2003

       The Joanne Kilbourn series

● Deadly Appearances [1990]


● Murder at the Mendel (US title: Love and Murder) [1991]
● The Wandering Soul Murders [1992]
● A Colder Kind of Death [1994]


● A Killing Spring [1996]
● Verdict in Blood [1998]
Burying Ariel [2000]
The Glass Coffin [2002]
The Last Good Day [2004]


The Endless Knot [2006]
The Brutal Heart [2008]
The Nesting Dolls [2010]
Kaleidoscope [2012]

[UPDATE] 08-07-12.   The novels marked with an ● have been adapted into made-for-Canadian-TV movies. I’ve ordered a copy of Verdict in Blood on DVD, but it is yet to arrive. I shall have to see how easy the other five are to obtain.