CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 14. . . .December 6, 2013
After completing high school in Cremona, AB, a small farming community about an hour north of Calgary, Kaila Porter had attended the Police Academy in Edmonton. Following her graduation from the Academy, Kaila had returned to her home town where she enrolled in Tamar College to complete a degree in psychology while working part-time as a police office in the Cremona Police Department that is headed up by her father, Grant. Now 21-years-old and about to begin her final year of college classes, Kaila drops in on the home of Betty Wrangler to assist the elderly lady with some needed snow shoveling. However, Kaila finds that Betty is beyond requiring any help as she has been murdered. And so the rest of Murder From Beyond the Grave deals with the questions of “Who killed Betty? and “Why was she killed?” Unfortunately, for me, the book got off on the wrong season. The novel’s two opening sentences read, “When Officer Kaila Porter stops by Betty Wrangler’s house to help shovel snow she knows she’ll have to hurry. Her college class starts at ten o’clock and it’s almost eight now.” To me, snow and college classes suggest a time setting of late fall or even the second term of classes, but just six pages later, I read that it is the first day of classes in September [see excerpt]. After Kaila and Holly leave the pub, they get into a brief discussion about the weather.
Adding additional confusion to the season in which the book takes place occurs on p. 104 where Yourkowski has Kaila remark about a September morning’s temperature being -30! Since there really is a Cremona, AB, it was easy to ascertain the average and record lows for the month of September via AccuWeather.com, and the average low hovered near 0 while the record low never reached -30. Average daily temperatures for Cremona in September ranged from about +8 to +15. Contributing further to this reader’s confusion about snow in September is the book’s cover illustration which shows a snowless forest scene in which the trees have not yet even started to turn fall colours. Admittedly, Yourkowski needed snow for plot purposes, but, if that is the case, why not just move the entire plot forward several months to the beginning of the second term’s classes? While on the topic of the cover, although the book’s title does signal the book’s genre, it has no apparent connection to the plot.
As is appropriate to the genre, Yourkowski offers up a number of suspects in Betty’s death, including the victim’s estranged son as well as a newly hired college professor (who later shows up dead, removing him as a suspect, but raising new questions concerning who killed him and why). However, on page 79, readers encounter the following passage:
Now, looking up someone’s name in a criminal database is not a wrong action for Kaila to take, but this is the first time that Yourkowski has actually mentioned this character, and, consequently, his name just seems to appear out of thin air. One of the unwritten rules of this genre is that the author must share with readers all the clues the “sleuth” has, and dropping in a name, without a context for the reader, is a clear violation of that rule.
To add suspense, and over a period of time in the novel, Yourkowski has the bad guys attempt to scare Kaila off the case by trying to run her down, making a menacing phone call to her, leaving a bloodstained threatening note in her car, cutting the brake lines in her car, and ultimately, kidnaping her. If Kaila had been an amateur detective working alone, then such efforts might have had some impact and worth, but she is a police officer and, therefore, part of a greater investigative entity. Had Kaila asked to be removed from the case, or had her father, her superior in the chain of command, actually taken her off the case, the investigation into the murders would have still proceeded.
Because the “detective” can’t be involved in the case 24/7, the author needs to develop something else for her or him to do in her/his downtime. In Murder From Beyond the Grave, Yourkowski creates three minor subplots. Two involve Kaila principally while the least of the three revolves around Kaila’s best friend, Holly, and Holly’s finding a boyfriend. As previously noted in the excerpt, Kaila and Justin have been dating for a couple of years, and Kaila recognizes that Justin is getting serious, but she knows that she is not yet ready to tie herself down. Consequently, when Justin springs a marriage proposal on her, they both handle the situation badly and break up. Justin’s being accidentally killed in a shootout near the book’s conclusion too conveniently brings this plotline to a close. The third subplot involves Kaila’s taking steps behind her parents’ backs to move out of the family home and into her own apartment. When Kaila’s parents finally learn what she is doing, her mother vehemently objects; however, the book’s final paragraph reads:
In terms of her writing style, Yourkowski frequently makes a confusing and awkward use of peoples’ names, both given and/or surnames. For example
Debbie is Kaila’s mother’s given name. Later on the same page, readers will find:
Yourkowski does the same type of “name” thing with Kaila’s father and uses “Grant” or “Chief Porter” when “her dad”, “her father” or “Dad” would be more natural. Sometimes Yourkowski refers to Kaila’s fellow police officers just by their given names and other times by their surnames, an approach that certainly keeps readers on their toes in keeping track of whose talking and/or being talked to.
Readers’ familiarity with American TV shows like Law & Order SVU may cause them to simply read over Yourkowski’s use of the term DA (District Attorney), but the plot of Murder From Beyond the Grave is set in Canada where we have Crown Attorneys (who are, evidently, called Crown Prosecutors in Alberta), not DAs.
Although Murder From Beyond the Grave has an adult central character (at least in terms of physical age) and two adult murder victims, plus an adult who orchestrated the murders, plus another who unwittingly facilitated one of the deaths, the book reads more like a juvenile mystery rather than a crossover adult crime novel. And the reason for this situation largely resides in the characterization of Kaila who comes off more like Nancy Drew than Jane Marple. Though a police officer who carries (and flashes) a badge, Kaila seemingly does not wear a uniform, rarely carries her weapon (it’s usually at home in a lockbox), doesn’t seem to have any regular policing hours, and largely operates outside the command structure while running off and pursuing leads without informing her superiors. Contributing further to the juvenile feeling of the novel is Yourkowski’s description of Kaila’s college experience which, apart for her visits to the campus pub, comes across more like what would happen in a high school rather than an institution of higher learning.
All in all, Murder From Beyond the Grave is a weak crime novel, and public and school libraries can take a pass on it.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.