Roxanne Bouchard (trans David Warriner)
Orenda Books, 12 November 2020
Available as: PB, 424pp, e
Source: Advance review copy provided by the publisher
I'm grateful to Orenda Books for providing me a free copy of The Coral Bride to consider for review and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the book's blogtour.
The Coral Bride takes us to a part of the world I was completely unaware of, the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, on Canada's eastern coast. It picks up the story of Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès from We Were the Salt of the Sea (which I hadn't read, shame on me: now I will) as he investigates the suspicious death of Angel Roberts on her lobster trawler. Forced to locate himself close to the scene of the death, Moralès finds himself in a guest house, run by the enigmatic Corine, out of season. The only guest, he has the run of the place. I rather liked this setting: Morales spreading out his papers in the empty dining room, looking at over the sea as he unravels the case.
That investigation is a taut, satisfyingly complex crime/ mystery in itself. Roberts was closely enmeshed in a network of fishing families with complex rivalries - both personal and financial - all struggling to make a living from the sea amidst environmental crises - the disappearance of the cod - and financial challenges going back generations. There are whispers of poaching, and time was that every trawler's skipper carried a rifle aboard. Once Moralès digs into the investigation he finds an abundance of motives for a murder and a great deal of shifty behaviour - but is still baffled as to whether this wasn't actually a simpler story of suicide. If it was a murder, how could it have been done? If it was a suicide, why?
This part of the story alone would be enough to make this a compelling and page-turning read. But The Coral Bride offers much, much more.
Alongside Moralès's investigation, his own life and family is in turmoil. His wife won't speak to him and he's not sure whether or not his marriage is over. Son Sébastien has arrived home unexpectedly, clearly going through a crisis of his own. We see events from both Joaquin's and Sébastien's viewpoints, so get to appreciate the delicate dynamics between father and son, the past events - and misunderstandings - that have shaped their lives, particularly when it comes to relations with women. Confronted with considerable amounts of misogyny in the local community, the two men are forced to reconsider their own attitudes: Joaquin has a tendency to fixate on a particular feature of a woman's body - a protruding vertebra, an ankle - and Sébastien punts an idea that his father has ruined his life by not teaching him to assert himself with women.
The reality is that it's hard for women on the Gaspé to make it in a man's world. That's true for fisheries inspector Simone Lord as much as it was for Angel Roberts herself. That's easily said, but oh, to really understand it - and this story - you have to move in to this book, as Joaquin does, and meet its people (Lord, Detective Lefebre who can't be in a room five minutes without beginning a collection of objects, Corine herself, and many more). As well as being a masterful study of a place and way of life (rooting what happened to Angel in a richly portrayed setting) the characters here are spot on - quirky, fully realised, believable and deeply human. I especially loved the way that Bouchard has the Moralès men lapse into cooking - whether alone or working together - either when they are very content or brooding, needing to work through something (either personal issues or the finer points of the case). There's a physicality to the descriptions of food, of ingredients and how they are put together that is just very satisfying (also, mouth-watering). It's a lovely way to learn about characters and makes me wish there was more cooking (and eating) in writing.
In short - the book really was an absolute joy to read. I don't think I've actually done it justice here. I strongly recommend it and I hope you will read it and love it too.
For more information about The Coral Bride see the publisher's website here - and also the other stops on the blogtour (see the poster below).
You can buy the book from your local high street shop (they need your support right now and many are able to order books and let you collect). Or you can get it online from bookshop.org, from Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.
OR you can order a SIGNED COPY from Bert's Books - contact email@example.com or call 07960 002056