It All Falls Down by Sheena Kamal (Crime/Thriller, 2018).
Canada’s disastrous 1950s-era policy of adopting out indigenous children to non-Native American (or as they say in Canada, First Nations) families provides the background for author Sheena Kamal’s novels revolving around Nora Watts. I missed the first of these, The Lost Ones, but this is the second and stands alone quite decently.
Some of these kids, including the fictional Sam Watts were even sent across the border to the US. As such, Sam grew up in Detroit, Michigan not knowing anything about his heritage or his birth family. Sam would later serve in the US military, marry a exile from strife-torn Lebanon, have two daughters and apparently commit suicide after moving back north in a fruitless search for his identity.
One of Sam’s daughters, Nora only knew one parent, as her mysterious mother left when she was little more than an infant. Then Sam died, and Nora found herself (and her sister) being raised in Vancouver by an unofficial Aunt.
Today, Nora is a troubled young adult, just emerging from the violence she endured in the first, action-packed book. She just barely knows the daughter that she gave up for adoption at birth and had to help rescue in The Lost Ones. Nora’s first-person narrative voice is sharp, at times self-doubting but also aggressively penetrating and often cynical yet darkly witty. Kirkus Reviews compared her to Stieg Larson’s Lisbeth Salander and, while Nora is very much her own (fictional) person, the comparison is reasonable.
Contacted by a lurking stranger who claims to be an old military buddy of her late father, Nora becomes intrigued by the man’s hints that Sam’s suicide might not be all that it seems. Although reluctant to leave her dying friend and journalistic mentor, she heads for Detroit and many disturbing, increasingly dangerous incidents.
Back in Vancouver, a private investigator who Nora had a very tangled relationship with in the first novel is looking into the overdose death of a ruthless billionaire’s mistress. His investigation leads to still more violence that ties up loose ends from the previous book, but also shows that Nora still has dangerous enemies she wasn’t even aware of.
Without giving away too much plot, Nora’s in as much danger from her own ties as from her dad’s legacy. Oh, and there’s a strong subplot about the daughter she’s very hesitantly beginning to re-connect with.
The author’s training and experience (Kamal has a HBA in Political Science from Toronto University and has worked as a researcher on crime and investigative journalism for the film and TV industries) definitely informs her fictional work. The result here is a compelling, unflinching novel with suspense, atmosphere, emotional insights and tough, real characters.
Recommended on its own terms–and I’ll be watching for more from this author (not to mention that I want to track down the previous novel).