8 October 2012

Review: CHALK VALLEY, Dan Johnstone


  • Format: Kindle, e-book
  • File Size: 858 KB
  • Print Length: 363 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: D.L.Johnstone (July 13, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008LDYW2K
  • Source: review copy supplied by author
Synopsis (supplied by author)

In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives.  After teenagers come across the savaged remains of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers uncover the bodies of two more victims secreted deep in the woods.  A serial killer is at work.

Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer. But inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters.

Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene. But Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the killer but his inquiries are ignored by a task force that’s in well over its head. And his supervisors tell him to back off.

Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?

My Take

CHALK VALLEY is quite long for a first novel but Dan holds it all together quite well. It really is a police procedural commentating on the way cases are often bigger than the resources devoted to them. There are frequently disparate repositories of knowledge and slavishly following strict procedures and protocols often doesn't bring them together in a meaningful way.

The novel highlights the way Canadian jurisdictions often compete with each other, but also that local policemen are often not equipped either through knowledge or experience to run a more complex case.

Lead investigator John McCarty really doesn't have the capacity for the bigger picture. He is convinced the way to go is to sift all the evidence from phone ins etc, categorise the data, and then proceed. The problem is that this is time consuming, and doesn't really ask the investigators to think too much.
    This was indeed turning out to be a very different kind of murder case than the domestics and drug murders Chalk Valley was used to.

    He thought through how he would run the meeting. Just keep it under control; it’s my case, and no Vancouver Metro shit for brains is going to take it over or tell me how to run it. Cases are built up of a delicate web of leads, evidence, information known only to the cop and the suspect, fragile strands to be protected at all costs. The last thing any cop wanted would be for some numbnuts to fuck things up and taint their witness by asking the wrong question, backing them into an error or even a lie, making it inadmissible in court, which in turn could basically shoot a case all to hell. When you share, you lose control. 
Ironically, there was a time, early in the novel, when, if McCarty had been carrying out his duties as he should have been, he would have nipped a crime in the bud and been able to take the serial killer before he killed another woman.

Add to that the fact that McCarty has personal problems.

In fact it takes a persistent RCMP Sergeant following his gut feeling and an experienced observer from Metro to set the ball rolling. Meanwhile the reader has always known who the murderer is.

A novel with this structure, where the characters don't make all the connections, but the reader is omniscient, is not easy carry off and the author does it pretty well. 

I particularly liked the characterisation, the occasional touches of irony, and real human interest that surfaced.

My  rating: 4.3

About the author

Dan Johnstone is Canadian author, based in Toronto. CHALK VALLEY is his first novel. He's co-author of several medical research publications and is a quasi-dedicated fitness freak with a second degree black belt in Taekwondo.

Dan says "CHALK VALLEY is based on extensive research in modern serial murder investigations in consultation with world class experts in major case management and the criminal justice system."

CHALK VALLEY is self-published. Last weekend Dan told me that "CHALK VALLEY hit #1 on Amazon UK's Movers & Shakers list on the weekend and Top 40 Thriller/Police Procedurals."

Author website

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Glad you liked this one. I'm drawn right away to the British Columbia setting and I like it a lot when an author takes a solid human-interest approach.

col2910 said...

hi - not especially commenting on this post, just that I'll try and connect my blog to yours later. had a quick look around the site, and I'm impressed, cheers col

Nicola Mansfield said...

Sounds interesting! As a Canadian, I've never actually read a crime book featuring an RCMP officer :-(

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