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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Sitting Lady Sutra by Kay Stewart

Opening sentence: RCMP Constable Danutia Dranchuk pinned another crime scene photo to the board, this one showing Esther Mike’s distorted face, her eyes and neck bulging from the red ribbon used to strangle her.

More than a mystery, Sitting Lady Sutra is a culturally fascinating tale of families forced apart – and drawn together – by violent crimes. While the investigation into a serial killer forms the backdrop for this novel set in 1996 Victoria, BC, the characters and their interactions are the greater draw.

Constable Dranchuk is intent on proving herself as Special Investigator into the serial killings of Aboriginal women while maintaining an unspoken rivalry with Corporal Farrell and a guilty avoidance of her parents’ phone calls. Ex-con Ritchie, torn between hope and fear over his daughter’s whereabouts, is putting off phoning her mother for fear of what he might hear. Surinder Sharma juggles his fractious sons, furious mother, and conflicted, half-Anglo niece in between mentoring Danutia through her investigation. Troubled Trav watches his mother die of cancer and drink.  Behind them are other ex-cons, other cops, parks workers, party people, Aboriginals young and old, all going about their lives while Sitting Lady Falls rush and ebb with the cycles of seasonal rainfall, and the Gorge waterway seduces the unwary with its deceptively smooth surface, and death walks among them.

While the natural waterways flow through the story, racism runs like a sewer through the lives of these characters. It is balanced by the beauty of Emily Carr’s art and by delicately performed cultural rituals. This feels like a much larger story than is contained in the slim hardback put out by Touchwood. I look forward to reading the next in the series, “Unholy Rites,” in hopes of resolution to some of the issues haunting Corporal Dranchuk both personally and professionally.

#2 in the Danutia Dranchuk Mystery series

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