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Fiction General

Blackfly Season

by (author) Giles Blunt

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2005
    List Price

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Red Bear stood close to the fire and stretched toward the sky, every muscle in his body straining. The veins in his neck stood out like electrical cords. His voice had gone thin and raspy and the words came streaming out of him with a terrible urgency. The words– if in fact they were words – collided with one another. [Blackfly Season, page 94]

According to Detective John Cardinal, the truly diabolical thing about blackflies is their stealthy silence; there is no warning and no chance of a pre-emptive strike. Every year at the beginning of May, the blackflies take over Algonquin Bay, swarming in clouds out of their winter wombs in the standing water of lakes, creeks and swamps.

But this year, the blackflies aren’t the only ones to make their way into town. A self-proclaimed shaman and card-carrying member of the Chippewa First Nations has also arrived. Known only as Red Bear, the mysterious figure has recruited three young men from town who share a history of drug use and living on the fringe.

And Red Bear isn’t the only mysterious visitor. At the World Tavern, the oldest but perhaps least reputable bar in the city of Algonquin Bay, OPP officer Jerry Commanda is enjoying his regular Friday night Diet Coke with a squeeze of lemon. He meets a young red-haired woman who is unable to tell him her name, where she lives, or how she came to be at the World Tavern. It’s not until a hospital X-ray reveals a bullet lodged in her brain that the reason for her amnesia becomes clear.

When John Cardinal and Lise Delorme are called in to take over the case from Commanda, they don’t have a lot of leads on who this mysterious redhead is, let alone why someone would want her dead. And when the mutilated body of a member of the local biker gang the Viking Riders is discovered near long columns of bizarre hieroglyphics, Cardinal and Delorme begin to suspect that it is isn’t just Viking Rider justice.

Despite the climbing body count, Cardinal is distracted. His wife, Catherine, has left to go to Toronto with a group of her photography students and Cardinal is convinced that the stress and excitement of the trip will push her to the breaking point. His worst fears are confirmed when a call reaches him from a student concerned by Catherine’s erratic behaviour. Cardinal speeds to Toronto to reach his wife before she unravels.

When Cardinal returns, a third body turns up with a bullet from the same gun that shot the redhead. Linking the three murders and finding out who’s responsible becomes an intricate game of unravelling the secrets of families and decoding the mysteries of an ancient form of African voodoo.

From the Hardcover edition.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Giles Blunt grew up in North Bay, Ontario. After spending over twenty years in New York City, he has recently moved back to Toronto. He has written scripts for Law & Order, Street Legal and Night Heat. He is the author of Forty Words for Sorrow, for which he won the British Crime Writers’ Macallan Silver Dagger, and The Delicate Storm, winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt: Blackfly Season (by (author) Giles Blunt)

Chapter 1

Anybody who has spent any length of time in Algonquin Bay will tell you there are plenty of good reasons to live somewhere else. There is the distance from civilization, by which Canadians mean Toronto, 250 miles south. There is the gradual decay of the once-charming downtown, victim to the twin scourges of suburban malls and an unlucky series of fires. And, of course, there are the winters, which are ferocious, snowy and long. It’s not unusual for winter to extend its bone-numbing grip into April, and the last snowfall often occurs in May.

Then there are the blackflies. Every year, following an all-too-brief patch of spring weather, blackflies burst from the beds of northern Ontario’s numberless rivers and streams to feast on the blood of birds, livestock and the citizens of Algonquin Bay. They’re well equipped for it, too. The blackfly may be less than a quarter-inch long, but up close it resembles an attack helicopter, fitted with a sucker at one end and a nasty hook at the other. Even one of these creatures can be a misery. Caught in a swarm, a person can very rapidly go mad.

The World Tavern may not have looked too crazy on this particular Friday, but Blaine Styles, the bartender, knew there would be problems. Blackfly season just doesn’t bring out the best in people — those that drink, anyway. Blaine wasn’t a hundred percent sure which quarter the trouble would come from, but he had his candidates.

For one, there was the trio of dorks at the bar — a guy named Regis and his two friends in baseball caps, Bob and Tony. They were drinking quietly, but they had flirted a little too long with Darla, the waitress, and there was a restlessness about them that didn’t bode well for later. For another, there was the table at the back by the map of Africa. They’d been drinking Molson pretty steadily for a couple of hours now. Quiet, but steady. And then there was the girl, a redhead Blaine had never seen before who kept moving from table to table in a way that he found — professionally speaking — disturbing.

A Labatt Blue bottle flew across the room and hit the map of Canada just above Newfoundland. Blaine shot from behind the bar and waltzed the drunk who’d thrown it out the door before he could even protest. It bothered Blaine that he hadn’t even seen this one coming. The jerk had been sitting with a couple of guys in leather jackets under France, and hadn’t raised even a blip on the bartender’s radar. The World Tavern, oldest and least respectable gin joint in Algonquin Bay, could get pretty hairy on a Friday night, especially in blackfly season, and Blaine preferred to set the limits early.

He went back behind the bar and poured a couple of pitchers for the table over by the map of Africa — getting a little louder, he noticed. Then there was an order for six continentals and a couple of frozen margaritas that kept him hopping. After that there was a slack period, and he rested his foot on a beer case, easing his back while he washed a few glasses.

There weren’t too many regulars tonight; he was glad about that. Television shows would have you believe that the regulars in a bar are eccentrics with hearts of gold, but Blaine found they were mostly just hopeless dipwads with serious issues around self-esteem. The stained, shellacked maps on the walls of the World Tavern were the closest these people would ever get to leaving Algonquin Bay.

Jerry Commanda was sitting at the end of the bar nursing his usual Diet Coke with a squeeze of lemon and reading Maclean’s. A bit of a mystery, Jerry. On the whole, Blaine liked him, despite his being a regular — respected him, anyway — even if he was an awful tipper.

Jerry used to be a serious drinker — not a complete alky, but a serious drinker. This was back when he was in high school, maybe into his early twenties. But then something had sobered him up and he’d never touched alcohol again. Didn’t set foot in the World or any other bar for five, six years after that. Then, a few years ago, he’d started coming in on Friday nights, and he’d always park his skinny butt at the end of the bar. You could see everything that was going on from there.

Blaine had once asked Jerry how he’d kicked the bottle, if he’d gone the twelve-step route.

“Couldn’t stand twelve-step,” Jerry had said. “Couldn’t stand the meetings. Everyone saying they’re powerless, asking God to get them out of this pickle.” Jerry used words like that now and again, even though he was only about forty. Old-fashioned words like pickle or fellow or cantankerous. “But it turned out to be pretty easy to quit alcohol, once I figured out what I had to do was quit thinking, not drinking.”

“No one can quit thinking,” Blaine had said. “Thinking’s like breathing. Or sweating. It’s just something you do.”

Jerry then launched into some weird psychological bushwah. Said it might be true you couldn’t stop the thoughts from coming, but you could change what you did with them. The secret was being able to sidestep them. Blaine remembered the words exactly because Jerry was a four-time Ontario kick-boxing champion, and when he’d said sidestep he’d made a nifty little manoeuvre that looked kind of, well, disciplined.

So Jerry Commanda had learned to sidestep his thoughts, and the result was him parking himself at the end of the bar every Friday night for an hour or so, with his Diet Coke and his squeeze of lemon. Blaine figured it was partly to deter some of the young guys from the reserve from drinking too much. Pretty hard for them to cut loose with the reserve’s best-known cop sitting at the bar, reading a magazine and sipping his Coke. Some of them, minute they saw him, just did a 180 and walked out.

Blaine swept his wary bartender’s gaze over his domain. The Africa table was definitely getting boisterous. Boisterous was okay, but it was just one level down from obnoxious. Blaine cocked his head to one side, listening for warning notes — the gruff challenge, the outraged cry that was inevitably followed by the scraping of a chair. Except for the bottle tosser, it looked to be a peaceful night. The bottle tosser, and the girl.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“The rapacious insects…amount to a single, malevolent character…a fit match for the novel’s bloodthirsty murderer…. Blunt’s scriptwriting experience shows in his crisp dialogue and rapid-fire introduction of minor characters, while his literary gifts are apparent in Cardinal’s tortured soul.”

“Blunt has quickly [become] one of the top crime writers in Canada, indeed internationally, and deservedly so…. A few more novels like Blackfly Season and Blunt may well achieve literary iconic status himself.”
The Globe and Mail

“He’s a true samurai of the north. We care about Cardinal, and we miss him when he’s not on the page: we’ll follow him anywhere….Blackfly Season is a superior thriller. Blunt’s sense of place is unsurpassed, and the scenes and events have an icy clarity that is the hallmark of his style.”
Quill & Quire
“Based on a true crime, the pulsing, tightly plotted narrative again shows why Blunt (Forty Words for Sorrow) should be considered among the new practitioners of crime drama's elite.”
Publishers Weekly
“This simply isn’t your typical whodunit. Instead, Blunt’s detective hero, John Cardinal, isn’t a master of detection but a real live human being with a troubled wife whose deteriorating mental health lends the novel continuing tension. And Blunt can write; his characters are fully realized, his humour wry and he knows that stories are what we are…. Readers do not have to be devotees of genre crime fiction to enjoy Blackfly Season. Well paced and plotted, this is page-turning entertainment for all seasons that will leave you scratching imaginary blackfly bites.”
The Sun Times (Owen Sound)
“Blunt, in one fell swoop, has become the blackfly’s biggest promoter, plastering its name on his latest creation–a novel guaranteed to keep the razzle in the dazzle of one of Canada’s more inspired crime writers.”
–Ottawa Citizen
“Blunt writes with an easy style that reflects his experience in television. The narrative, complex but not over-burdened with a myriad of subplots, flows nicely. He has a good eye for physical detail, and he creates characters that have enough depth to maintain a reader’s interest–particularly his complex protagonist…. Cardinal fans, and those who haven’t experienced him before, won’t be disappointed by the veteran detective’s latest outing, which has enough twists and turns to keep them guessing, and they will, no doubt, be eager to read his fourth adventure.”
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald
“Crime buffs will revel in the painstaking detail of the ensuing investigation–lovingly researched by Blunt, who admits he has developed a fascination for such gory details.”
–The Windsor Star
“It takes a pretty confident (others would say misguided) writer to take on the usually trite amnesia gambit, but Blunt brings an unexpected emotional depth and psychological resonance to the matter, breathing new life into the cliché.”
National Post
“Blunt has written for television, and it shows in the tight prose and a plot that skips along at a good pace.”
NOW (Toronto)
“Blunt deftly weaves various plotlines together and tells a chilling story set in a beautiful but primitive environment.”
The London Free Press
“…Giles Blunt writes a taut, gripping tale of suspense that is loaded with gritty realism in a story that comes together like the pieces of a puzzle. Dogged police work, as opposed to quantum leaps of plot logic, turns Blackfly Season into a credible, dramatic yarn…. Few can match Blunt’s wit, wry observations and emotionally charged background sketches.”
Edmonton Journal
“All three plots are quietly engrossing and the characters, especially Cardinal, feel authentic, as does the landscape of pine, granite, cold lakes, bears, and bugs. Blunt, who grew up in North Bay, knows whereof he writes.”
Cottage Life
"Blunt sets his highly acclaimed Cardinal and Delorme series in Canada's remote Algonquin Bay, which is far from civilization, far from prosperous, and filled with such daily-living challenges as relentless winter storms followed by the spring arrival of rapacious black flies .…. his characters are wonderfully realistic; his pacing never flags; his knowledge of police procedure is accurate without being show-offy; and he leaves the reader not so much with a story as with a glimpse into a perfectly realized world. First-rate."
—Connie Fletcher, Booklist starred review
Praise for Giles Blunt:
“Giles Blunt dazzled us mystery lovers with Forty Words for Sorrow. Now he has done it again with The Delicate Storm. Don’t miss it.”
—Tony Hillerman

“Giles Blunt, whose previous novel, Forty Words for Sorrow, is one of the best debuts I’ve ever read, has brought back the same characters and the same setting, but has developed a more complex case in The Delicate Storm. . . . It’s every bit as good.”
The Globe and Mail

“[Giles Blunt] is one of the top crime writers around.”
National Post

The Delicate Storm follows [Forty Words for Sorrow] with the same wry humour, understated storytelling and sensitive understanding of how lives can be shattered by a single misstep. . . . Unput- downable reading.”
Calgary Herald

From the Hardcover edition.

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