The long-awaited new instalment in the award-winning, bestselling John Cardinal mystery series.
A year after the death of his beloved and troubled wife, Catherine, John Cardinal has moved into a new, but very humid, condo. He has fallen into an easy routine of work on cold case files and platonic movie nights with friend and colleague Lise Delorme. The quiet of a snow-covered Algonquin Bay is shattered when the decapitated bodies of two people are found in a summer home on Trout Lake. The victims, visitors from Russia, are in Algonquin Bay attending the annual fur auction. This is by no means a routine murder investigation as Cardinal soon discovers, but a horrific piece of a very twisted puzzle. Blunt has, once again, given us a page-turning plot, a remarkable cast of characters and the comfort of John Cardinal at the helm.
About the author
GILES BLUNT grew up in North Bay, Ontario. After spending over twenty years in New York City, he now lives in 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; A Delicate Storm, winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel; Blackfly Season, one of Margaret Cannon's Best Mysteries of the Year; By the Time You Read This, a national bestseller; and No Such Creature, one of the Globe and Mail's Top Ten Crime Books.
Excerpt: Crime Machine (by (author) Giles Blunt)
A small city that heralds itself as the Gateway to the North is unlikely also to be known as the gateway to fine dining, and until recently—unless your idea of an evening out involved donuts or poutine—this was pretty much the case with Algonquin Bay. Many an intrepid restaurateur had been brought to ruin by the economic realities of trying to serve fresh Atlantic salmon, not to mention an edible tomato, 340 kilometres north of Toronto. But they kept trying, and this particular year at least three restaurants—two steakhouses, as well as Bistro Champlain—were vying for the attention of local gourmands.
Of these, Bistro Champlain was by far the most successful. Partly this was the work of Jerry Wing, its creative chef, but being located across the highway from a first-class ski resort called the Highlands didn’t hurt. When the Highlands did well, Bistro Champlain did well—and right now it was doing very well indeed, owing to the winter fur auction. Buyers from all over the world had descended on Algonquin Bay to bid on hundreds of thousands of furs that would end up in showrooms from Manhattan to Moscow to Beijing. Champlain’s dining room may have maintained its luxurious hush, but for a couple of hours the kitchen had been a scene of barely controlled chaos.
It was nearly ten, and Sam Doucette had just plated what she hoped was the last order for the night: the maple venison, accompanied by sweet potato mash and a red wine reduction. The rush was over, and the decibel level of slamming skillets, pans and ramekins had finally settled below the pain threshold. Jerry had already gone home, and Sam was praying that Ken, the manager, would not seat some late arrival with a huge appetite. Working as a cook—a skill her mother had taught her—was supposed to be part-time, a way of subsidizing her art classes at Algonquin College, but for the past few nights she had been doing the work of two cooks, one of her colleagues having been summarily fired for attempting to exit the premises with two hams stuffed in his backpack. All but two of the waiters, Ali and Jeff, had gone home, and Sam couldn’t wait to get out of there.
She rested one foot on the bottom of an upturned pickle bucket and wiped the sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her chef ’s tunic. Would Randall call? If he called, fine. If not . . . well, she didn’t want to think about that. Romance, she was discovering, was not uninterrupted bliss; mostly, it was uninterrupted anxiety. So she turned her mind to Loreena Moon, the heroine of a graphic novel she was drawing and writing just for fun. Well, she told herself it was just for fun—she didn’t want to get all worked up thinking about actually selling it—but she was also toying with the idea that it might be a series. She had already drawn lots of images and written several scenes. For some reason, the imaginary Loreena Moon was clearer in Sam’s mind than anything about her real life, except Randall and his passionate kisses.
Loreena Moon was cool, aloof, self-reliant—everything Sam was not. She moved through the shadows of the city, a perpetual frown of suspicion darkening her brow. She carried a knife in a fringed sheath on her hip, a quiver of arrows at her shoulder, and a small bow slung across her back. She was always outraged, always righting wrongs and saving helpless people, wronged people. Loreena never looked back and she was never, ever in love. She was the same age as Sam, eighteen, but she didn’t live on the reserve and she didn’t live in Algonquin Bay. Sam was not yet sure where Loreena Moon lived. It couldn’t be a house or an apartment; no bills or personal responsibilities for Loreena. The only place Sam could imagine her staying was in hotel rooms, and never the same one twice.
The kitchen clock hit ten, ending Champlain’s food service for the night. Sam’s cellphone rang in the breast pocket of her tunic and her heart gave a skip of happiness. The tiny screen said Randall Wishart.
“We have a place,” she said. “Please tell me we have a place. I’ve missed you so much.”
“Me too,” Randall said. “Come to the Island Road house. How long will you be?”
“I’m done here. I just have to set up for the lunch crew.”
“Park some ways away,” he said, “and don’t let anybody see you.”
Sam turned off the deep fryer, the ovens and ranges. She had already wiped down the counters and cutting boards. Ken McCoy, the manager, stuck his head in from the dining room and gave her the okay signal.
She changed in a supply closet behind the kitchen. The white tunic came off and went into the laundry bin, followed by the ridiculous check pants. Loreena was always in black jeans and tank top, sometimes a black T-shirt, maybe with a cat logo or a lightning bolt. Sam’s own jeans were a struggle, she was so sweaty from the stove. She pulled on the soft red sweater that she knew Randall liked, slung her coat over her arm and went out the back door to the parking lot.
The night was fine, the snap and sparkle of December without the face-freezing cold that January would soon bring. Loreena Moon would have hopped on her Kawasaki, but Sam had to be careful getting into her ’96 Civic. The door had to be lifted just so as you opened it or the hinge would go out of whack and the thing would refuse to close.
The Island Road property was out on Trout Lake, at the tip of a point it had all to itself. In summer there might have been people cruising by in boats, people driving back and forth to their cottages, but this time of yearit was dead quiet. Even so, Randall opened the door the way he always did, standing behind it so he couldn’t be glimpsed by any chance passerby. He was still wearing one of the dark sports jackets he favoured for work, but he had taken his tie off and, seeing Sam, his face lit up like a hot young actor’s at the Academy Awards. The moment Sam was inside, he took her in his arms and hugged her tight.
“Three whole days,” Sam said. “I was going crazy.”
“Did anyone see you?”
“Where’d you park?”
“The hydro turnoff you showed me.”
The house was a bungalow, very open and lots of polished wood everywhere. Too pretty for Loreena, but Sam liked it just fine. She hoped the owners never came back. She took off her boots and hung up her coat in the vestibule and Randall hugged her again. He switched off the vestibule light and they went to the bedroom and got undressed, Sam draping her stuff on a wooden chair by the closet.
“Jane have nice body,” Randall said. “Tarzan like.”
“I wish I could take a shower. I’m all sweaty.”
“Me like all sweaty.”
They lay down on the blue blanket Randall always brought to cover whatever bed they happened to use. He kept it in his car and Sam occasionally wondered how he explained its presence there to his wife. He stretched out naked, hands behind his head, showing off his biceps. Sam loved his body. Loved it in a way she was sure you should never love anything of this world. She had always thought love would be a melding of minds, a union of souls, and until she slept with Randall Wishart she had never considered the possibility that you could be positively loony over the sheer physicality of another human being.
Sam straddled Randall’s chest, pinioning his arms. Her hands looked dark against his so not-Native skin. “I think about you all the time,” she said.
“No, I mean really, really all the time.”
“If I could draw like you, I’d draw you over and over again, all day long.”
Sam touched his cheek. It was always smooth. Randall never allowed the slightest stubble. He would have considered it unprofessional in a realtor.
“I think about your voice,” she said, touching his neck. “Sometimes I even hear it in my sleep.”
“Oh yeah? What am I saying?”
“I can’t tell you.” She covered her face.
“Come on, what am I saying?”
Sam shook her head.
“I know what I say.” He tilted her off and put his lips to her ear and whispered a string of outrageous commands and nipped at her earlobe. That started their usual delirious tangle, which after six months still had the power to leave Sam breathless and amazed. Randall always found just the right touch, the exact timing that could drive her pleasure up and over thresholds whose existence she hadn’t even suspected. Was it just because he was older? Or did he have some kind of gift? Or was it—maybe, oh, she hoped so—because he really, totally, absolutely loved her? A Force Ten orgasm in no time at all.
He fell away from her, gasping and laughing. “That’s it. I swear. That was the one. I’m never going to need another one. That was it for all time.”
Sam laughed. “They ought to have an Olympic event. The hundred-metre orgasm.”
They were laughing, but Sam was already beginning to feel sad the way she always did afterward. Sad that Randall would be going home to his wife. Sad that she would be going home to her mother and her little brother and her self-absorbed art instructors at Algonquin. Most of her friends had left town for universities farther afield. Her dad was off on one of his winter camping trips, hunting or just being alone, something he liked to be a lot. She turned on her side and touched Randall’s pale shoulder. “Can we go away somewhere, sometime, maybe?” she said. “For a few days at least?”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it.”
“Can we do it? Just take off for Toronto or Montreal or, I don’t know, anywhere? For a weekend maybe? Even just overnight?”
“I’d love to, Sam, but I can’t. What am I supposed to tell Laura?”
“Tell her that you’ve found a beautiful Indian princess who makes you incredibly happy.”
“That’d go over real well.”
“Well, make something up, then.”
“I can’t, Sam. I’m a terrible liar and Laura would know like that.” He snapped his fingers.
Sam could feel his tension rising the way it always did whenever she talked about life outside whatever vacant house they happened to be in. She knew she should shut up, but she couldn’t stop. “Don’t you want to spend time with me somewhere else? Somewhere outdoors maybe? Or anywhere—a coffee shop, a bookstore—it doesn’t even matter. Just somewhere we could be like normal people?”
“Sam, Laura and I have been together a long time. I can’t just up and dump her, and like I say, I’m a lousy liar.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, I guess.” Sam moved her hand to his forehead and stroked his eyebrows. He gave a little moan of pleasure, and soon he was asleep.
He always fell asleep after, out cold like you’d shot him full of Valium. He’d stay that way for five or ten minutes, during which time Sam got to wonder about his other life, his real life. Laura Wishart was pretty and smart—Sam had looked her up on the Internet—the quintessential blond success, some kind of financial expert. She must have been well off to start with, because her father owned Carnwright Real Estate, where Randall worked. Sam wasn’t sure why Randall was unhappy with his wife. He rarely talked about her, except to say they never had sex anymore.
She tried to think about Loreena Moon. Loreena was free, always on the prowl. Loreena was cool and untouchable. She was like Pootkin, Sam’s black cat that roamed the neighbourhood and sometimes came home and sometimes did not. She had given Loreena Pootkin’s green eyes—the only spot of colour in her monochrome artwork. She wasn’t sure if you could actually have a single dot of colour like that in a real book, but she liked it.
She wanted her heroine to be essentially good—that is, always helping the underdog and bringing evildoers to justice. But she didn’t want her to bebound by petty rules of behaviour. This past weekend she had drawn a series of images of Loreena swiping stuff. She was investigating a rich industrialist whom she suspected of poisoning the water supply of several reserves, and while snooping through one of his mansions she pocketed various valuable items. Sam liked the idea of Loreena being as amoral as Pootkin, but wasn’t sure if she could square that with helping the underdog. She loved Pootkin, but not because the cat had shown any inclination to altruism.
Randall woke up, and picked up his watch from the bedside table. “God, I gotta go. I’m supposed to be watching the game at Troy’s place. I did see most of it.”
“Better check the score before you get home.”
“I’ll check it on my phone. Not that Laura cares.”
They got dressed and Randall folded up the blue blanket. In the vestibule they put on coats and boots. Randall switched off the light. His hushed voice in the dark as if people might be listening right outside the door. “Give it two minutes, right?”
“And make sure the door is shut properly. Lock seems to be screwed up—everything sticks in this house.”
He gave her a quick kiss, said he couldn’t wait until next time, and then he was gone. A cloud of cold air, smells of snow and pine. His car starting in the drive. It shouldn’t hurt this much, she told herself. You’re a big girl. Supposedly. No cat-hearted Loreena, though, that was obvious.
She watched through the door window as his tail lights winked through the trees. It was a long drive back to town and then up the highway to the reserve; she decided she’d better visit the bathroom before hitting the road. She wiped her boots on the mat until she was sure they wouldn’t leave water on the hardwood.
As she was coming out of the bathroom, she heard a key in the front door. A man’s voice. Not Randall. Stomping of boots and voices answering.
Sam stepped into the bedroom. If these are the owners, she said, or even another agent showing the place, I am in shit city, and so is Randall. But the owners weren’t supposed to be back yet, and why would an agent be showing a house at this hour of the night? It didn’t make sense. The toilet was still running, and she prayed it would stop.
Voices and movement deeper into the house. Hall light going on.
Sam got down on the floor and slid under the bed. There is no kind of serious person, she said, that would be in this situation.
Several minutes of quiet, then the man’s voice louder and footsteps coming her way. Dulled sound of stocking feet. Did that mean they would be staying?
The man’s voice from the hall. “Got a nice bathroom. Nothing luxurious, but it’s the location you’re paying for. The tranquility.”
The bedroom light came on and Sam held her breath. She couldn’t see anything, the bedspread hanging almost to the floor.
“Good-sized master bedroom. Room for a queen-size bed, obviously. Decent closet space. You might want to pick yourself out a different colour.”
Sound of closet doors sliding open.
A woman’s voice, some kind of accent. “It was built when, you said?”
“So new. Looks older, the style.”
Closet doors sliding shut.
“Character,” the man said, closer now. “They didn’t just reach for the cookie cutter.” He crossed the room and there was the sound of curtains being pulled back. “You got the lake out back, snowmobiling in winter, canoeing, water skiing or whatever’s your fancy in summer. It’s the view makes the place. I gotta get you-all out here in the daytime. Smack dab on the water, out on a point—it’s a postcard, there’s no other word for it. Pretty unique. Got two more bedrooms.”
“Is only one bathroom?” Another man’s voice. Again a foreign accent.
“Yessir. You mightn’t consider it for your primary residence, but for a northern getaway? I think you’d be hard put to beat it.”
Their footsteps thudding toward the hall and the light going out.
“You-all check out the other bedrooms,” the man said, “and then I got a little something to warm us up.”
Sam shifted her position under the bed. She could hear the man and woman in the hall, some foreign language. How long could it possibly take you to check out a little bungalow? Leave, she told them. Just leave.
Footsteps moving back toward the kitchen or living room, no longer in the hall anyway. The people didn’t leave, but she couldn’t hear them anymore.
She tried to regulate her breathing, to calm down. They would go soon. Another few minutes maybe.
From the living room, the clink of glasses. Laughter. Sam prayed they were not planning on an all-night booze-up.
She waited, thinking about the window. The house was such an open style there was no chance of getting to the front door without being seen. She had never seen the back door, but it would have to be somewhere near the kitchen. That meant the window.
Is there one single solitary thing I have to be grateful for in this situation? she wondered. One single solitary thing to justify that famous “attitude of gratitude” her father was always encouraging her to cultivate? Maybe one. Got to the bathroom before all this. Otherwise there’d be a whole other layer of anguish.
Sam’s head hit the box spring. Her father had taught her to shoot when she was nine. There was no doubt in her mind, not for one instant, that someone had just fired a gun.
A man shouted. The kind of yell a man lets fly when his team has just scored a goal.
When you get lost in the woods, her father told her—and everyone gets lost in the woods, even Indians—the first thing you do is what you don’t do. You don’t panic. Panic will kill you faster than any wolf, faster than any bear. Panic is the quickest cause of death known to man. What you do is you notice it, you name it for what it is, and you lock it away in a little safe where no one can get at it, not even you, understand?
Don’t panic, she told herself. Maybe no one has been shot. They were looking at a house—why would anyone shoot anyone? Maybe someone’s shooting blanks for some reason. Maybe they snorted some coke or something and they’re going a little wacky. Don’t panic.
She tried to get control of her breathing, her heart rate. No one knows I’m here. Whatever’s going on, it’ll be over soon. They’ll leave, I’ll leave. Life will be normal and no one will be dead. Not me, at least.
None of this slowed her heart rate. Blood thundered in her ears.
She eased herself out from under the bed. There were two windows side by side, one with an air conditioner fixed into it. Outside, moonlight on snow. She turned the lock on the other one and lifted. It didn’t move. Her heart jacked itself up even more. It was all she could do not to scream.
This is panic. Heaving up on the window grips, pushing on the sash, nothing moving. Thinking, this is panic, get back under that bed.
Grabbing the chair. To this moment still having made no sound.
I do this and there’s no going back. It’s one chance and no more. I should get back under that bed.
She swung the chair with all her strength, spinning her weight into it. The noise was terrifying.
One knee over the sill and onto the slight ledge outside. Hands on the sill and glass slicing into her in many places at once. She pushed herself off, coat ripping, and hit the ground hard, knees and hands. Then up and running, and bullets spitting snow in front of her before she even heard the first shot.
She made straight for the darkness of the trees, thinking, my tracks in fresh snow saying shoot me. She dropped down behind an outcropping of granite and looked back. Someone had turned on the bedroom light, but there was no shadow in the window. Think, she said. To her left, the platinum lake, the ice still too thin for anyone heavier than a cat. There’s only two ways back to the car, one on either side of the drive and then the road. He saw me come this way. He’s going to bust out that front door and head for this side and he’s going to hear me even if he can’t see me and then I’m dead and I really do not want to die.
The open ground between her and the house looked like the worst place in the world. She left the rocks and ran right back through it, keeping close to the rear of the house, and then into the woods on the other side. Every instinct told her to run all out. I’m fast, she said, but I’m not Loreena Moon and I’m not about to outrun bullets. The trick is not to run fast but to run silent.
She tried to remember all of the tracking lessons her father had given her. How to move in on your prey without being detected. Keep your steps to the rocks, right on them or close by. Ease your weight by grabbing low branches close to the trunk. Don’t step on twigs. Great bit of Indian lore there, Dad. I’d never have thought of that. Being a good tracker was not the same as being good, meaning living, prey.
When she was well past the front of the house, she crouched amid a stand of pine and listened. She could see the drive, could hear the man crashing through the woods on the far side. How dumb was this person likely to be, was the question. How long would it take him to see that there were no tracks over there, no footprints in the night’s thin layer of snow. Then he would either wait or head down to the back of the house and see her trail doubling back.
He came out of the woods and turned slowly, conning the snow, the woods. Sam reached into her pocket for her cellphone. Not there. She felt her other pockets. The man moved back toward the house, the gun long in his hand. Sam took off again. A few moments later the road was in sight through the trees. Her car was down the road a little toward town. To avoid crossing the open driveway, she would have to get to the far side of the road and into the woods, which climbed a steep hill, or risk the open road.
The man was crashing through the brush behind her. Sam broke for the road and ran for it. If he saw her, he would have trouble getting a shot, and by the time he reached the road, she would be at her car. A bee whizzed by her face and then the following crack told her everything she needed to know. She got to the hydro utility road and her car parked maybe fifty feet in from the road.
If he’s made it to the road, the noise of me starting this thing up is going to tell him where I am.
She kept the lights off. The Honda started first try. She took it slow on the service road; the slight rise would have been enough to render those bald tires useless. As she rolled up to Island Road, she saw him coming and gunned it, back tires spinning but drifting up onto the road. It was agony to ease off on the pedal, but it was the only way the tires were going to grip. A bullet slammed into the back end, and the man was yelling, running toward her in the rear-view.
The tires caught and she eased her foot down, keeping low in the seat. Another bullet slammed into the trunk. She rounded a curve and breathed a little easier. He couldn’t get a shot and he wasn’t going to catch her on foot. His best move now would be getting into the car she’d seen shadowed in the driveway and coming after her all Terminator. She had the advantage of knowing Island Road, which had some serious twists and turns, and he couldn’t be sure if she was headed to town or farther north.
A car coming the other way blasted its horn and flashed its lights. She put her headlights on and kept it fast, the Honda fishtailing on the hills and curves. Nothing in the rear-view, but then you could only see back to the last curve. Up ahead, the Chinook Tavern on the right and beyond that the highway.
The Chinook parking lot was busy for a Thursday night. People outside, huddled over their cigarettes. A guy was poised to pull out on his Harley, but there was no way she was going to let him. She blasted by and totally ignored the stop sign at the intersection. He yelled something—hurling his outrage into the night.
Then the smooth road and the lights of town in the distance. She patted her pockets again for her cell. Definitely gone. She must have lost it when she jumped. Moonlight on the f lat white surface of Trout Lake, the road itself in the deep shadows of trees and hills. The speed limit was 80 kilometres, but she pegged it at 120. You couldn’t go faster on these curves. It was a perfect speed trap, of course. The cops often staked it out, hoping to lasso the drunks weaving back to town from the Chinook.
The steering wheel was sticky with blood. Her knee was hurting, and not in a way that was going to fade any time soon. The blood had soaked down nearly to the cuff of her jeans. That was probably going to need stitches. You are in trouble ten different ways, she said, and if you’ve got some plan for getting out of it, I’d really like to hear it right now—preferably before Mr. Murder decides to come after me.
“As distinctively Canadian as a Tom Thomson painting. . . . Crime Machine is as good as Canadian crime fiction gets.” — Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
“A marvelously controlled writer, equally confident with characters and narrative.”
— Toronto Star
“Teeming with questions, possibilities and clever, enticing dialogue.”
— The Hamilton Spectator
“With Crime Machine, Blunt delivers another twisting page-turner that will keep readers up late at night, proving yet again that he can deftly toe the line between terror and intrigue.”
— CBC Books
“First-rate series. . . .You can hear the crunch of snowshoes through the bush, smell the buckshot mingling with fresh blood.”
— NOW (Toronto)
“Another winner from one of Canada’s leading crime writers.” —The Peterborough Examiner