The Dead of Winter

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By Peter Kirby; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Peter-Kirby-The Dead-of-WinterMajor Crimes Chief Luc Vanier is spending a lonely Christmas eve listening to Patsy Cline sing “of loss and despair” with a bottle of Jameson when he gets a call about the body of a homeless person at a subway station.

It’s the fifth such body found that evening. Too many to be random.

All of the victims appear to be homeless and sleeping rough. There are no signs of injuries. Surveillance cameras in one Metro station show a person dressed as Santa Claus stopping to speak to one of the victims and giving a present of some sort.

When the autopsies are done, however, there’s no doubt about murder: each was poisoned with potassium cyanide.

Among the victims’ bagged belongings, Luc finds that several had bottles of prescription medications ordered by a Dr. Alain Grenier. Dr. Grenier tells Luc that all of victims had terminal illnesses and were unlikely to have lived more than several months. He adds that he has five more patients who are terminally ill and as vulnerable as the first five victims. Some of those in the second group he hasn’t seen for several weeks.

Dr. Grenier suggests that Luc speak to Father Henri Drouin, a Catholic priest concerned about the plight of the homeless.

This is a many layered story. Were the homeless victims killed out of a distorted sense of mercy? Were they killed by someone who disliked the homeless?

Author Peter Kirby shifts the focus from the individual victims to the social and economic forces in the island city of Montreal that force those who have little into the margins. Soon, Luc is investigating not just five murders, he’s looking at a an unsavory redevelopment scheme and a petty crook’s profiteering off of homeless people’s welfare checks.

Kirby has created a complex and fascinating character in Luc Vanier, a six-foot four man with a shaved head and “the build of a defensive linebacker.” His wife, Marianne, left him two weeks before Christmas a year ago. She took their daughter Elise with her to Toronto. Vanier has shared this with no one. His son is fighting in Afghanistan. There’s plenty here to explore in a series.

Montreal offers an excellent setting for this series: it’s historic, scenic and filled with conflicting constituencies competing for land and economic resources.

Kirby’s writing style is both spare and vivid, a pleasure to read.

THE DEAD OF WINTER was followed by VIGILANTE SEASON (2015) and OPEN SEASON (2015).

About the Author: Peter Kirby

Born in Cork, Ireland, Peter Kirby‘s family moved to England when he was 10. He grew up in Brixton, a working-class neighborhood in South London.

Without the grades for university, Kirby headed for America.  He worked as a cook in New York, Boston and Toronto. He arrived in Montreal when the first Quebec separatist government was elected and many English-speakers were leaving. Kirby decided it would be an interesting time to stay.

He was accepted into a Concordia University program for mature students. He attended classes at night while working as a cook during the day. He eventually got into McGill Law. He worked a 5:30 to 11 a.m. shift as a cook and then went to law classes.

He practices international law at Fasken Martineau, one of Canada’s largest firms. He was recognized in 2012 by The American Lawyer as one of Canada’s leading 500 lawyers.


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