As a booklover, one who reads a multitude of fiction from all genres every month, I have a checklist in my head of what I treasure in a book. Blackwater Bluff by writer Shelagh Mathers (aka S. M. Hurley) meets all aspects of it. It has mystery—check. It is fast-moving—check. It has compelling characters—check. It has an emotional punch—check. Set in Prince Edward County, a picturesque island on the north shore of Lake Ontario, it tempts the reader to explore every nook and cranny—check. I always felt somewhat on edge when reading this novel, which can be attributed to the suspense and tension that is skillfully created and built up through the story—check, check.
The story follows Crown Attorney Augie de Graaf who investigates the death of her beloved mentor, Ruth Neill, found at the bottom of the bay in her car. Despite being sidelined by a vicious assault in the courtroom, Augie thumps around on crutches to seek justice for her friend. When Detective Geoff Cunningham points an accusatory finger at Ruth’s partner, Joseph O’Rorke, Augie stops at nothing to clear his name, even though in doing so she enrages her superior and other colleagues while putting her life in danger.
In publishing circles, they’d categorize Blackwater Bluff as upmarket fiction, which is a book that appeals to audiences of both commercial and literary fiction. Commercial fiction—for example, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown—is plot driven, with lots of action scenes, involving the protagonist pursuing a goal or overcoming a challenge. Literary fiction—for instance, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry—puts emphasis on character development and creative form and language. Commonly denoted as a “book-club novel,” a book that is upmarket fiction tackles universal, elevated themes while remaining accessible to the general public, a book such as About a Boy by Nick Hornby.
The books by Brown, Mistry and Hornby are well-known, whereas S. M. Hurley’s book is not. But it should be!
It is a pearl hidden in a shell. It’s time for it to be extracted and added to a string of best-sellers.