Death Takes No Holiday
It is two weeks before Christmas in the city of Ottawa, which has been pummelled by a blizzard and mesmerized by the plight of a missing young woman. A frozen body has just been discovered buried in a snowbank in the wealthy enclave of Rockcliffe, home to diplomats, deputy ministers…and desperate secrets. Colourful Christmas lights, plastic Santas and piped-in carols wash the landscape as police fan out en masse in search of the missing woman. And a killer.
It is also the first night of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish winter holiday which has become a tradition in Inspector Green’s family. In Chapter Twelve, I describe the scene…
….Sharon had dressed the table in white and sparkling silver in honour of both Friday night Shabbat and the first night of Hanukkah. A platter of golden latkes filled the air with the scent of onions and oil, but the beauty only sharpened the sense of loss. Hannah’s place was set, as a symbol of her inclusion, but the empty chair spoke volumes.
The sadness is not just because Green’s teenage daughter is missing from the celebration, having flown across the country to spend the holidays with her mother. It is also because Green is in the middle of a murder investigation and has to go to Montreal in the morning to follow up some leads from a thirty-year old cold case. When death strikes, there is no time to waste. The killer must be tracked down before witnesses and evidence disappear and before he can potentially strike again. Bereaved loved ones must be reassured that the police will give them justice, and fellow officers need a strong, experienced hand at the helm to provide insight and direction.
At the best of times, Green struggles to balance his home responsibilities with the urgent demands of his work. It’s a struggle he sometimes fails miserably, but in recent years, with the bond between his estranged daughter and himself slowly mending and his son growing into a perceptive and articulate little boy, he has been trying to reset the balance.
In Canada’s predominantly Christian society, celebrating the traditions of minority groups is always a challenge. The holidays must be squeezed into off-work hours, and the preparations done while juggling the ongoing demands of the larger world in which they live. The glares or uncomfortable silences from co-workers must be endured if one leaves early or books a sick day. Nowhere is this juggling act more evident than in the twenty-four-hour-a-day, almost completely non-Jewish environment in which Green works. In the past, Green has never been much of a Jew; his Holocaust-survivor parents had been paranoid about any outward display, and his own Jewish expression had been limited to bagels and smoked meat. But through his wife and his growing family, he is slowly reconnecting to the heritage he had lost.
So here he is, at the start of what should be a joyful holiday full of candles and songs and games. But instead, he is deep in the middle of a mysterious death and facing days away from home. All around him, the bright lights of Christmas are a vivid reminder that everyone else is celebrating a very different holiday. That if he is not at home to share Hanukkah with his family, they will have precious little sense of it at all.
This is just one of the nagging pressures Green faces in Beautiful Lie the Dead, as he battles potential sabotage, the weather and a ticking clock to solve an old puzzle and track down a new killer.
An active member of Canada's writing community, Barbara served as president of Crime Writers of Canada (2004−2005).
Next... Cheryl Kaye Tardif, loss and getting through the holidays.