Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt

Author: Giles Blunt
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Format: Paperback
Series: John Cardinal #1
Genre: Police Procedural | Suspense


When four teenagers go missing in the small northern town of Algonquin Bay, the extensive police investigation comes up empty. Everyone is ready to give up except Detective John Cardinal, an all-too-human loner whose persistence only serves to get him removed from homicide. Haunted by a criminal secret in his own past and hounded by a special investigation into corruption on the force, Cardinal is on the brink of losing his career–and his family.

Then the mutilated body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine is pulled out of an abandoned mineshaft. And only Cardinal is willing to consider the horrible truth: that this quiet town is home to the most vicious of serial killers.

With the media, the provincial police and his own department questioning his every move, Cardinal follows increasingly tenuous threads towards the unthinkable. Time isn’t only running out for him, but for another young victim, tied up in a basement wondering when and how his captors will kill him.


I’m not sure what is wrong with a great many male authors who seem to think it’s okay to have male characters—especially ones who are supposedly loving husbands and fathers—ogle women’s breasts, objectifying female colleagues and witnesses, and demeaning them by ‘sexualizing’ them. Blunt is just another in a long line I’ve read recently, who have their male MC aroused almost as a character-aside, which is not only annoying, it doesn’t seem justified within the context of the character (and the established personality) to have them behave this one.

Blunt then does almost a similar trick to his secondary character—and Cardinal’s partner—Detective Lise Delorme, by having her (in a single paragraph) think about how she lost her virginity to some young guy, as a teenager. All the while driving between A and B, looking for a possible serial killer. This seemingly trivial fact has absolutely nothing to do with the story, plot or character, other than, once again, demean them. Do we really need to know who she played around with, on the steps of the family home? It doesn’t really go to character, or establish anything positive. And like most of these observational asides, seem out of touch.

The rest of the clichéd characters don’t hold up well under scrutiny either, and come across as a pre-defined set that are expected, like the donut eating cop, the sexual braggart, the quiet loner—all of whom sound more like the perp than cops.

While John Cardinal plods his way through the entire novel thinking about past mistakes, his wife, Catherine—consigned to hospital for a mental breakdown—and berating himself for his perceived sins (he’s a lapsed catholic, like that’s meant to explain everything). We find out that he purloined money from a criminal and, while he and Delorme are investigating four possible murders in a town where murders never happen, Delorme is also investigating Cardinal. But not for what she thinks, or has been told he’s done. Which is something of a missed opportunity and never really fully explained or explored in the novel.

The meandering plot, plods along at a terrible pace, as—for the most part—we’re stuck inside Cardinal’s thoughts. And while a sadistic killer is manipulating his young girlfriend into becoming a killer, we get plenty of graphic detail, but never really get to know why.

Sadly, the desolate setting, in the middle of a harsh northern winter, plays second fiddle to plodding prose that never really rises above average. And don’t get me started on the stilted dialogue or the portrayal of indigenous characters as stereotypes.

While Cardinal, as a TV show, is richly detailed and riveting to watch, the book leaves a lot to be desired and lacks any originality.

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