It takes a while before Doreen Bell, the main character of Ilze Berzins’ latest crime thriller, is introduced to the reader. And it takes an even longer time before someone is found dead. Combined, they are among the elements that make A Tear in God’s Eye the author’s best work so far.
Readers familiar with her earlier mysteries—1999’s Death in the Glebe and 2000’s Revenge on the Rideau—will recognize certain Berzins trademarks. Bell, the middle-aged Ottawa artist who becomes amateur sleuth, of course figures prominently, as does her cop boyfriend, Barry Mullins. And Berzins soon had better provide a map to Canada’s capital city; she’s using more of the geography of Ottawa now.
Men, as they did in the earlier novels, are mostly cast as disagreeable characters, although their rough edges are softening. "Men need to feel powerful and in control," Bell tells her neighbor, Constable Julie Barnes. “And when they feel they’re losing it, they lash out—attack, even kill.”
But there the similarity ends. A Tear in God’s Eye is more layered and complex than the earlier crime novels. I kept expecting Doreen Bell to jump out at ever turn of the page, but it wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through that the story finally got to her. Along the way, the author had already introduced and developed several characters, among them the two-bit criminal Ivan Pavnick and his wheelchair-bound sister, Val Pavnick, the owner of a women’s shelter.
Berzins also has developed a much more intricate plot, one that she slowly unwinds before getting to the key element in a murder mystery: a body.
When death finally comes—to Linda Pedersen, wife of policeman Carl Pedersen—we are just past the halfway point in the book’s 315 pages.
The novel offers the reader a view of a grittier Ottawa, complete with corrupt cops and the drug underworld, not just the artsy Glebe or the fashionable Rideau districts that were featured in Berzins’ previous works. A Tear in God’s Eye also has a sexual tension that was lacking earlier.
Berzins also is funnier here. Sometimes the turn of a phrase seems a bit overplayed, but at other times the irony and weird humor work well. Linda Petersen, for example, is killed in a parking lot. "The killer had left a signature," Berzins writes. "The V from a Pontiac Aztek was found lodged in the dead woman’s torso." I had to laugh, because Pontiac Azteks really are disagreeable-looking vehicles.
Without the benefits of a large publishing house that might advise against going to press before an author is ready, Berzins in a few short years has churned out three crime mysteries, plus her recently re-released memoir of trying to start a new life in Latvia, Happy Girl. She’s received both accolades and criticism, of course, but has also matured as a writer. With A Tear in God’s Eye, Berzins has hit her stride.
A Tear in God’s Eye
Halifax, Nova Scotia: Albert Street Press, 2001
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