By Kenzie Love
“A lot of books that get published suck.”
These immortal words from Everybody Loves Raymond’s Robert Barone are a fitting analysis of Grizzly Lies, the second mystery novel by local author Eileen Coughlan. The novel is mediocre, but because there are so many other books like it the full impact of its pedestrian nature is lessened. Grizzly Lies isn’t the worst mystery ever published, but it is riddled with enough problems it shouldn’t have gotten the green light. Namely far too many characters and a convoluted plot.
The novel’s protagonist is Hellie MacConnell, a 30 something journalist originally from Toronto who has been living in Banff for the past year. Hellie is the book’s most well-rounded character, and she could become a genuinely compelling one with a little work, but the same can’t be said for most of those who share the page with her.
Grizzly Lies has a supporting cast of more than a dozen characters. Many of them don’t figure in the plot, suggesting they were added simply to give the book some sizzle. There are plenty of eccentrics–among them a septuagenarian environmental activist who constantly dresses in African robes and a shopkeeper who talks to the dead–but Coughlan makes the mistake of thinking bizarre equals interesting.
The number of characters actually central to the story is also excessive, rendering the plot impossible to describe at any length. Things begin with the suspicious death of Hellie’s landlord leading her on a wild goose chase involving poach- ing, prostitution, and fudge. The plot’s complexity strips any suspense from the novel as one can’t be bothered to guess whodunit when they are trying to make sense of what is going on. Upon finishing the book, one feels satisfaction simply because it’s over, rather than because a series of seemingly disparate strands came together neatly in the end, as is the case of a truly good mystery.
Coughlan might be capable of creating a good mystery if she pares the characters down and smoothes out the plot in her next venture. Grizzly Lies demonstrates a knack for turns of phrase, and a strong sense of conviction about the environment which could lead to a compelling read. Assuming she puts in the work to ensure it doesn’t suck like so many other novels, including Grizzly Lies.