The Concrete Vineyard by Cam Lang

Cam Lang’s book presents itself as a murder mystery in scenic Niagara-on-the Lake when it begins with the killing of one of the town’s oldest residents, Edward Mitchell just after he puts his estate up for sale.

However, the solving of this only forms part of the plot as there are secrets from the past that threaten to come to the surface as well as the political and mercantile machinations of some of the more mercenary residents. What Lang also provides is a lot of historical detail about the town and its origins, providing a potted history of the city’s significance to Canada’s emergence. Conflict comes in the book from how the city is being developed, transforming it into a different beast due to the extensive development and the greedy appetites of the construction companies as well as the success of the vineyards.

The narrative switches between the first person voice of our main protagonist, Kris Gage, and the omniscient narrator who relates all of the action where Kris is not present. This is smooth at all times, even when it changes mid chapter and both voices are authoritative and trustworthy. Kris is witty and capable and likeable as a character.

In fact, Lang’s ability to create credible characters is excellent from the lusty and busty women to the avaricious realtors, the worried residents to the best friend made lead detective and other provincial policemen. Whilst some of them verge on the comic, they are not caricatures – they are just daft enough to be funny and believable but are not cartoonish.

The dialogue is snappy throughout and brings the characters to life and the plot is well-paced and well-executed, the details of Edward’s death as well as other mysteries which have affected the book’s cast being revealed deftly through the course of the novel with twists and turns being smoothly interwoven and keeping this reader on her toes.

Lang obviously has extensive experience of the world which he describes which comes out in the discussions of planning and its permutations. He understands the tensions that can permeate a place such as Niagara-on-the-Lake where an acknowledgement that the place needs to thrive in order to survive needs to be offset with a preservation of its past.

This was a really enjoyable book with an engaging plot, great sense of place and believable characters, all of the hallmarks of good fiction.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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