Giles Blunt’s By the Time You Read This
Random House, 2006
John Cardinal and Lise Delorme #4

Although I read the third book in the Algonquin Bay series decidedly out of Blackfly Season, I chose the perfect time of year to read the fourth. The beautifully hued leaf on the cover gives it away.

“Autumn in Algonquin Bay was the season that redeemed the other three. Colours of scarlet and rust, ochre and gold swarmed across the hills, the sky turned an alarming blue, and you could almost forget the sweat-drenched summer, the bug festival that was spring, the pitiless razor of winter. Trout Lake was preternaturally still, black onyx amid fire.”

And I was doubly glad to have pressed on with the series when I did. I’d been impressed by the attachment that I felt to the characters in Blackfly Season, how fresh my connection to them felt, even though it had been about seven years since I read the preceding book in the series. And that made By the Time You Read This even more powerful.

Yes, powerful. And I’m not talking about the crime scene imagery (although Giles Blunt’s description, for all its starkness, only makes scenes of violence and devastation that much more disturbing); I’m talking about the relationships between the characters therein, between characters and reader.

The central relationship is that between John Cardinal and his wife Catherine. If you’ve been following the Algonquin Bay Series, which began with Forty Words for Sorrow, and if you’re like me, this is the reason you kept going back for more. Because Giles Blunt wasn’t just telling a good mystery, but telling a good story and, very quickly, these people mattered.

Click image for the Challenge Site

Here’s how Lise Delorme describes Catherine Cardinal: “one of the few women [she] had ever met who could with any degree of accuracy be described as ‘radiant’. The words ‘manic’ and ‘depressive’ — not to mention ‘bipolar’ or ‘psychotic’ — evoked images of the frazzled, the wild-eyed…[whereas Catherine] radiated gentleness, intelligence, even wisdom.”

Throughout the series, it’s been obvious that John and Catherine’s marriage is considerably strained by her manic-depression, but their relationship is one which stands out in literature: the marriage that endures.

So although the focus of the series is unequivocably John Cardinal (and his police work solving crimes), because his life is so fundamentally shaped by his marriage to Catherine (who works as a photographer, both as an artist and as a teacher), Catherine has been an important character throughout.

The extremes of Catherine’s illness haunt this novel and the toll it takes on this marriage reverberate. This core exploration of manic and clinical depression is echoed through the lives of select community members, who question whether there is a pattern in the number of suicides that have touched the lives of Algonquin Bay’s residents in the recent past.

But although this novel definitely has its mystery element, although I turned the pages of this installment in the series faster than any previous volume, for me the heart of this novel is John and Catherine’s marriage.

I began reading the fifth in the series, Crime Machine, the same night that I finished By the Time You Read This. Even breaking my personal rule to not read disturbing books at night. Because I simply didn’t want to wait.

Have you read Giles Blunt? The Algonquin Bay series, or something else?

This post coincides with an IFOA event with Giles Blunt today. This is just one of several events this Saturday: please see the IFOA site for details and ticket information.