Writers often toil on their books for years and for very little financial compensation. Imagination is a capricious creature, and the writing process a snarling leash. Out of respect for these considerations, judging a book as bad seems churlish. Call me churlish, then-Dead of Winter (McArthur & Company, 356 pages, $19.95 cloth) by best-selling author Lisa Appignanesi is a bad book.
Styled as a mystery-did movie star Madeleine kill herself or was she murdered and, if so, by whom?-with philosophical pretensions (exploring the relationship between images and desire), Dead of Winter fails in both intentions. As a mystery, it remains predictable. As an examination of female representations, sexual jealousy, and obsession, it is simplistic and trite.
Pierre Rousseau is the main character, both amateur sleuth and suspect in the case of his estranged wife's death. A lawyer, notary, former journalist, and radical, he is self-centered and pathetic. The others are stock characters who remain unironic stereotypes: Madeleine is the flamboyant and promiscuous actress; her mother is the grande dame; the city detective is cunning and slick; the town sheriff is an incompetent boor; Pierre's friend is a gentle, bearded artist; Madeleine's agent is an elegant and cold Parisienne; and the townspeople are prejudiced busybodies. New characters keep popping up in the plot as conveniences, necessitating lengthy explanations of their connection to Pierre's history.
The diction demonstrates familiarity with a thesaurus but lacks precision. The imagery is strained and overly enamored of the pathetic fallacy. There are overdetermined descriptions of clothing and decor. The thematic analysis is solipsistic, and the plot resolution unrealistic and yet predictable.
The only bits of interest have to do with the Quebec settings. Although she is now settled in London, England, Appignanesi grew up in Montreal and authoritatively delves into the history of the Duplessis and FLQ years and the politics of the separatist movement. The Montreal Massacre is even implicated in Madeleine's death in an intriguing way. This is a fresh context for a mystery and a rich, disturbing background for the theme of men stalking women. It is a shame that this literary potential is largely unrealized. As the novel stands, it is crying for CBC to turn it into a made-for-TV movie, starring CÚline Dion as Madeleine.