Meredith Andrew in Deadly by Nature
(Mercury, 240 pages, $15.95 paper) takes an altogether different approach. She focuses less on events than on characters. There's Lucy Shepherd, a professor specializing in earthworms; Patrick Irving, an obnoxious ecology activist; Stan O'Keefe, an amiable nature columnist for a Toronto newspaper; and Francis Eliot, a detective in the Ontario Provincial Police, who soothes his nerves by dipping into the jar of honey he keeps close at hand. They're all quirky but credible, their words and actions natural and believable.
But since this is a murder mystery, after all, something-preferably a dead body-has to kickstart the action and get the characters tangling. Gina Ferrara, a Toronto newspaper columnist and a friend of Stan's, goes camping near Lake Nipissing with the severely unlikeable Irving. He's a mushroom aficionado; she wants to try white-water canoeing so she can write about it. By the end of the weekend, Gina has drowned, and Patrick has been poisoned with toxins found in the delightfully named "false morels".
In typical who-dun-it fashion, Andrew provides a number of suspects, but it's the romance between Stan and Lucy that centres the novel. The mystery becomes a backdrop for the love story-not at all a bad thing, given Andrew's obvious preference for people over events.
Andrew is a skilful writer with a firm grasp of the limitations of her genre, and also of the ways to surpass them.