The Other Side, a Charming and Absorbing Mystery by A.J. McCarthy

The Bottom Line: A murder mystery that is as charming as it is absorbing. Perfect for fans of Nancy Atherton and Patricia Cornwall.

Thirty-eight-year-old Canadian pub owner Charlie – who inherited the pub she worked in as a teenager – is feeling the need for change.

A catalyst for change comes in the form of loyal customer Craig Reeve, arrives in the pub after a long absence looking decidedly worse for the wear. Nearly as soon as she hears the story of Craig’s friends’ suspicious disappearance, Charlie begins a not-so-subtle campaign for her husband, who goes by the name Simm, to take an interest in the case. Simm is a former cop and private detective who, finding himself financially secure, seems at peace with retirement. 

It also seems to Simms that the police have done their job well. Nevertheless, he agrees to look into the case, and the couple leave for the picturesque Gatineau region of Quebec where Craig’s friend disappeared. It’s intended as a vacation of sorts, but once they meet a cabin proprietor named Pete, and determine that there have been a series of supposed drownings from canoeing accidents, the investigation becomes all-consuming. As the story goes on, the pair discover a series of truly horrific crimes that give Charlie far more excitement than she bargained for.

McCarthy seems to have found a formula that works. In McCarthy’s excellent Cold Betrayal, cinematic rural locations and elements of psychological isolation created ample suspense. She revisits some of that magic here in the wilds of Quebec as well. The Other Side includes plenty of darker moments as well, and the threat of mortal danger is palpable, but most of the truly horrific action happens off-page. McCarthy’s approach – to ground the story around a happy pair of ameteur sleuths, affable pub co-owner Frank, their lovable dog, and a community atmosphere that readers will long to return to – is a good one. In a genre where most contemporary detectives are hopelessly broken by tragedy and personal dysfunction, the series is a breath of fresh air. 

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