canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

All Pure Souls
by John Brooke
Signature Editions, 2001

Reviewed by Christine I. Speakman

John Brooke's All Pure Souls starts with a simple murder. A prostitute from an upscale brothel is dead. Her passed out pimp is found on top of her, knife in hand. Open and shut. However, something intrigues Inspector Aliette Nouvelle about the deceased forty-four year-old Marilyn Monroe look-alike.

Still, the inspector finds herself touching the photo of Manon Lariviere in the way one does when one is compelled to wonder why a life and a death like that occur.

I had some difficulty believing the character of Inspector Nouvelle. Would an Inspector in her position, free to pick and choose the cases she wants, be an artist's nude model? Or, is my prejudice on what I accept as proper behaviour for a female police inspector clouding my reading.

This story is permeated with the characters' views on acceptable and non-acceptable roles--their own and those around them. The men of the Police Judiciaire are disgusted with the brothel owner's (pimp?) gluttony for pleasure, as provided by the women of the brothel.

All his girls love him, you see. It was getting to me, some of the things he was telling me. All he ever does is have sex with whichever one he wants. It was gross. Like some kind of happy pig.

But in his mind, he believes this is true, that there is a form of family love between him and his girls. He, Hermenegilde Dupras, is the figurehead. . .but only in his head. He has no sense of the house's routine. He firmly believes that by saying all his girls have his "stamp" of approval he is offering quality product. Why would anyone hate him for this?

The women, whores, of the brothel are puzzles. At first glance, they present a semblance of family, an odd working family. It is them who run the house, they know and understand who they are and why they are there. Hermenegilde Dupras is just, there. Then the book takes on a very bewildering cultic feel, talking about the Goddess and getting off the wheel, how everything the women do leads them to something better in life. They even instruct the new girl that she must memorize (see) the words to the poem "Song of Amergin" as part of her apprenticeship of becoming a prostitute. It is here, in this subplot, that I became lost. I also feel the basic murder mystery plot was lost, and I still do not understand why the victim was murdered.

All Pure Souls is a very different mystery. The descriptions are cleanly written. It is easy to feel the differing moods and senses that surround characters. Mr. Brooke does not talk down to his readers, and slowly reveals the connecting information needed in all good mysteries. However, I did find it to be jarring and jumpy. The heaviness of characters and their inner motivations, the abundance of Celtic Goddess mythology, and dwelling in needless back history overshadowed the plot, weakening it. I found it a little difficult to read.

The book would have been more appealing, and less confusing if the twisting and perverting of personal beliefs hadn't been buried in a baffling subplot, but had been the total focus of the book

In the end, it is simply a case of a flawed, emotional baggage-carrying, manipulating human.

Christine Speakman is a freelance book reviewer, and lives in Hamilton.







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