Discarded – A Canadian Historical Mystery by Nancy M Bell

Discarded – A Canadian Historical Mystery by Nancy M Bell
Publisher: BWL Publishing Inc.
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When the British arrived in Winnipeg in the 1800s it was convenient for the men to take Metis wives. They were called a la vacon du pays – according to the custom of the country. These women bore the brunt of ensuring survival in the harsh environment. Without them the British army and fur traders would not have survived the brutal winters.

However, as society evolved it became accepted that wives must be white, schooled in British ways, fashionable in the European sense and married by the Anglican church. The Metis wives and their ‘country born’ offspring were thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. The unrepentant husbands continued to live comfortably with their ‘new’ wives.

It was inevitable that some discarded wives did not accept their fate quietly and hard feelings on both sides were unavoidable. When the bodies of two discarded Metis wives, Marguerite and Marie-Anne, are found floating in the Red River, Guilliame Mousseau, sets out to get to the bottom of his sister Margueite’s murder.

Not everyone is always equal under the eyes of the law.

Racism has many faces. Some of the best scenes in my opinion were the ones that showed how deeply ingrained racism was into every facet of society in the 1800s. Even characters who were otherwise fairly sympathetic were negatively influenced by it at times. I found it refreshing that this wasn’t something coded as a problem only for the antagonists. People are complex, after all, and few of us are ever completely virtuous or evil.

This book had a large cast of characters, most of whom I would struggle to describe if someone asked me what their personalities were like. It would have been helpful to have more character development as this was something that was a barrier to me connecting with the storyline and wanting to keep reading. Had this been given space to develop, I would have happily gone with a higher rating as I was quite intrigued by the murder mystery itself.

I enjoyed the historical aspects of the plot. They worked equally well for readers who know about this chapter of Canadian history and those who know nothing about a la vacon du pays and how they were mistreated by their British husbands and the government at all. That can be a tricky balance to maintain, so it was nice to see Ms. Bell make it look so effortless. I will be curious to see where she goes with these characters next if she writes the sequel that was hinted at in the final scene.

Discarded – A Canadian Historical Mystery made me curious to read more from this author.

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