We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

Review published on July 29, 2018.

This is an atmospheric murder mystery with real depth of character and insight into small town life. There’s a wonderful sense of the lifestyle of a community distant from the big city influence and dominated by the presence of the sea. Bouchard has created a rhythm and tone to the novel that makes it a pleasure to read and mirrors the setting. We Were the Salt of the Sea is quiet on the surface and turbulent underneath. It’s a thought provoking novel that centres around the death of a woman on the edge of the community and the disruption that it causes. A very different kind of thriller to the busy, tech laden, violent stories that often come from a metropolis. From the memorable opening chapter to the denouement it’s an enthralling read.

1974, O’Neill Poirier, bluff trawler captain, is in his boat is on the way to the herring and cod fishing waters off Anti Costi island. He wakes and begins rousing his crew to get underway. Only an early start will catch the fish but there’s a small sailing boat tethered to the trawler. Poirier boards the craft, as he gets closer to the cabin he can hear a woman moaning. Poirier angrily busts into the cabin only to be confronted by a woman giving birth. Galvanised, he takes his knife, ties off the cord, and rests the baby in her mother’s arms. The trawler has to depart, so without fuss they dock the sailing boat and leave. It will be some time before Poirier sees the woman again. 2007, city girl Catherine Day needs a change, even her doctor says so, she is recovering from the death of her mother fifteen months earlier. She decides on a holiday on the Gaspé Peninsula, in Québec, because she has an ulterior motive, Catherine has received a letter from a remote fishing village, she is looking for Marie Garant.

When she arrives Catherine meets a strange array of characters; their local ways, their meandering answers to questions and unflappable pace of life all throw her. She is slowly gleaning information about Marie Garant, where she can be found, her reputation as a beautiful and seductive outsider. But when Vital, a local fishermen, collects his lobster pots and bait nets one morning he hauls in much more than he bargained for, the dead body of a woman. Murder, suicide or accident?

Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès has left Montreal for the Sûreté du Québec, he has come ahead of his family, to set up the new home, (his wife Sarah stays behind arranging an art exhibition). By the time he arrives in Caplan Lieutenant Forest is waiting for him, he is thrown straight into the task of establishing what happened to the woman in the water. From the moment he begins his investigation he, like Catherine, struggles with the local way of doing things, the attitude of witnesses and the desire to declare the incident an accident and close the matter. He tries to accommodate the local approach but his sense of dislocation is added to by his wife saying she needs some time to think about things, (what does that mean?) He drinks. When they establish that the body is Marie Garant, the search begins to find her daughter, Catherine.

Bouchard has created a small town desperate to preserve its identity and purpose under the pressure of a changing world, resisting any outside influence. They have the sea, even though the large trawlers were banned many years before by the government. It’s the love/hate of the sea and the interaction with it that dominate the local life. The people have their own pace of life, speech patterns, attitudes and each other. They are not keen to share their secrets. This leads to a clash of cultures for Detective Morales, originally from Mexico but long term resident of a Montreal suburb. Also for Catherine Day, a city girl whose passion is stirred by the sea. Both are looking for answers, only to find out that asking straight questions is not always the best way to go about it. There are secrets hidden beneath the surface in the village where everyone appears to know everyone else.

As a drama as much as a mystery We Were the Salt of the Sea is a page turner. A writer needs a distinct voice and Bouchard has that, she knows how to tell a story and captivate readers. This is Bouchard’s fifth novel but the first translated into English (excellently rendered).

Paul Burke 4/4

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard
Orenda 9781912374038 pbk Mar 2018

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