Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett - book review: Dark, gory, and cinematic, with a constant ominous tone

Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett
Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett
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Canadian detective Frank Yakabuski is caught in the middle of a violent gang war while investigating the grisly murder of a notorious gang leader found hanging from a fence in a kids’ sports field with his eyes cut out and a diamond worth 1.2 million dollars in his mouth.

Former Ottawa newspaper columnist and radio host Ron Corbett received high praise for his debut novel, Ragged Lake, the first in a three-book deal he signed with Toronto’s ECW Press. The critically acclaimed mystery, published in October of last year, was a 2018 Edgar Award nominee for best paperback original.

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In keeping with the series opener, the follow-up, Cape Diamond, is a grim, violent, suspenseful tale set near Ontario’s Northern Divide, an uninviting region full of ‘crack houses and pop-up meth labs and squatters so scary you felt sorry for the cockroaches.’

This time, Yakabuski, a giant of a man who is ready with his fists and unafraid of the tough locals, many of whom have criminal records, is tasked with investigating the vicious murder of Augustus Morrisey who has led a criminal gang called the Shiners for the past 40 years. Morrissey, a 300-pound brute, has been stabbed 27 times and has had both his eyes ‘cleaved out as neatly as dollops of ice cream,’ suggesting it’s a ritualistic killing.

Yakabuski’s attempts to glean information out of those in the tight-lipped community produce a reluctant witness who, frightened of the repercussions of becoming a ‘rat-fink’ informant, offers Yakabuski a clue to solve the murder in exchange for police protection for his drug-addict grandson.

However, the clue serves only to add further perplexity to Yakabuski’s investigation and force him to seek advice from his father, a retired detective who is knowledgeable about the history of the region and the two big rival gangs in the area, the Travellers and the Shiners.

According to ancient customs, the type of desecration inflicted on Morrissey’s body hints back to an old gypsy practice of making sure ‘your enemies spend all eternity blind and lost in purgatory.’

The most puzzling aspect of the murder is the uncut, unpolished diamond believed to be from the De Kirk mine at Cape Diamond near the Arctic seas, far up on the Northern Divide, deliberately left in the victim’s mouth.

Yakabuski’s examination of the mine reveals a thorough security system in place, including retina scans, full-body scanners, restricted sector access, and compulsory strip searches of the miners, making him wonder about the diamond’s origins and the message the killer has left behind.

Suddenly, riots begin on the North Shore and in Cork’s Town, with cars set alight, residents assaulted, and stables firebombed, as the Travellers and the Shiners go to war.

A second mutilated body is discovered on the same fence where, three days earlier, Morrissey’s corpse was left and, in retaliation, the 12-year-old granddaughter of the ruler of the Travellers goes missing.

To add to the drama, the FBI request assistance from local law enforcement in helping to locate a cruel and efficient serial killer who crossed into the United States from Mexico some days earlier and is believed to be passing through the area shortly.

Drawing heavily on his experiences and travels as a journalist, Corbett enlivens the story with vivid descriptions of the wild, forbidding landscape and the volatile, warring inhabitants who dwell there, as well as cleverly weaving together the numerous narrative threads.

Dark, gory, and cinematic, with a constant ominous tone, Cape Diamond is a compelling crime tale with plenty of shocks, surprises, and visceral thrills.

(ECW Press, paperback, £11.00)