Obit: A Mystery.


320 pages
ISBN 978-1-55022-754-3
DDC C813'.6






Reviewed by Darleen R. Golke

Darleen R. Golke is a high-school teacher and librarian in Winnipeg.


Sole criminal lawyer in a corporate firm, Monty (Montague) Collins joined the ranks of fictional lawyers in Anne Emery’s Sign of the Cross, winner of the 2007 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Although Monty lives and works in Halifax, most of Obit’s action occurs during a vacation in New York City with his daughter, son, and estranged wife. Before their departure, Father Brennan Burke, Monty’s former client and friend, consults him about a troubling obituary that appears directly to impact his father, Declan, the Burke family patriarch, who, with his wife and children, fled Ireland 40 years earlier under an Irish Republican Army (IRA) death sentence, and who refuses to enlighten his family either about his past or the indictment implicit in the coded obit. Conveniently, Brennan will also be in New York officiating at his niece’s wedding during the Collins family’s visit and ensnares Monty into helping decipher the obituary’s hidden agenda. The perceived threat implied by the obit materializes dramatically when Declan is shot at the wedding reception and barely survives his injuries.


With assistance from members of the Burke clan, except, of course, an uncommunicative Declan, Monty pieces together the diverse threads that incorporate Declan’s past service with the IRA, his former commander, his early struggles to get his family out of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen area, and his New York associates, which include Irish patriots as well as members of the mob. Past events that manage to surprise even Declan contribute to the outcome Monty uncovers as he doggedly digs for the truth. Acting as first-person narrator, Monty keeps the reader focused not only on the mystery surrounding Declan but also on his own rather unsuccessful efforts to reconcile with his wife, his personal relationships, and family dynamics with his children.


Emery moves the plot along briskly, combining narrative and dialogue effectively, all the while maintaining focus on the all too human frailties of the characters. Lawyer by day, bluesman musician by night, and part-time father, Monty is an engaging protagonist, shrewd, tenacious, yet fallible and vulnerable, determined to leave no mystery unsolved. Numerous and colourful secondary characters, especially the gregarious Burke clan, engage the reader in this entertaining and complex mystery that effectively underscores how the past intrudes on the present.


Emery, Anne., “Obit: A Mystery.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,