Until, that is, a series of present-day deaths of elderly patients of Ben Weaver, a local doctor, gradually produce enough clues and odd coincidences to drive three curious characters to the truth that what happened with the Nokomis long ago was no boating accident, but murder.

Who is the culprit? Well, last October 27 at the Muskoka literary festival in Huntsville, prominent Canadian novelists were emphatic that the role of a book reviewer is not to give away the ending, nor even to summarize the plot, most especially in the case of a whodunit.

Suffice it to say about Specht's closely-woven plot in Nokomis that the doctor's dead patients had one thing in common: they all owned prime lakefront properties, and as the saying goes, valuable Muskoka real estate is "something to die for."

Although set in Muskoka, locales central to the action are not identified by their real names, which Specht evidently believed helps place the mysteries of his story in a twilight zone between reality and make-believe. That twilight zone extends beyond the identity of places, however, to people's identities and the novel's action itself. Taken together, the tale is one foggy mixture of reality and cover-up, with dream sequences thrown in for startling good measure.

A recurring motif in Nokomis is the surprise discovery of who a person really is. This is sometimes caused by misapprehended identity, occasionally by innocent assumptions that a person is who he appears to be, and sometimes due to a character intentionally misleading others. Specht's theme: nothing is what it first appears to be.

The younger man, Kevin, a bartender at a Muskoka resort, is a journalist "returned to lick his wounds" after a relatively short career reporting for big city dailies. A sensitive reporter, he is haunted by the lives he damaged, unwittingly, through his reporting of controversial facts. He hopes to write about something seemingly safer, the history of Muskoka boat building, which is how he unearths key information about the lost Nokomis.

Douglas Specht, too, was a reporter. After working for southern papers, he also was back in Muskoka, writing a newspaper column, and this novel. It is tempting to see in sensitive and sardonic Kevin something of Douglas. Both delighted in boats, cooking, and women. Each was questing, in a quixotic way. Whether the author consciously wrote himself into his book, the presence is real.

In Nokomis, the author sometimes gives extended background details about furnishings of a patio and bar, or of a kitchen's layout and design, factual descriptions that slow the story's action and detract from plot and character development. Such inserts of interesting but irrelevant information – a page and a-half dissertation on wintertime snowmobile robbers of Muskoka, for example, while Mildred strolls across the lawn after her swim on a sweltering summer's day – interrupt the narrative's flow.

Specht's story-telling and command of language are at their best in dialogue, which he nails with compelling accuracy and sensitivity, and in describing the expressions people exchange when in tight corners or facing a harsh truth. Here his writing is most powerful.

For an engaging summer mystery, anyone who knows Muskoka's fault-lines and traditions, or anyone who has experienced how backwaters of love and eddies of greed can commingle with unexpected results, this sensitive, informed, and realistic tale is worth reading … deep into a summer's night.

— Review by J. Patrick Boyer

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