Forty Words for Sorrow
is a work of crime fiction by Giles Blunt published in 2000. Taking place in the peaceful town of Algonquin Bay in Canada, the novel concerns the events that take place after a teenager’s body is found in a derelict mine shaft. After being kicked off of the force, protagonist Detective John Cardinal returns to track the death to the culprits of a larger string of killings committed by two sociopaths running rampant through the Canadian countryside.
The novel begins with the discovery of the decomposing body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine in a mineshaft on Windigo Island. Months before, Cardinal had been assigned to the case of Katie, who was deemed a runaway. After insisting too strongly that she was not a runaway, the force had relegated him to burglary cases. Now, the force gives Cardinal permission to reopen a string of missing person cases; namely, that of the teens Todd Curry and Billy Labelle. They assign him a new associate, Lise Delorme, from the special investigations branch.
Cardinal and Delorme go to the Forensics Department to retrieve evidence about Pine’s killer. They find some peculiar fibers and a murder tape. Though the initial evidence seems strangely promising, they listen to the tape and are unable to identify anyone’s voice other than Pine’s. Back to basics, Cardinal and Delorme decide to start, instead, with the case of the more recent sighting of Todd Curry, hypothesizing that it is connected. He finds that Curry’s last likely location is a dilapidated house off of Main Street. He enters the house and begins to search it for clues, but, instead, happens upon the murder scene. Curry looks to have been beaten brutally and stabbed in the head with a screwdriver.
Still finding no connecting evidence, but sticking to the belief that the teens were abducted by common murderers, Cardinal and Delorme quickly move to the disappearance of Keith London, who disappeared shortly after his arrival at Algonquin Bay. They approach his case with urgency, feeling that the killers may move quickly to their next murder. Meanwhile, the narrative shifts to London: he goes out for a drink at a bar where he is last seen and meets locals Eddie Soames and Eric Fraser. The two criminals bring him to Eddie’s house and begin sexually assaulting him, drugging him to make him compliant.
Meanwhile, in the midst of their investigation, Cardinal invites Delorme over to work on the case, but leaves conveniently, knowing that she is secretly investigating him for evidence that he helped a criminal named Kyle Corbett escape police raids months ago. Delorme searches his house and finds suspicious financial records for items that seem above his salary.
The narrative shifts back to Eddie’s house. The thief Arthur Wood, known locally as “Woody,” breaks into his house to steal video equipment. He stumbles upon London naked and tied up in a chair in the basement. Just as he attempts to find help, Eric and Eddie arrive and shoot him.
As time seems to be running out to save London’s life, the true perpetrator of the crime for which Cardinal is under investigation is found. Delorme and Cardinal are now able to work more seriously on the case. Cardinal realizes that the common component of all of the murders is a building called the Troy Music Center.
Meanwhile, Eric and Eddie drive London to the center to record his death in a pump house. Cardinal reaches the pump house after Eddie leaves to get lights for the death scene. Cardinal chases Eric and manages to break into his van; before he can subdue the criminal, the van plunges into an icy lake, killing Eric. In a last ditch effort, Eddie goes to Cardinal’s house. She poses as a rape victim to lower his defenses, and then shoots him in the stomach, attempting to tape his slow death. Delorme arrives and saves him. At the conclusion of the novel, the police force discovers that the Cardinal was guilty of a crime after all: the appropriation of a large amount of money from a crime scene early in his career. He looks to his future with uncertainty.
Blunt’s characterization of his protagonist suggests that even people who do good live out complex and contradictory moral lives. Contrasted with the sociopathic criminals who feel no remorse for their actions, the effort of the ordinary individual to live a morally good life ultimately both threatens and redeems him.