Last month while knee deep in spring cleaning mode, I discovered a set of three books by Norah McClintock that I had purchased last year. The Third Degree, Over the Edge, and Double Cross all feature high-school student Chloe Yan and her stepfather Louis Levesque. McClintock has won five Arthur Ellis awards for juvenile crime fiction (her winning titles include two books from this particular series), and it’s easy to see why. I started reading the first book and I was hooked.
Interestingly, the first book in the series, The Third Degree, isn’t really a mystery. In The Third Degree, we meet Chloe and her two half-sisters, Brynn and Phoebe. Their mother is a waitress, a single mother, who in the course of the story meets Louis Levesque, a homicide detective with the Montreal police. Chloe, Brynn and Phoebe all have different fathers; Chloe’s father is Chinese, and lives in Beijing.
The Third Degree revolves around Chloe, who finds herself in a bit of a moral dilemma as a result of hanging out with the wrong crowd. There isn’t much of a mystery, but it does introduce us to Chloe and Levesque, who is to become Chloe’s mother’s husband number four. It’s also the only book in the series that’s written in third person; the rest of the books are all written in first person, with Chloe as the narrator.
Over The Edge is the actual start of the Chloe and Levesque mystery series. Chloe finds herself in the town of East Hastings, Ontario, where her new stepfather, Levesque, is the new Chief of Police. High school loner and astronomy genius Peter Flosnick has been found dead of an apparent suicide, and soon Chloe finds herself knee deep in clues that suggest Peter’s death isn’t a suicide, but murder.
The story is fast-paced and engrossing, and it’s interesting to watch Chloe’s relationship with Levesque develop. Chloe isn’t quite the rebel she was in The Third Degree, but she’s still very independent … and not liking the move from big city Montreal to small town East Hastings very much. it’s a great start to a very good mystery series.
In Double Cross, Chloe meets high school outsider Jonah Shackleton. Jonah is a troubled teenager whose father was convicted of murdering his wife, Jonah’s mother, five years previously. Chloe’s first encounter with Jonah is not particularly pleasant:
“All I said – and I said it nicely – was, ‘Excuse me, but is this seat taken?’
He – a guy I had never seen before – scowled at me as if I were a cockroach that had taken on human form. Then he said – well, let’s just say he came close to making me blush, which isn’t easy. I’m a city kid. I know how to swear with the best of them. Who would have thought some high school kid in piddly little middle-of-nowhere East Hastings could shock me?”
Despite this encounter, Chloe soon finds herself looking into the Shackleton murder case. It’s not easy tracking down events occurring five years ago, and the fact that the Chief of Police at the time is now a politician heading into an election makes things even more difficult.
Double Cross is an intricate murder mystery that had me hooked from the very start. Chloe is an extremely likeable protagonist; she’s persistent to the point of stubbornness, smart about most things, and she’s got a good heart, not that she’d ever want to admit to something like that.
After finishing Double Cross, I wanted more of Chloe and Levesque. McClintock’s books are popular around here; I ended up putting holds at the library on two other titles in the series, Break and Enter (one of the winners of the Arthur Ellis Award) and No Escape, but luckily Scared to Death and Not a Trace were both available.
Scared to Death, which also won the Arthur Ellis Crime Fiction Award, is a great read. Pretty and popular Tessa Nixon is found dead, floating in Elder Pond. Is it an accident? Or murder? Again Chloe finds herself deep in the mystery, and to complicate matters, her friend Ross, editor of the high school newspaper, had been going out with Tessa and is suspected by others.
By the end of the book, I was on the edge of my seat, worried for Chloe’s safety and wondering whodunnit. The events unfolded very credibly, we meet some unsavory characters who might or might not be the killer, and the ending is satisfying.
I moved on from Scared to Death to Not a Trace. Published in 2005, Not a Trace is the last book in the series so far, unfortunately. The book grapples with current events, in the form of a struggle between Native rights and developers looking to build a golf course on what might be Native lands.
This time around, it’s Chloe who finds the body; the victim is Trevor Blake, father of the little girl Chloe’s been babysitting over the summer. Blake works for the people developing the golf course, and the Ontario Provincial Police take over and arrest David Mitchell, a Native protestor. But is he guilty?
Once again, Chloe finds herself in danger – not just once but several times. The ending is hair-raising, although things didn’t work out quite as credibly as the previous mysteries in the series (I found it more challenging to reconcile what happens to Chloe in the end to the way the killer is depicted when the truth comes out). Still, Not a Trace is another great read. McClintock has gone on to write other YA mystery series, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing more of Chloe and Levesque, but I’m looking forward to reading the two in the series that I haven’t read yet, Break and Enter (one of the winners of the Arthur Ellis Award) and No Escape.
If you’re interested in a very good YA mystery series, I would definitely recommend the Chloe and Levesque series. A note to U.S. readers, though: Amazon.com doesn’t carry any of the books, so you’ll have to buy them through a third party seller or (my recommendation) buy them from Chapters, the Canadian online bookstore.
Where to Buy: (all links are to Chapters)