The First Cole Blackwater Mystery

“You are good! I have just finished reading “The Cardinal Divide.” It was an absolute pager-turner. In fact one night, near the end, I had trouble getting to sleep….Your powers of description are very vivid and of course your heart is in the same place as mine in the environmental areas. You appropriately showed the complexity of the issues.  This book deserves a large audience.”

Wildlife Artist and Conservationist, Robert Bateman.

The Cardinal Divide

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The Cardinal Divide (NeWest, 2008) set in the small central Alberta town of Oracle where conservation consultant Cole Blackwater becomes a reluctant Private Investigator when the manager of a proposed coal mine that Cole has been hired to stop is murdered, and one of the environmentalists who hired him is fingered with the crime.

When Cole Blackwater accepts a contract to help the tiny Eastern Slopes Conservation Group (ESCoG) prevent a multi-national company from digging up the beautiful and ecologically sensitive Cardinal Divide, he is forced to face his own failure. Once a rising star in Canada’s environmental movement, Cole has fallen from grace. A heavy drinker, and a less than exemplary father with a marooned career, Cole struggles with the memory of an abusive father and his own self-loathing.

His nearly constant instinct to flee from his challenges brings Cole Blackwater to the brink of quitting on day one when a radical activist named Dale van Stempvort is quoted in the local newspaper as saying he would “do anything” to stop the proposal, and reveals the group’s secret plans to mount a challenge to the proposed coal mine. But when Cole confronts Dale and learns that the media phoned him and not the other way around, Cole realizes that the ESCoG has a “mole.”

Cole travels to the site of the mine to meet with the new manager. A transplanted big city MBA, Mike Barnes is charming and sophisticated, not what Cole Blackwater expects from a small town mine administrator. Barnes freely admits that it’s dangerous for Oracle to rely on the mine for its economic well-being, the very argument that the activists have been making. Cole wakes the next morning to learn that Mike Barnes was murdered late the previous night, and Dale van Stempvort is the prime suspect.

Overcoming his urge to turn tail and run, Cole Blackwater reluctantly stays at the behest of the ESEG activists to help solve the murder that threatens to send an incendiary but innocent activist to jail, and ruin any chance of saving the Cardinal Divide from environmental devastation.

When the murder of Mike Barnes becomes national news, Nancy Webber, an Edmonton based Globe and Mail correspondent, arrives in Oracle. Cole and Nancy have a history: they had an affair in Ottawa where they both worked on the Hill. When Cole lied to her about a high profile environmental story and Nancy printed it, he lost his job, his marriage, and nearly his daughter. Nancy was banished to the prairies to write the ‘hog report.’ Nancy reluctantly agrees to assist Cole, hoping for a chance at an inside scoop that might revive her career. Working together the two discover that there is no shortage of people who might want Mike Barnes dead, and that the flame that once burned between them is not entirely out.

Overlapping sub-plots include the search for the mole, the quest to learn who might have met with Mike Barnes last on the night he was killed, the mystery of Barnes’ chequered past, and the story of Cole’s relationship with his abusive father who vented his frustrations on Cole when he taught him to box, and the resulting physical and emotional scars that haunt Cole. This plot line becomes a major focus of The Darkening Archipelago, the next book in this series.

“Legault has crafted a totally engrossing yarn about people and places he knows well, with well-drawn characters and a plot worthy of the genre.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook review of The Cardinal Divide

“I’ve just finished your book…… and it’s great!! I don’t normally read murder mysteries at all (though I enjoy them on TV), and for the first 3 chapters, I felt no sympathy for Cole B, who’s not the kind of man I’d normally hang out with (I’ve not drunk enough beers and chasers), but it grew on me, and there was a point about 1/3rd of the way through when my disbelief was duly suspended, and it all became “real”. Now I just want to read his next adventures! Don’t you dare kill him off in the 3rd book – he’s got all of those ten books in him that you have up your sleeve.”

Guy Dauncey, Author and Environmentalist