The Purest of Human Pleasure

by Kenneth Radu

Published by Penguin

256 pages, 2005




Blood and Roses

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen


The confusion you may feel when reading the prologue of The Purest of Human Pleasure is not going to go away. There are two different voices here, one introspective, educated and older and the other young and scruffy. Does that mean there are two murderers? Or more?

So you may wonder what's going on here. You may make note of a few of the perceived clues and then you are bound to want to read on avidly, enjoying the challenge of discovering the killer's identity before the book ends.

Radu should be able to pull this off. After all, he has written 11 books and been shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, twice won the QSPELL Prize for Fiction and been shortlisted for the Books in Canada first novel award. By now he's an old hand at writing compelling prose and interesting characters like Morris.

Morris Bunter is still in mourning for his wife, Maria, several years after her death from cancer. The loss of his wife left him alone to raise the couple's daughter, Kate. The relationship between father and daughter leaves a lot to be desired. Kate is now 19 and very much her own young woman. Morris is unwilling to give her the space or freedom she needs and conflicts between them erupt frequently.

Morris is a respected gardener in the lush lakeside community near Montreal. He loves his work and Kate frequently helps him, when not at university. Lately something nasty has come into their lives. Kate has been sexually harassed by one of her visual arts instructors, Ingoldsby, a peacock of a man who is a gifted artist but a tawdry human. She won't let her father do anything about it as she herself has dealt with it in an appropriate and mature manner, taking her accusations to the college and ultimately getting her harasser fired. So why is it that the fired professor seems to be still having so much fun? Everywhere the father and daughter turn, there is the philandering Ingoldsby living it up, like an ulcer in their face.

Suddenly the posh, secure neighborhood is under siege. The killer appears to have no motive; the women are not sexually assaulted, their homes are not robbed and the victims appear random. What motive, for example, could a killer possibly have for dispatching the unhinged and harmless old Mrs. Grant?

From the prologue we know one of the characters has murdered many times, in many different towns. He is getting ready to move on as the increased vigilance, while feeding his rush, is becoming too difficult. This killer is also cold and hungry much of the time and appears to be lurking in sheds and pump houses. Nevertheless, why would such a man not be discovered in this close knit community where the murders are occurring very close to one another and the police and dogs are everywhere?

"The purest of Human pleasures" is not, in this case, murder. It's a quote from Francis Bacon and refers to gardens. Gardens are a great source of delight to Morris, as they are to the victims. They have now become murder scenes.

Who dun it? There are several who suspect Ingoldsby, especially after Kate was threatened by him in one of the murdered women's greenhouses. But was it him? When the nasty artist begins stepping out with a woman that Morris has grown fond of, things heat up further.

Does Radu, a writer of demonstrated talent and sensitivity, pull this one off? Not for me. I hate being frustrated at the end of a book. I opened The Purest of Human Pleasure with a great deal of enthusiasm, read it carefully, reread the preface and epilogue and the ending of each of the three parts to ensure that I had not missed anything, and I'm still confused. I can't go into detail without giving too much away, but don't you find it demoralizing when you can't tie up all the loose ends? | May 2005


Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.