My Darling Detective

This literary mystery (256 pages) was published in March of 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book takes you to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Melissa read My Darling Detective and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

buy is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.


My Darling Detective

Howard Norman

This charming novel is an homage to noir detective stories and sparkling 1930s banter with elements of dramedy, historical fiction, love story, and procedural mystery.

The story opens with a bang — or, more accurately, a splat.

It’s 1977 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A world-famous photograph is being auctioned off in a hotel ballroom. Just as the bidding starts, a woman flings a jar of ink at the photo. And after her subsequent arrest, we learn three important facts:

(1) Until a recent breakdown, she was the head librarian at the Halifax Free Library; now, she resides at the Nova Scotia Rest Hospital.

(2) Her son Jacob earns his keep acquiring landmark photos for a wealthy maven, and his mother’s outburst has put his employment in jeopardy.

(3) The detective assigned to investigate the ink-flinging incident is Jacob’s fiancée Martha, the darling detective of the title.

While Jacob tries to redeem himself with his employer, Martha is on a quest to understand what drove his mom to deface the photo. There’s also a parallel investigation into a cold case from 1945: an anti-Semitic police officer may have murdered two Jewish citizens. That case has a mysterious connection to Jacob’s mom, too.

Although Jacob and Martha soon unearth some pretty dark family secrets, the book’s tone is a bit like a classic screwball comedy film with snappy dialogue, surprising revelations, and endearing side characters. It’s a pleasure to spend time among these people, even when they’re giving each other hard-to-hear advice.

You’ll also pick up fascinating detail about real-life photographers. The target of the ink-splattering incident is the famous photo Death on a Leipzig Balcony by Robert Capa, the best combat photographer in history. Jacob also goes on the hunt at auctions for photographs by August Salzmann, who famously shot archaeological expeditions in Jerusalem in the 1860s, and Eugene Courret, who’s celebrated for taking some of the earliest photos of Tahiti.

Author Howard Norman spent 16 years in Canada, setting most of his books in the Maritime Provinces. The real-life locations he weaves into the story give the characters and settings a lived-in feeling. Dare you to not want to spend an afternoon sipping a coffee at the nearby Wired Monk Bistro or browsing the stacks at the Halifax Free Library.

The auction was held at 5 p.m. in the street-level drawing room of the Lord Nelson Hotel, here in Halifax. ‘Death on a Leipzig Balcony’ by Robert Capa was the first item on the docket. The auctioneer had just said, ‘… taken on April 18, 1945,’ when my mother, Nora Ives — married name, Nora Ives Rigolet — walked almost casually up the center aisle and flung an open jar of black ink at the photograph. I heard, ‘No, it can’t be you!’ But it was my own voice, already trying to refute the incident. My mother was tackled to the floor by the auctioneer’s assistant. An octopus of ink sent tentacles down the glass. My mother was lifted roughly to her feet by two security guards and escorted from the room. And here I thought she was safely tucked away in Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, across the harbor in Dartmouth, room 340. — Howard Norman

sharing is caring!

Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.

This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.
follow us

Content on this site is © 2022 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.