My Darling Detective by Howard Norman

One reason to write books is that you can name your chapters — more than just One, Two. You can name a chapter “Visiting Nora at Nova Scotia Rest Hospital”.

Out of nowhere appears a book about Jacob from Halifax who was born in the reading room of the Halifax Free Library where his mother Nora worked as a head librarian.  The book begins with Nora flinging an open jar of black ink on to the photograph “Death on a Leipzig Balcony” by Robert Capa. Nora is arrested and brought to the police station where she is interrogated by Martha, who is Jacob’s girlfriend.

Martha, a police detective, is also charged with investigating a cold case, which is, incidentally, a case about Jacob’s father, and also, incidentally, a case about his mother.

The case is very very cold.

And as Marthe reveals, the files reveal more information about Nora than her son has ever had. The details of his birth as he has been told them are incorrect. What Jacob doesn’t know, among much else, is that his real father was a Halifax police detective who was a known Anti-Semite and who was suspected of one or two murders of Jews who had just barely escaped from the camps…

Jacob has grown up among hundreds of photographs of his mother and the man who was not his father, hanging on the walls of their bungalow. Once, when he invited a girlfriend to dinner, his mother told her that “If I thought you would be part of his family… I would take you through the pictures one by one… It would probably give you, healthy as you appear to be, a heart attack…”. As he walks his girlfriend home she tells him, “I now identify with the survivors of the Titanic.”

But the man in the photographs is not his father, his mother is now confined to the Nova Scotia Rest Hospital, and Jacob decides to study Library Science at the university….