Unexpected Sparks is in one way a conventional lesbian detective story, not that there is anything wrong with that. In another way it’s a conventional ‘coming-out’ story, and again there’s nothing wrong with that. What makes it different is that it’s done with both main protagonists as the main figure, so you get both viewpoints (they don’t both act as first-person narrators, but you do get the internal mental processes of both characters), one of whom is secure in her lesbian identity and the other who has been surprised by falling for the other one. It’s also interesting that in fact she never really ‘comes out’ and realises that she’s always been romantically attracted to other women, she just points out that she’s never really be romantically attracted to anybody before. It will be interesting to see if over subsequent books there is more a sense of her having a ‘lesbian identity’.
The protagonists are small-town bookshop owner Kate Shannon and outdoor type Nikki Harris – both of Truro, Nova Scotia. Affection has been developing between the two women since Nikki started shopping in Novel Companions, but both are trying to avoid it for their own reasons. They’re thrown together when the office opposite the shop catches fire and this is the catalyst for their relationship to develop while investigating the murder which is linked to this fire. The murder-mystery isn’t deeply complex, and the final unveiling of the killer shouldn’t create too much surprise in the mind of the hardened armchair sleuths! That Kate and Nikki fall madly in love should also not come as a surprise (and Gina Dartt can write sex better than many authors). If this were all there was then it would still be a diverting read. However the internal journey undertaken by Nikki and Kate is what lifts the book above the average in my view.
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