Has something ever felt so out of place that it’s changed you? In the case of Wayne Arthurson’s protagonist, M, it’s literally his job as a bylaw officer to notice things that are out of place — yard sale signs, noxious weeds — but none of those things change him, at least not in the same way as does the red chesterfield.
That’s chesterfield, not “couch.” It’s big, formal and sitting in a ditch. M makes a note of it while on a house call in a nearby cul-de-sac, but can’t ignore it when he’s done. Stuffed in the shredded upholstery is an out-of-place shoe, which is stuffed with a human foot.
Crime and coincidences add up, and more death follows, all as M maintains his relationships with his two brothers, with whom he lives, and his girlfriend, to whom he reports. But the gruesome discovery changes him. The chesterfield is gone. Then it’s back. But is it the same one? Was it really gone? The once-diligent bylaw officer breaks his strict protocol, returns to the ditch and becomes involved in the lives of the people in the house that brought him to the couch to begin with.
Broken up by page titles, not chapters, Arthurson tells the story in self-contained chunks, each page crafting a stand-alone scene that continues the story of a man, and his family, dealing with life in the only way they can: with each other.
The Red Chesterfield won the Arthur Ellis Award — honouring the best in Canadian crime fiction — in 2020, in the novella category.