The Beautiful Lost
Point, July 2017
How do you survive when you’ve been hit by three waves of overwhelming loss and you’re only sixteen? That’s what the last three years have dumped on Maia. Her marine biologist mother walked out, leaving her with her dad, an insurance agent. At that point, Maia had hope Mom would come for her and was keeping afloat emotionally by her memories of the two of them sitting on the roof outside her room, watching the night skies. That bond was further strengthened, or so she believed, by their shared love of whales and their songs. Supposedly, her mother felt suffocated living in suburban Connecticut, leaving to study whales while living in a remote cabin above a Canadian fjord north of the Saint Lawrence River.
Wave number two hit when her father started coming out of his own funk and found someone he wanted to marry. That reality flattened Maia’s imaginary house of hope that things might become as they once were. She fell into a dark depression so severe that she was hospitalized. Now, barely holding on thanks to antidepressant medication, she’s come up with a plan to run north and find Mom.
The only thing she has that makes life bearable, is the secret crush she’s developed on enigmatic Billy, a boy her age who has his own troubled past and lives in a group home she can see from her bedroom window. Almost every night, Maia studies his window, hoping to get a glimpse of him.
When her hyper alert stepmom pushes the panic button after Maia leaves school early, it forces her to speed up her plan. The following day she takes off in her mother’s old Volvo and is shocked when Billy accosts her and insists on coming along.
What follows is a physical journey via back roads from Connecticut through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, followed by a stealthy entry into Canada. More importantly, and of greater interest, is the spiritual and emotional quest that accompanies it. Billy and Maia are both wounded and secretive, he more than she. Learning to feel and then trust those feelings, makes for a fascinating read. The people they meet on their journey are both interesting and integral to their growing awareness.
The ending is partially predictable, but the parts that aren’t really enhance the suspense. I liked both teens. Some readers may find Billy a bit too hard case emotionally, but having worked with teens on an inpatient psychiatric unit, his coping mechanisms aren’t that surprising. Teens who have been depressed, affected by family chaos or secrets, as well as those who know someone struggling with depression.
In her author’s notes at the back, Luanne shares why she felt compelled to write this book and what her own teen years were like. This is her second young adult book. I read and really liked her first one and it’s safe to say after two really good entries in this genre, she’s got game.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.
The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person. Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market. Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.
Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities. This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman. Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.
Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints. For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary. After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation. Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.
Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member. Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond. Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.
The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty. And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals. This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.
The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.
An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.
Practical Sins for Cold Climates
A Val Cameron Mystery #1
Henery Press, January 2016
Val Cameron is a senior editor with a NY publisher in a bit of financial trouble. The story opens with Val on her way to Canada to persuade an author to sign a contract they hope will be lucrative. The Canadian island resort she lands in is nothing like she expects, or like her boss, who owns a house there, has indicated. Far from luxurious and barely accessible, she immediately runs into violence at a community meeting she attends, hoping to meeting her author. Everyone on the island has an agenda. Those who want to preserve the land as pristine wilderness. Those who want to exploit the island’s resources. Those who barely eke out a living and want jobs.
And worse, the first thing she discovers is an old, unsolved murder that overshadows everything and everyone to this day. Including the widower with whom Val immediately forms an attraction, and the author she’s been sent to find.
The book is well-written, well-plotted, and quite literary in texture, with plenty of twists and turns. These aren’t characters who immediately endeared themselves to me, but that’s not to say others will have the same reaction. I liked the setting and the ecological aspects of the story. I did wonder why, although the murdered woman was always on Val’s mind, after two years and the death going unsolved, nobody else seemed terribly concerned or anxious.
Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.
An Alex Graham Novel #1
Stonedrift Press, February 2016
From the publisher—
Explosive violence rocks Canada’s Slocan Valley after the shooting deaths of three teenagers in a bombing attempt at the Keenleyside dam. A joint U.S.-Canada military force locks down the Valley to protect Columbia River dams critical to both countries but martial law incites more violence.
Geologist Alex Graham refuses to let politics stand in her way. She evades military patrols to slip into a restricted zone in her hunt for a silver mine to claim as her own. But her plans are derailed by an intentionally set fire that almost takes her life.
Someone wants her out of the Slocan Valley.
When Alex discovers a gunshot victim in an abandoned mine, she fears she could be next. But she s never been one to wait for trouble to come to her and she tracks a suspicious man seen once too often in the lonely mountains.
All eyes are on the dams, but the true threat lies elsewhere.
Every now and then, very rarely, a story grabs me by the throat from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. Such a story is Thirst by Katherine Prairie and I’m here to tell you, if you’re looking for a thriller with heart and a darned good mystery, this one needs to go on your Christmas wishlist right now.
I won’t waste a lot of time delving into the plot—you can get that from the jacket copy and other reviews—but I’ll just say Ms. Prairie knows how to do plot as well as all the trappings that should go with it but often don’t. First, there’s the opening setting in which we learn that this is a place subject to fearful weather, something that always sends shivers down my spine whether it’s warm or cold. Then there are the remote locations so common to Alex’s work as a geologist and the ferocious pressure that comes with hunting down gold and silver deposits. In this particular instance, political machinations, Canadian-US relations, an overbearing US military, a driving need for revenge, an attack on a critical resource and a potential for bioterrorism all mesh together to produce murder and intrigue that initially seems over the top but is, in fact, all too possible.
Alex herself is a bit of an enigma and, yet, we know enough to realize right off the bat that here is a woman who is nearly fearless though guarded, making her way in what’s usually considered a man’s field. She tries to live by certain self-imposed rules such as keeping a low profile but, when she can’t, she goes after the answers needed. As an investigator, Alex is intelligent and open to possibilities while protective of the endangered people and environment. In short, she’s the kind of investigator who isn’t shackled by professional restrictions and, as such, she can and does go the extra mile.
Thirst is Katherine Prairie‘s first novel and I hope to see much more of Alex Graham in the future. This author and her protagonist are too good not to be around for a long time and, in the meantime, this first adventure is going on my list of favorite books read in 2016.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.
Katherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveller with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada, quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller THIRST.
Buy links for Thirst:
Sense of Place
I passed by a downtown corner the other day, a location I hadn’t visited in a few months, only to find that nothing looked familiar. The coffee shop, the clothing store, the restaurant I knew so well – all were gone, replaced by a plywood and chain link fence protected construction zone.
It reminded me of the challenge of writing about real places, something I’ve chosen to do in my mysteries. I want my reader to believe that the story I’m telling could happen tomorrow, and a certain amount of realism is necessary to accomplish that.
Although I visit most of the places I write about, it’s not enough. A fire can destroy a landmark building, or as happened to my corner, urban renewal can change the landscape. So how to work with real locations in fiction, especially when even careful research may not be enough?
I admit to a certain vagueness in my descriptions of stores, and restaurants. Although I can generally count on a street name, civic building or hospital to remain relatively unchanged over time, businesses come and go, even without construction! But sometimes it’s necessary to take a risk, especially if a location plays a key role in a mystery.
Thirst wouldn’t have been the same story in any other location than the Slocan Valley in southeastern British Columbia near the U.S. border with Washington, and the city of Nelson is at its centre. Nelson is a unique, special place that has its quirky side, and it was as much a character in Thirst as Alex Graham and Eric Keenan! And so, I chose to name both a well-known coffee shop and restaurant, because the coffee shop especially, is an intrinsic part of Nelson and it conveys the true essence of the city.
Many authors set their stories in fictional cities or locations that are just similar enough to real locations that they work as successful substitutes. An unnamed bedroom community outside of San Francisco that resembles Sausalito or Oakland in everything but name, or a Texan town near sprawling cattle ranches, that could be Austin, Laredo or a dozen others. These types of settings allow a reader to conclude that this place must be the city or town they know so well, but because it is never identified as such, they forgive the author’s use of non-existent names.
There’s also a sense of place that can be suggested by general locations, like Stephen King’s use of fictitious small towns in Maine. There’s an attitude and way of life in Maine that he builds on that doesn’t require the use of a specific town.
Other authors take the plunge and generously sprinkle real places into their story. It’s a gamble because you can all-too quickly date your story, and not every business will thank you for naming them. It’s important to remember that a grisly murder in a café, or a poisoning death in a romantic restaurant, can bring irreparable damage to those businesses.
If I use a real business, I always try to put it in the most positive light possible. In addition, I take the time to ask permission from the business owner, including the story synopsis and the specific excerpt in which the business is named, with my request. Generally, I’ve found them to be very supportive and down-right excited by the prospect of inclusion in a locally-set thriller, however it doesn’t always turn out that way. A winery surprised me by declining permission for a single mention of their excellent chardonnay as a romantic dinner choice, but I understood their reasoning. They had worked hard to create a brand and they wanted to protect it, and that meant that they took extreme care as to where and how their wines were mentioned. This particular winery told me that they had even turned down several movie producers too, so I was in good company!
The nature of my mysteries requires real locations, but a small detail like a local winery isn’t going to make or break the story. I’ve come to weigh each choice carefully, to risk naming real businesses, street corners, parks and other elements, only if they’re truly important to the character of the location. Otherwise I retreat to vagueness and leave the rest to my reader’s imagination.
Rainy Day Women
An Austin Starr Mystery #2
Stairway Press, July 2015
Also available in trade paperback
It takes a while to figure out that the novel is set in Canada of the 1960’s or perhaps early in the next decade. The novel also takes a while to sort out some tangled threads and get moving. Even then, the pace is deliberate and, in today’s frenetic world, almost ponderous.
Our protagonist is an amateur investigator named Austin. She’s one side of an uneasy triangle; the other sides being her oppressive and surly husband, David, and her infant son Wyatt. What Austin has going for her is an insatiable curiosity and a lively analytical mind. If the pace of the novel matched Austin’s more assertive tendencies, things would move along rather more briskly. That would be a good thing.
Austin, over the objections of her husband, flies across the continent to Vancouver upon the call for help from long-time girl friend, Larissa, who may or may not be suspected by the RCMP of murder. Austin has adventures traveling, encounters a fair share of weird and undesirable characters, and eventually sorts out Larissa’s difficulties. The characters and the setting all have unrealized potential which one hopes will be pursued in subsequent novels.