A Feminist Tour de Force!

Blue McCarron has a Ph.D. in social psychology. She teaches and writes while living reclusively in an abandoned motel in the middle of the California desert with her Doberman, Bronte. A minister’s kid, she has an imprisoned felon for a twin and a broken heart from grieving over her lost lover, Misha. When a body is found trussed up in a public freezer and widow Muffin Crandall claims she killed an intruder in self-defense and then did some dumb things, including freezing the corpse for five years, Muffin’s brother Dan hires Blue to free his much older sister by analyzing her. It is apparent to Blue and forensic psychiatrist Rox that Muffin’s story is a hoax. But who is Muffin protecting? Who wants her dead? And, maybe more important, will Blue ever resolve her love for Misha and love again?

Complete with commentary by a Rastafarian Greek chorus in the form of ex-felon BB the Punk, the witty, suspenseful lesbian-detective thriller is hard to resist.

“Blue” is a different sort of book. I don’t mean the genre, it’s a murder mystery, but what is different from anything else I’ve read this year is that Blue doesn’t seem to follow genre conventions, and that’s refreshing and perplexing at the same time.
We have a main character with an unusual profession, who lives in an unusual place with a very unique past and a delightful dog with great taste in music, if a poor sense of timing. In fact, all the characters in this novel are stand-outs. You are given the information you need to know, and not a word more. And that is both different in this genre and highly refreshing.

You might think you know where this story is headed, but trust me when I tell you…nope.
All of the characters have very clear motivations, they are all true to themselves and their ideals and so very full of surprises.

The plot will keep you guessing, the editing is great and can we just take a moment to admire that cover?

This book gets my highest recommendation.
Find it at the Bywater Books website. Read it.
Ponder it when you’re done.
Roll it over in your mind like a full-bodied red wine for your mind.

You’ll be glad you did.

Karma Or Justice?

She studied the body. It was face down in the mud, the back of the head soaked with blood, hair matted to the skull and hardened now. The back of the denim shirt displayed hoof-prints of various types and sizes. Each of the shoulders sported a large hoof print bigger than a plate.

“What can you tell me?” She asked of the crime tech who had joined her.

“Looks like my neighbour,” came the reply. 

“About the prints,” the Detective sighed. 

“Those there are sheep-prints,” the tech pointed with a gloved hand. “Those look like cow, some big paw prints there in the middle, and I’d say those on the shoulders are at least the size of a work-horse.”

The Detective straightened and eyed the dog, sheep, cow and a large work-horse a few feet away in a fenced-in pasture. Then she looked back down at the body in the mud. “Are you telling me those animals killed your neighbour?”

The tech straightened too before studying the animals, who gazed back placidly. “Well, I can tell you he’ll never mistreat them again.”

The End

Curl Up With A Good Book Or Binge?

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The wind howls at your window, you’ve got your favourite snack and you’re ready to settle in for a long, cozy night of…?

Do you read a good book or go binge your favourite show?

If you’re the sort that would rather be whisked away by the printed or electronic word, I’d love it if you would take a minute and fill out a short reader-centric survey for me. You can find it here.

Who is your favourite author right now?

How To Build A Town, Part 2

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A few days ago, I talked a little about why I chose to build a fictional town for my Detectives Anais Quinn and her partner, Lorne Winters, rather than just have them live and work somewhere that already existed. I told you about the population of Sitka Cove as well as how it’s growing as a community. But growing pains are real in real communities, so of course Sitka Cove will suffer from growing pains as well.

With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve. 

The challenge for me was not just to create a town that I could build future stories on, but to make the town sustainable enough that it could grow. In short, provide Sitka Cove with a future as well as my detective. Cue the research into successful settlements of the past and why they were located where they were, sustainable cities, and urban growth. It’s been a wonderful rabbit-hole to get lost in. Another challenge is how much of all this new knowledge to use. Ideally, I want to use enough to give my reader a sense that Sitka Cove could be a real place, run by a real Town Manager. In turn, how can I use the Town Manager as a useful character, instead of a pointless walk-on? (I’m leaning heavily toward the Town Manager being either a jogging buddy of my detective or perhaps a fellow poker player. It remains to be determined.)

I see Sitka Cove as more than just a place for people to do things on their way to do other things. Remember I told you last time that Sitka Cove sits on the shore of Lake Superior? The Northern end of town is the oldest part, the first settled end of town, that the locals call “Old Town”. Lake Superior has been reclaiming that land, the flood coming in a little closer every spring and not really receding. So Old Town loses a little more of itself every year. The people that live at this end of town are here because they can’t afford to move anywhere else. They tend to live hand-to-mouth and life is not easy in Old Town. The houses are run down, the roads are not kept up and Town Council can’t quite figure out how to fix the problems of Old Town. Crime festers in neighbourhoods like this. Drugs, theft, vandalism…all stem from a lack of hope. Gangs are born in this environment, fed by frustration, and grow quickly in the absence of community leadership.

At the other end of town, there is growth. A new college has been built – clean, shiny and full of promise. It will keep the younger Sitkans closer to home while it teaches them skills they will need to make a living without going South. Without going “away”. Part of the college’s mandate is also to give older residents new skills. Re-educate them in new fields so that they have more choices, so they can be a productive part of Sitka Cove’s growth and future. Not all of the citizens buy into this, of course. Many call it “political bullshit”. They are too jaded to see anything but the rest of their lives spinning out exactly as it has for all their lives.

But Body In The Bush is not simply about disheartened and frustrated people taking out their frustrations on one another. It is more than just an investigation into who the dead man is under the pine trees. It is the story of finding one’s way back home again. Finding family, and love, and hope, and shining a light on the future that is full of possibility. But before you think the characters are going to break into song, remember this is a mystery. Sitka Cove is peppered with people that might live beside you. Or me. Conspiracy theorists, paranoid people making their way through life by playing on the mistakes of others, people just trying to make a living off the land, the lake or each other. People who want a better life, but just don’t see how they can have one. Folks who make poor choices, who are desperate, judgmental, angry, addicted or simply tired of feeling powerless. Body In The Bush is their story as well.  

I can’t wait to bring you Body In The Bush! These edits are going far slower than I like. Have you ever read a book that featured a fictional place that left an impression on you? Shout out in the comments and share it with us.

How To Build A Town

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One of the things I’ve recently become interested in is the ways cities and towns are planned and laid out. World-building is seen most predominantly in science fiction and fantasy, but my focus lately has been mysteries. I got to wondering, surely world-building was important in the mystery genre, right? Three days of searching on Google seems to be returning a negative reply. If Google is to be believed, (and I don’t), mystery writers never consider world-building, they just seem to pick a city and plop their story and characters into a pre-made place.

That wasn’t the way I wanted to go with my mystery, Body In The Bush.

Body In The Bush is the story of an Indigenous detective named Anais Quinn. She is forced to return to the town she grew up in, Sitka Cove, after being away for twelve years. One of the first cases she’s assigned is the investigation into the discovery of a deceased person in the woods (what we call the bush up here in Northern Ontario) outside of town. I knew before I’d written a single word that I wanted my mystery to take place in Northern Ontario. The experts all advise, “write what you know”, and I’ve made Northern Ontario my home for a number of years. There are secrets up here, just as there are in cities. The people that call the bush home have ambitions, jealousies, untapped potential, greed, dreams and aspirations just as much as anywhere else in the country. And it is all of those things that drive people to commit crimes against one another, no matter where they live. So why is Northern Ontario so under-represented in the mystery genre?

The answer lies in Toni Morrison’s advice to writers everywhere. “If you cannot find the story you want to read, you must write it yourself.”

So I have.

But I didn’t want to write about a town that already existed. I wanted to make my own town, and not only to avoid the controversy that Stephen Leacock endured when he wrote Sunshine Sketches of A Small Town. So I turned to world-building. 

Initially, I envisioned Sitka Cove as having about 40,000 people, but that number has been dialed back recently. I see Sitka Cove as the centerpiece of a series of mysteries, so I want to leave room for it to grow. It has schools, diners, shops, an art gallery, a police force, a medical center, a museum that focuses on the town’s history, and good neighborhoods as well as bad. The town was founded on the shore of Lake Superior, and climate change is wreaking havoc on one of the older parts of town in the form of floods every time the water levels in the lake rise. Historically, Sitka Cove (simply called ‘Sitka’ by the locals) relied on the logging and fishing for income and growth. But as time passed, roads crept ever closer to Sitka and the people had options. As my story opens, provincial roads now stretch all the way into the town, and brought with it a chain of donut shops and all of the vices of a city. The local economy is about to boom now that diamonds have been found in the cliffs and bluffs not far from town. A college will be opening soon too — growth will be everywhere. With growth comes crime, and all sorts of cases for Detective Anais Quinn and her partner Lorne Winters to solve.

Next time, I’ll share my vision for my fictional town and how it fits into my mystery. Stay tuned!

Woods & Wild Animals

I have always been fascinated by how authors tick, even authors of work and genres I might never read, so to find an audio series/podcast that examines the places that inspire and inform authors was a special thrill.  It is a peek inside the mind and words of authors I may or may not have heard or read. But it is both a treasure and an inspiration to me. 

How would I describe the setting for “Body In The Bush”? It is both small town and the woods, the bush, that surrounds me as I write, as I live, as I breathe. It is a very real place to me. 

I am not an outdoors person in the classic sense. I do not kayak, nor ski. I do not run among the trees. But I do hike and, all but this past winter, I did snowshoe. I wander the logging roads and deer trails that slice through the woods, or as we Canadians call it – the bush. Up until a few years ago, I would scramble up small cliff faces that I should have known to stay away from. I used to call it “mountain goating”. Eldest Son and I went for a wander one day, we followed a small creek into the trees just to see where it went. We slipped over rocks, clambered over fallen trees, jumped over muddy slices and found ourselves at the base of a …not quite a cliff, but bigger than a hill. We stood and looked up at it, at the face of it that looked as if a God had reached down and hacked through it with a knife. 

“We can get up there,” Eldest Son said.

And like a twenty-year-old fool, I agreed.

We climbed, slipped, pulled ourselves hand over hand, slipped again, cursed, laughed and wheezed, but we made it. 

What did we gain? Sore muscles, skinned knuckles and memories we still talk about to this day.

There was no spectacular view, we were surrounded by more trees. We were not lost, we knew generally what direction the house lay in, we knew that we could always reverse and go back the way we came. But we didn’t. We were on an adventure. A 19-year-old guy trying to figure out his place in the world and his 45-year-old mother, trying to convince herself she was not going to get old. We spent hours out there, watching where we put our feet just as carefully as we watched for bears. It was the spring, and a dangerous time to cross paths with a sleepy bear. Or a mother with cubs. So when you’re out in the bush, you have to listen for wildlife, you have to recognize when things are too quiet or when something smells off. Could be there’s a dead something not far off, or it could be a bear that has rolled in dead something. Either way, you want to be very aware of your surroundings. ‘Situational awareness’ the military calls it.

Because out in the bush, a situation can go from pleasant to deadly in less time than it took me to type that. You can step around a tree and suddenly find yourself mere feet away from two bear cubs. And not knowing where their mama is can make anyone’s blood run cold. There’s no outrunning a bear, and those who’ve tried are either dead or have scars to talk about.

There are wildcats out here too. Lynx, cougar, and bobcats. And while most of the time we don’t hear about cougars stalking people outside of British Columbia, it does happen. I’ve seen a video of a hiker being followed by a cougar on a well-populated trail in Ontario. The hiker is walking backwards, filming the cat who is following him 15, maybe 20 feet away like he’s just out for a stroll sharing the same strip of dirt. But what was on that cat’s mind was not, “Hey, let’s walk together, ok?” For a wild cat to follow like that, it’s either hungry or diseased. Either way, it’s dangerous. Now, the hiker managed to stop and confront the cat, keeping trees and boulders between them as much as possible. He talked to it rationally, yelled at it, threw sticks and rocks until the cat got the message that its meal would not go down without a fight. Finally, it wandered off, stopped once and looked over its shoulder at the hiker and left for good. On film, you can hear the fear in the guy’s voice, you can see him reach out a hand in front of the camera to show the tremors of terror. But he won the showdown. He learned first hand that you’re never really, truly safe out here in the woods. There are things out here that will kill you, and things that will eat you. That’s the circle of life.

So it made perfect sense to me that this would be the place that would not only shape my Detective, but also provide the scene for a murder, as well as a place where a dead body might never be found. It makes perfect sense to me. Wild animals are not choosey about their food most of the time. If it doesn’t put up a fight, all the better. Wolves, coyotes, martens, bobcats, cougar, bears and dozens of other creatures will all take their share if they can. There are even rabbits that eat carrion, so don’t think Peter Cottontail is all sweetness and innocence! Don’t believe me? Go check YouTube for the rabbit eating a dead partridge. Never mind, here’s the link.

Words For Wednesday-Crime Edition

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Defense Wound:

An injury received by the victim of an attack while trying to defend against the assailant. These are often found on the hands and forearms, because the victim has raised them to protect the head and face. Defensive wounds may also be present on the feet and legs if a victim attempts to defend themselves while lying down and kicking out at the assailant.

The appearance and nature of the wound varies with the type of weapon used and may present as a laceration, abrasion, contusion or bone fracture. Severe laceration of the surface of the hand or partial amputation of fingers may result from the victim grasping the blade of a weapon during an attack. In forensic pathology the presence of defense wounds is indicative of homicide and also proves that the victim was conscious and resisted during the attack. Defense wounds may be active or passive. A victim of a knife attack, for example, would receive active defense wounds from grasping at the knife’s blade, and passive defense wounds on the back of the hand if it was raised up to protect the face.

Forensic Friday

The first criminal fingerprint identification was made in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1892 by Inspector Eduardo Alvarez.

Fingerprints are still evaluated based on the same descriptions of arches, loops and whorls written by Sir Francis Galton in the late 19th century. Who was Galton, you ask? Charles Darwin’s cousin, and a man who attempted to tie personal and intellectual characteristics to physical traits and heredity. He chronicled his experiments in an 1892 book called Finger Prints. While Galton was ultimately disappointed in his experiments, his technique for examining and classifying the whorls, arches and loops of the human fingerprint caught on with Scotland Yard, who then trained other police departments in the collection and classification of fingerprints.

We all know that fingerprints are formed in the womb. The ridges, whorls and loops that make up our individual prints are formed by genetic factors provided by DNA as well as environmental ones; bone growth, pressure within the womb and contact with amniotic fluid. The patterns on our fingers, palms and feet are formed by our fifth month of development, and do not change barring mutilation by disease, acid or fire.

An interesting side-note to this is John Dillinger, who tried to change his face and fingerprints with acid. After he died, experts were still able to identify him through a few remaining ridge patterns.

Because of the unique circumstances in every pregnancy, and through the contribution of DNA, identical twins can have similar prints, but they’ll never have identical ones. Our fingerprints are completely our own.

Think about that the next time you push open a door by putting your hand on the glass!