Tag Archives: Mystery Novel

“What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place.” | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin on her novel “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

The new book season is almost upon us and we can hardly wait. One such release that is coming out that has us book fans excited is the second Amanda Doucette mystery titled The Trickster’s Lullaby by Barbara Fradkin. No doubt this will be a great mystery novel filled with vivid detail and realistic situations.  Fradkin was kind enough to let me in on some of the details of the book before its release.

trickster

 

What is “The Trickster Lullaby”  – the latest Amanda Doucette novel –  about?

In The Trickster’s Lullaby, former international aid worker Amanda Doucette embarks on a winter camping trip with a group of inner-city young people in the remote Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.

As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.

What do readers say about Amanda Doucette?

Many of my long-time readers are very attached to Inspector Green and were only grudgingly willing to meet my new hero in FIRE IN THE STARS. (Link to my review) Fortunately, most old and new readers have enjoyed her spirit, compassion, and never-say-die attitude, even if some felt she had a frustrating tendency to go off half-cocked. What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place. At one hilarious book club I was invited to, the members, most on the dark side of forty, felt I should have given her a sex life. I promised it was coming.

 

What event are you most looking forward to?

I have numerous appearances lined up this fall. I am always excited to meet readers and talk about my books, but I especially love my book launches, because I get to invite all my friends, both old ones from my former work life and new ones from my book world. Some of them I rarely see otherwise, so it’s really a reunion. As in past years, I have two launches planned, in Ottawa and Toronto.

 

However, this year I am also really excited to be appearing at the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival for the first time, (Link to the Festival’s website here) with an internationally renowned crime writer whom I greatly admire. The details have not been made public yet, but mystery lovers are going to be thrilled.

 

What’s next?

It’s part of a writer’s life to be juggling multiple writing tasks at the same time. Often we are doing promotional events with one book while doing final editing on the next and writing the first draft of the third. Right now, in between planning book launches and tours for THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I’m also hard at work writing the third Amanda Doucette book. First drafts require a certain momentum to keep going and on track, so I try to write a scene or two every day and hope to have something rough (and always terrible) hammered out before the September book tours start. I am not sure it’s going to happen, which means that I will be taking my draft on the road with me and working on it in airports and hotel rooms.

 

The next book is called PRISONERS OF HOPE, and it is set in Georgian Bay during the late spring. Each book in the Amanda Doucette series takes place in a different iconic location across the country, as part of my homage to Canada. In this book, Amanda is planning a kayaking retreat for her next charity adventure and during an exploratory paddle, she and her tour guide rescue a woman whose boat has swamped. The woman turns out to be a Filipino nanny fleeing from an island mansion where her employer has just died. Each of the Doucette books has a Canadian twist on a global social issue, in this case the plight of foreign temporary workers. But I hope at its heart, it’s mostly a good, thrilling tale.

 

Who came up with the striking cover?

I do love this cover, and many people have commented on it. My publisher, Dundurn Press, allows me a lot of input into the covers. First they ask if I have any vision for the image, colour, or theme. Later they will send me the mock-up for feedback, and they do take my comments seriously. Sometimes the mock-up goes back and forth several times. With THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I wanted the bleakness and danger of the winter wilderness to leap out at people. I combed through the Internet for pictures of blizzards and snowy mountains, collecting several promising photos in the process. But I also came upon the close-up of the Siberian husky and thought what spooky, menacing eyes!  So I sent it along with the landscape photos to the designer, never thinking she’d combine the concepts. She came back with this cover. Perfect first time!

The joys of social media (and connecting with fans online)

Facebook and I have reached a stage of mutual appreciation, but I still don’t know what to make of Twitter. Both are essential tools for getting the word out and, more importantly for me, fostering friendships with readers I meet either through book clubs and appearances or simply online. It takes time to keep up with Facebook and reach out to others, but I gain a lot from the connections and truly cherish my expanded circle of friends around the world. Twitter is much more impersonal and, because it’s just short bursts of information, I never feel much of a connection. I will use Twitter to inform a broad readership and other book business people about an event, review, upcoming release, etc.

 

Another social media site, Goodreads, has now reared its head, and writers are urged to have a presence there. Because it’s designed for and by readers, it’s more difficult for authors to figure out how to use it for promotion, and so I sense another steep learning curve. And more distractions from actual writing. We can’t be everywhere, and we do have to write.

*****

Link to Dundurn’s website for “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Explorations of the Role of Identity | Review of “The Unquiet Dead” by Ausma Zehanat Khan (2014) Minotaur Books

Dead

Mystery novels have always explored the depths of the human psyche. But when a talented writer explores elements of the human condition to its complete zenith, the book can be a enlightening and engaging read. And that what Ausma Zehanat Khan has done with The Unquiet Dead.

Page 1-2

The Maghrib prayer was for (Esa) Khattak a time  of consolation where along with prayers for Muhammad, he asked for mercy upon his wife and forgiveness for the accident that had caused her death. A nightly ritual of grief relieved by the possibility of hope, it stretched across that most resonant band of time: twilight. The dying sun muted his thoughts, much as it subdued the colors of the ja-namaz beneath him. It was the discipline of the ritual that brought him comfort, the reason he rarely missed it. Unless he was on duty – as he was tonight, when the phone call from Tom Paley disturbed his concentration.

He no longer possessed the hot-blooded certainties of youth that a prayer missed or delayed would bring about a concomitant judgment of sin. Time had taught him to view his faith through the prism of compassion: when ritual was sacrificed in pursuit of the very values of compassion: when ritual was sacrificed in pursuit of the very values it was meant to inspire, there could be no judgement, no sin.

He took the phone call from Tom Paley midway through the prayer and finished up in its aftermath. Tom, the most respected historian at Canada’s Department of Justice, would not have disturbed him on an  evening when Khattak could just as easily have been off-roster unless the situation was urgent.

Detective  Rachel Getty and her superior Esa Khattak have a uneasy work relationship as they begin to investigate the mysterious death of Christopher Drayton. She follows his leadership without question but feels strongly uneasy as she soon realizes there are details to the case he is holding back from her. As the investigation continues and emotions of all become tense as it becomes suggested that Drayton may have been involved with the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims during the Balkans War, both Getty and Khattak must try to wade through a quagmire of personalities to find out the truth of what happened to Drayton and why.

Page 85

For more than a week now, Rachel had been asked to do nothing further on the Drayton investigation. She’d resumed her regular workload with Dec and Gaffney, sating little about the previous week’s excursions, wondering when Khattak  would show up at their downtown office again.. She had a few ideas about what they should do next and found Khattak’s silence troubling. Had he ruled out the idea that Drayton was Dražen Krstić? If so, based on what evidence? Or had he found something that cemented his certainties? Was he even now reporting to his friend at Justice? He’d told her to keep the letters, and she’d spent her evening digging into the history of the Bosnian war, trying to find out more about Krstić.

Initially, she’d thought that the letters spoke from the perspective of a survivor of the war with a very specific axe to grind, but Khattak had been right. The letters weren’t just about the massacre at Srebrenica. They were far more wide-ranging, as if the letter writer was making a darker point, outlined in blood.

At its deepest level, this is a book about identity. The characters have to deal with the labels their identities bring with them, be it with: family, occupations, gender, religion and even social status. But at most Khan brings the ugliness of identity politics to us in the comfortable west. The war that rip lives apart in the former Yugoslavia still hurts to this day. Khan brings that element boldly alive in not only having survivors retell their stories but also bluntly questioning the roles our leaders played during the massacres.

Page 197-198

The little girl kicked the ball straight at the imam. He caught it with a deft movement and tossed it back to her, his face grave.

“It would give many people peace to know that Krstić is dead.”

“For that peace to be real, they would need to know that Drayton really was Krstić. All I’m asking you for is a little more time. I’m heading to the Department of Justice this afternoon. I should be able to tell you much more once I’ve had that meeting.

Imam Muharrem studied him.

“So you will be the truth-bearer, Inspector Esa. You will tell you masters what they do not wish to hear, insist to them on the truth of what you’ve learned. And they will say to you, Inspector, ‘How can you trust the memory of these Bonians? A people too weak to save themselves. We owe them nothing. Let us preserve our silence.”

“Imam Muharrem -”

“Can you deny it? Was Srebrenica not the worst hour of so many Western governments?”

“The Canadian battalion wasn’t in Srebrenica in 1995 , sir. And while they were there, they lived on combat rations as an act of solidarity with your people.” Rachel had done her research but she didn’t know what made her say this; perhaps a flicker of deep-seated shame.

The imam took her up on it. “The Canadian battalion was evacuated at the insistence of your government. Unlike my people, who could not be evacuated and were left behind to be murdered. I’m afraid a ration of two beers a day is not my definition of solidarity, Sergeant. We experienced the same pressures as your commander in Srebrenica, but we did not share his relief from it.” He shook his head. “Canbat or Dutchbat, it would have made no difference. The outcome would have been the same. What does it matter to the  mothers of Srebrenica if entire governments resign? Will that bring back the dead?”

“Sir -”

“You do what you must, Inspector. I will do the same.” He saw their expressions and added. “I do not mean that as a threat. I will wait to see what your government does. I think this will make you unpopular, Inspector Esa. If you expose your government, you may not reach the heights you were otherwise destined for. Your Community Policing may fail before it has a chance to begin.”
Khattak slid hands into his trouser pockets, the gesture unforced.  “Please let me worry about that, Imam Muharrem. We cannot possibly fail you twice.”

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan is much more that mystery novel. It looks deep into the role of identity in society and causes readers to ponder that element of the human condition in earnest. Exactly what a good piece of literature should do.

*****

Link to Ausma Zehanat Khan’s website

Link to Minotaur Books/Macmillan Press’ website for The Unquiet Dead

 

 

Entering the Realm of Amanda Doucette | Review of “Fire in the Stars” by Barbara Fradkin (To be Released – Sept. 2016) Dundurn Press

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the author and Dundurn Press.

A few months ago I was introduced to the writing of Barbara Fradkin. I was impressed with her style and her vivid descriptions that I became an immediate fan of her works. Recently,  I had the pleasure of of receive an advanced reading copy of newest work, Fire in the Stars. In it, Fradkin begins a new series of novels with the protagonist Amanda Doucette. Again I was completely impressed with the details of the story and I needed to mention the book here.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

I’m very excited to spread my wings and introduce Fire in the Stars, the debut novel in the brand-new Amanda Doucette series. My Inspector Green series has been a critical success that has garnered several awards and, more importantly, many readers over the past fifteen years. I’m proud of how it has grown, but after spending ten books with Michael Green, I wanted to get out a little.

Literature is suppose to be about the human condition – allowing readers to grasp and understand what makes people think and act the way they do. And Fradkin has done that here. While the novel has all the trademarks of a mystery novel – a plot that twists and turns having a reader on edge of wondering what will happen next – Fradkin has characters that are believable yet confused with some deep flaws that we all can relate to in some way.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

As a psychologist, I have always been interested in the dark side of humanity – ordinary people’s social, personal, and moral struggles. The mystery, suspense, and psychology that were Inspector Green’s trademarks will continue, but in this new series, I widen my lens to the broader canvas of world issues. It follows a cross-Canada path, from the east coast to the west. Each book will have a different iconic setting and explore a Canadian take on a global human issue. First up, Newfoundland and refugees.

This was a book I devoured in any free moment I had in the last couple of days since it’s arrival. The descriptions are vivid from the scenes to the meals the characters enjoy to the breath of emotions that Fradkin has each of her characters go through. A page turner from the beginning to the end.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

Amanda Doucette is a woman to be reckoned with. Adventurous, resourceful, and caring, she has worked as an international aid worker in some of the poorest corners of the world. But a brutal experience in Africa left her shake, questioning her future. In Fire in the Stars, she has returned to Canada to regain her footing, only to find that her closes friend and fellow trauma survivor, Phil Cousins, has gone missing from his home in Newfoundland, taking his young son with him. As she follow his increasingly bizarre trail into the wilds of northern Newfoundland, she fears for his safety. Is he desperate? Suicidal? Or is there another motive at play? Does it have anything to do with the boat full of refugees adrift in the ocean?

Fire in the Stars by Barbara Fradkin is an exciting start to the world of Amanda Doucette. The descriptions are vivid, the characters are believable and the plot is well-organized. A must read for not just mystery fans but for readers interested in the human condition.

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to Dundurn Press’ page for Fire in the Stars (to be released Sept. 2016)

 

Entering the World of Inspector Green | Review of “The Whisper of Legends” by Barbara Fradkin (2013) Dundurn Press

Whisper

What impresses me with a good story is not just the plot but the small details that surround the plot which engage me more to read the book. Usually this is a result of an author doing large amounts of research before even writing a word. I recently discovered Barbara Fradkin as a novelist and I suspect that her research skills are immense as I read and enjoyed The Whisper of Legends.

Page 12

For the tenth time in ten minutes, Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green abandoned the dreary operations report and sneaked a peek at his BlackBerry. The time was inching toward noon. What time was that in the Yukon? Nine a.m? The start of their business day? Of course, he had no idea what time the owner of Nahanni River Adventures actually came to the office, nor even whether he had an office in the normal sense of the word. But Green figured nine a.m. was a respectable time to phone. It would sound like a reasonable request for an update, which it was, rather than a panicked call for reassurance.

Which it also was.

Hannah had told him very firmly that there were no cellphone towers or Internet signals in the Nahanni National Park Reserve. it was thirty thousand square kilometres of mountains, glaciers, canyons, and waterfalls along a wilderness river so spectacular that it had been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There was no communication, period. Cut off from the the outside world. That’s the point, Dad.

Fradkin has a great writing style. The story deals Inspector Michael Green trying to deal with his missing daughter Hannah. She was on a summer  trip deep in a park made up of ‘30,000 square kilometres of wilderness and 600 grizzlies.’ Green finds out that his daughter lied to him about the trip, it was organized by a boyfriend to explore the hinterland of the region, not a local tour group. Green becomes frustrated the lack of effort being done by the authorities to look for his daughter that he and his friend – Staff Sargent Brian Sullivan – travel to park to search for Hannah themselves.

Page 71-72

Green slept fitfully, disturbed not so much by the tandem snoring of the other two men nor by the eerie grey of the northern night, but by fragments of dreams lurking at the borders of his consciousness. Images of roiling rapids, plunging waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and endless, desolate mountains. Was Hannah wandering around at the mercy of Scott, and unwitting pawn in some scheme of his? Or had she been party to the devious plot from the start? Lying to her parents about her destination and her purpose? He didn’t know which possibility upset him more. That she was a hapless captive or a witting liar.

How well did Green know her anymore? She’d arrived on his doorstep an angry, untrusting teenager consumed with the need to punish him for his years of neglect. She’d lived a reckless life on the edge. Drugs, men, deception – she’d embraced them all in her quest for love, meaning, or just pure oblivion. Father and daughter had won each other over step by timid step, but all too soon she had slipped from his grasp again, back into that toxic swamp of guilt, narcissism, and manipulation that was her mother’s life. Scott had become her next great fascination, her next great answer to the meaning of it all.

In her eagerness to please Scott, what had she done to herself?

Fradkin also has a fantastic grasp of human fears and relationships. She gets into the minds of the characters here and tells the readers what they are thinking, even though those characters are fearful of sharing their emotions with others.

Page 158

Green held his tongue. In truth, he was terrified. He knew he was putting the other paddlers at risk as well as himself by insisting on starting at Moose Ponds, but there was no other place on the upper river wide enough to land the float place. The coordinates of the mining claim put the search area near the confluence of the South Nahanni and Little Nahanni, which was just below the terrifying sixty-kilometre stretch of whitewater. To land farther downstream at the next accessible place would be pointless.

Elliot steadied the two canoes and eased them up on the rocky riverbank. He looked thoughtful. “We’ll manage,” he said. “I know every twist and boil in this river, and we have a number of options. We’ll take each stretch slowly. Scout, discuss, plan the route ahead of time. On some of them we can make a canyon rig by lashing two canoes side by side. Other places Brian can solo and I will paddle with Mike. If we need to, we’ll portage or pull the canoes on ropes. We’ll get there.”

 

The Whispers of Legends by Barbara Fradkin is a detailed and well-researched mystery novel that is a pleasure to read. Not only is the plot engrossing but also very thoughtful. A great read for sure.

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for The Whisper of Legends

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Suspenseful and Light Reading | Review of “The Night Thief” by Barbara Fradkin (2015) Raven Books

Thief

There is a certain beauty in brevity when one writes a narrative. To keep things simple and yet to keep the attention of a reader is a difficult challenge. Barbara Fradkin manages to do that with a certain grace with her novel The Night Thief which makes this book not only a quick read but also an interesting one.

Page 1-2

It was supposed to be a perfect October night. The moon was huge and the sky was so clear. I could see all the way across the field to the woods.

But after less than an hour, I was freezing to death. My toes had gone numb. My back ached and I couldn’t feel the tip of my nose. Good move, O’Toole, I grumbled to myself as I eased my stiff fingers from the shotgun. You couldn’t wear a warmer jacket?

I was lying in wait for the night thief. for more than three weeks now, I’d been trying to stop him from raiding my vegetable patch. My usual scarecrows and whirligigs had been useless. So first I’d welded together a tall fence using every piece of metal I could spare. Bits of car hoods and chicken wire. it wasn’t pretty, but I thought it would do the trick.

I have read several of theses “Rapid Reads” series and have always found them entertaining in some way. This book is no different. They service a need for a certain type of reader who may have limited reading skills or just wants a quick book to read over a short time. The writing here is light and breezy without being condescending or childish. The story deals with Cedric O’Toole. Something appears raiding his farm and he is determined to find out what it is. Oddly enough it is a boy who appears to be homeless. Cedric’s own past doesn’t trust outside authorities to take care of the boy, but as the story goes on, he must decide to get help for the boy or trust his own instincts.

Page 13-14

By the time we got back to the farmhouse, sunset had stolen all the heat out of the air. I was shivering. Robin trailed about twenty feet behind me, but when he saw the house, he stopped to stare, like he’d never seen it in the daytime. Now, I admit my house is a funny sight. Two walls are painted turquoise and the other two orange, because that’s what was handy. Both paints were rejects from someone else’s bad mix jobs – kind of like me.

At first Robin wouldn’t even come up the front steps. Instead he headed for the barn, sending the hens squawking in all directions. So I told him I was going inside to feed Chevy, and soup would be ready in a few minutes. When I peeked outside again, he was down by the barn, feeding the hens. I could see him smiling at them, but when I called to him, the smile disappeared.

Even when my mother had remembered to feed me, she was never much of a cook. So early on I’d figured out how to use a stove and grow a few vegetables. My soup wasn’t fancy but the smell was enough to get Robin inside the house. He took the bowl off the table and curled up on the kitchen floor beside Chevy. He emptied his bowl even faster than the dog would have. I put a refill on the the table, be he took it down onto the floor too.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

There is also some deep feelings, thoughts and emotions here. Fradkin has obviously captured some scenarios from her work as a child and school psychologist into this story, making it a great piece of literature by giving insight to the human condition. The ending isn’t at all a ‘happily-ever-after’ one but one one that reflects reality. Bittersweet yet life continues.

Page 43-44

I studied the drawings carefully, hoping for a clue to his past. There was only one, a small, one-story, house that looked nothing like mine. It had a front porch with what looked like a rocking chair on it. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Was it time to tell Jessica the truth? And get this kid back home with some real help?

Instead, I stalled. I admit, I kind of liked his company – and his help. I had a busy couple of days paneling the living room in a cottage near the village. so Robin was left to do the chores and keep himself busy. He spent hours in my junk sheds, fiddling with things. He played with Chevy and the goat, even enjoyed watching the hens. But he hardly talked. Every night I put him to bed in my mother’s bed, and every morning I found him asleep in the shed. He ate like a football player, but during the night food still disappeared. Not only food, but my mother’s sweaters, more towels and spare cushions from the couch.

So one night I woke up at 2:00 AM and went to peek in my mother’s room. Sure enough, the bed was empty. I peered out the window. The moon was on the wane but still cast enough pale light that I could see a shape running toward the woods. Toward the mystery cave I had found a few days earlier.

What the hell was this boy up to?

While it is a light and ‘rapid’ read, The Night Thief by Barbara Fradkin is an engaging one. Filled with emotion and suspense, it is a read that engages for whomever reads it.

 

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to Orca Books’ page for The Night Thief