On June 19, my publisher, BWL, ran a featured author post by on the BWL website. Here it is, for those who missed it. I talk about my three published novels, including my Calgary Stampede mystery, Ten Days in Summer. It feels nostalgic now, with the Stampede cancelled this summer.
I’ve loved mystery novels since I read my first Bobbsey Twins book when I was eight years old. From the kid sleuth twins I progressed to Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and, later, Agatha Christie whodunnits and Daphne Du Maurier dark suspense. I wrote my first mystery novel, A Deadly Fall, as a classic whodunnit combined with a coming-of-middle-age story. My amateur sleuth, Paula Savard, age 52, stumbles into investigating the murder of her childhood friend. The story events shake up Paula’s personal and professional life and lead her in new directions.
On the principle of ‘write what you know,’ I set the novel in my home city, Calgary, and created a protagonist similar to me. Paula was my age at the time I wrote A Deadly Fall. Like me, she grew up in Montreal and moved west to Calgary for opportunity. She’s an insurance adjuster; I worked as an insurance claims examiner. But as our shared traits diverged, Paula became her own person. She’s divorced; I’ve now been married for 42 years. She has two grown up daughters; I have two sons. She enjoys sports and risk. I like reading and run from danger.
Here’s Paula with the novel’s prime suspect, her murdered friend’s husband. He’s invited Paula to lunch to learn what her friend had told her about him.
Paula would reassure him and make it clear her friend had told her nothing. He would be on guard, but, perhaps, less guarded than he’d be with a cop. There was a chance he’d slip.
He was waiting for her reply. His face said, ‘Yes, no, either way, I don’t care’ while his hand opened and closed into a fist, opened and closed against his shaking leg. He was hanging on her answer. Saying ‘no’ would close the door. After talking with the police, she could cancel.
“I can do lunch tomorrow,” she said. “Where? What time?”
“Your choice,” he said.
She thought of a nearby restaurant. “Do you know Lily’s Café?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“Noon. I’ll give you directions.”
While writing A Deadly Fall, I realized that an insurance adjuster would make a good series detective. Adjusters are skilled in investigative work. They visit accident and crime scenes, interview witnesses and study forensic evidence to determine what really happened. Insurance claims could also reveal cover-ups for murder. Was the building fire an accident? Did an arsonist set the blaze to collect the building insurance? Or to kill a person sleeping inside?
A suspicious house fire is the subject of my second Paula Savard mystery novel, Ten Days in Summer. Paula investigates the fire from the property insurance angle. In the course of her work, she gets to know the family living in the house and gradually unearths their secrets. I set this novel during Calgary’s annual wild west festival, The Calgary Stampede. For ten days each July, Calgarians cut loose, wear cowboy hats and boots, party, line dance, and cheer on the daily rodeo and chuckwagon races. Paula’s mother from Montreal is visiting her this summer. Paula takes her to the Stampede parade, which kicks off the festival. In the midst of the revelry, business intervenes, when an insurance claimant/suspect returns Paula’s phone message to set up a meeting.
Belly dancers, in halters and pantaloons, whisked guns out of their holsters. They twirled the pistols around their fingers and shot imaginary bullets into the air.
“A blend of the old and new Calgary,” Paula said to her mother, who was seated on the lawn chair beside her. Over the past few years, Paula had noticed more and more newcomers’ floats and acts in the Stampede Parade. Today, Asian, Muslim and Caribbean communities would march with descendants of the original pioneers.
Her cell phone rang. Brendan Becker.
“Great of you to call,” he said. “I’ve been bugging my sister Cynthia to contact the insurance company.”
The belly dancers moved on. A bow-legged man wearing riding chaps bounded toward Paula and her mother. He moved his arms in circles.
“Cynthia refused –”
“YAHOO,” the cowboy shouted.
“YAHOO,” the crowd answered.
“YEE-HAW.” Paula’s mother joined in.
“You sound like you’re at the parade,” Brendan said against a backdrop of trombones.
“You too?” Paula said.
While working on his second mystery novel, I got an idea for a different suspense/mystery story. Calgary engineer Julie Fox travels to California to search for her mother who abandoned Julie when she was a child. This novel, To Catch a Fox, would alternate between five viewpoint characters. As the story progressed readers would understand the harm and danger the two ‘bad guys’ plan for Julie.
My husband Will and I researched setting descriptions on two holidays in Southern California. Yes, writing can tough sometimes. Julie stayed in the Airbnb apartment Will and I rented in Santa Monica. All of us rented bicycles from a shop on the boardwalk. Julie questioned a clerk in the shop.
Julie hesitated, feeling foolish to hope the clerk could provide any information about her mother; yet how wonderful, how easy would it be if he did.
He looked up, his eyes bleary red, and asked what type of bike she wanted.
From her waist pouch, Julie pulled out the three pictures of her mother she’d brought. “I’m looking for this woman, who once worked in a bike shop in Santa Monica.”
“This shop here?”
“I’m not sure. It was in the late 1980s. Was this place operating then?”
The man’s grin revealed a gold front tooth. “Beats me. I only bought the joint two years back.” He picked up the pictures.
“Could you put me in touch with the previous owner?”
“Not likely. He’s dead.”
After BWL published To Catch a Fox in 2019, I returned to my mystery series. I’m currently working on the third Paula Savard book, Winter’s Rage. Paula investigates a hit and run collision that killed a woman and seriously injured her husband. Was it an accident? Or a pretext for murder? The insured vehicle owner, an eighty-five-year old man recovering from heart surgery, insists he wasn’t driving.
“I can’t tell you more than what I told the police,” he said. “Them showing up at my door yesterday was the first I’d heard of anything.”
“Our insurance perspective is different from that of the police.” Paula had explained over the phone that she was the independent adjuster assigned to the claim, but repeating that could insult him, and rightly. So far, he’d impressed her as being mentally on the ball.
He leaned forward, lines flaring from his nose bridge. “When they talked about my car being in an accident, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I haven’t driven for two months. Doctor’s orders.” He rapped his chest with his gnarled hand. “I was sitting right here, reading, that whole evening until I went to bed.”
“At what time?”
“About 9:30, my usual these days.”
“It was your birthday,” she said.
“At my age, that’s nothing to celebrate.”
Every book publication is something to celebrate. BWL has scheduled Winter’s Rage for publication in February 2021. After the celebrations, I’ll move on Paula Savard mystery # 4, which will be set in spring, the season of hope.