I’ve written a mystery. It’s the first time I’ve ventured into the genre and I have to say, I’m very excited. I loved giving my hero, Jason Davey, a quest and following him from London to northern Canada to solve the disappearance of a legendary musician.
If Jason sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about him before. He’s the hero of my novel Cold Play, which took place aboard a cruise ship. Jason was the guitar-playing entertainer who sat in the TopDeck lounge, observing his audience and life at sea on one particular voyage from Vancouver to Alaska five years ago.
Now, Jason’s come ashore and he’s got a dream gig at The Blue Devil jazz club in London. His son, Dominic, studies film-making at university, and when Dom asks him to help find Ben Quigley, a legendary musician who’s been missing for four years, Jason leaps at the chance. His investigation takes him to the northern Canadian town of Peace River, Alberta, in the dead of winter.
Why Peace River, Alberta, you ask?
Here’s some fascinating insight into how this story came to be.
In October 2016, Russ Goddard, my father-in-law, died. He was a long-time resident of Peace River. He and my mother-in-law, Jeanette, were homesteaders in the 1960s. They got the last piece of Canadian government land available in northern Alberta, promising to clear it of trees and plant crops in exchange for a small fee ($5 an acre) and title to the property. Their farm is about 20km north of town. My husband Jim and his two sisters grew up there. Jim started his broadcasting career at the local radio station, CKYL (his name is still embedded in the concrete in the parking lot at the back of the station – Jim Goddard, July 1975). My sister-in-law Irene works at the Peace River Co-op, and still lives on the farm.
I’ve been to Peace River a few times, both in the summer and the winter. I’ve met the neighbouring farmers (all long gone now), and I’ve met the people who live in town. I’ve been to the cemetery (twice), and done a car-tour of the neighbourhoods. I’ve been up and down the long hill and the bridge over the river so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve seen the Northern Lights. I know how incredibly cold and isolated it can be there in the winter, although because I grew up in Saskatchewan, I’m pretty familiar with down-filled parkas and plugging your car in overnight – unlike poor Jason.
This past September, Jim and I travelled back to Peace River to inter his dad’s ashes in the cemetery. Our journey involved a 737 from Vancouver to Edmonton and then a Dash-8 to Grande Prairie. Because of flight delays we arrived in Grand Prairie about 11pm. We rented a car and drove two hours down a fairly deserted Highway 2 to Peace River in the middle of the night. We couldn’t make the car radio work so we listened to all my treadmill tunes on my iPhone, singing along to Cliff Richard and the Shadows and the Pet Shop Boys and The Guess Who. As we neared Fairview, the halfway point, I had to pee so badly we stopped the car on the side of the road and I managed to relieve myself without involving my shoes and socks (women – a hint: always pee facing uphill so your pee flows backwards and away from your feet). I was extraordinarily proud of myself – and as I went back to the car, I saw the most amazing Northern Lights dancing in the sky, sharing the moment.
You’ll recognize that scene when you read the story.
For the first time in all of our visits to Peace River, we booked into a hotel up on the hill to the west of the town. We’d always stayed at the farm before. We ate dinner at a nearby steakhouse. We had brunch at a café in Riverview. We drove up to the cemetery for a lovely ceremony burying Russ’s ashes, in a beautiful box, in the ground next to Jeanette’s ashes. Afterwards, Jim and I drove out to the farm, where we saw the yard littered with pieces of hairy animal hide. I thought a bear had slaughtered a deer and scattered the remnants as it had eaten them. But there was no blood and there were no guts or bones. My father-in-law used to make leather goods in his workshop, and he’d stored the deer-hides in an outbuilding. It turned out a bear had indeed come to visit, and had punched a hole in the side of the wooden structure and had snacked on the hides the same way a dog would enjoy a few leather chews.
You’ll read about all of these events in Disturbing the Peace, too.
One big detail I did change was the farmhouse. The Goddard house is actually a very large mobile home perched on a permanent base (in common with many of the rural homes out there), with an extra porch and a sundeck added.
During one of our past trips to Peace River, we visited some family friends who were living in a house that seemed to be haunted. Workmen had reported mysterious and unexplained feelings of un-ease. Lights had gone on and off randomly. The family dog refused to come inside. The focus of the bad feelings seemed to be centered on a large cupboard under the stairs, and I have to admit I spent the evening watching it and picking up some very bad vibes myself if stood near it. The house had apparently been built by a pilot who’d crashed his helicopter and died, leaving parts of it unfinished.
I thought it would be good to move that house onto the farm I write about in Disturbing the Peace. But it wouldn’t be a new house, it would be a very very old house, something dating from the early 1900s. I had an idea I might incorporate a bit of a ghost story into the plot. The idea didn’t fly in the end, but I kept the house. And because I wanted to write something authentic, I looked around for a real house in Peace River that I could describe with accuracy. I found just what I wanted in the Properties for Sale ads online: the old RNWMP Officers’ Residence on 99 Street, an American Foursquare design that’s been designated a heritage property.
So when you’re reading a description of Miriam Bailey’s farm in the story, imagine this:
And have a look here for the description
(scroll down to the RNWMP Officers’ Residence)
As we were driving back to Grande Prairie from Peace River this past September, I said to Jim: “I bet I could write a really good story about this town.”
“Why don’t you?” he replied, humorously.
And that’s just what I did.
I must add the usual disclaimer, of course: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
And that’s the honest truth.
Disturbing the Peace is a novella available as an ebook and paperback from Amazon worldwide. Canadian readers – unfortunately if you want the paperback you’ll have to buy it from the American site Amazon.com, but the ebook is downloadable from the Canadian site Amazon.ca
All of my other novels, including Cold Play, are available from Amazon worldwide in ebook and paperback formats (and Canadian readers can buy both formats from the Canadian site).
Here are the links to Amazon for Disturbing the Peace (links will take you to Amazon.com but it’s available in many different countries – just navigate to the Amazon where you live!)
And for more info about me and my writing, please visit my website at www.winonakent.com