Book Advent – Day 22

Book Advnet date 22 comes with a book that is a mixed bag and a bit of a surprise – full of bling and a journey through Canada and America in the 1930s all the way to Hollywood

9781459708495Mary Mabel McTavish is trying to make her mark in the big wide world

She is suicidal and down on her luck but something happens and she finds out that she somehow can resurrect the dead.

This miracle takes her on quite a journey through 1930s Canada and America where she meets and sometimes interacts with characters from history such as J. Edgar Hoover and the Rockettes as she moves through the years.Finally when she reaches Hollywood, she meets people who all want  a piece of the miracle. And the world of Hollywood is quite the charmer at times. Religious zealots all want to share in the miracle and accompany Mary on her journey.

This is a booktrail through time and across two countries into the world of Hollywood and all the trappings of what can be found there. From behind the facade, there are dark shadows, social criticism and dark dark thoughts. Which makes for quite a journey.

Ths book was a shock in that it was a lot of fun and a bit naughty. It was hilarious, close to the edge, weird and a catch you off guard kind of read and the journey throughout the history of Canada and America was a particularly nice theme to the whole story.

I guess the best description I can give to this book is like a sideshow in a circus where you open the curtains and take a peak and don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cry out in shock. Some of the early chapters were difficult to read since there were lots of characters introduced that I had trouble identifying in my mind but like in a circus, you may never get to know everyone but you know that they help to build up the scene and make it what it is.

Roll up roll up for the Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish.

Brenda Chapman – tea and cake in Canada

Hi Brenda! Come in - I have lemon drizzle for you
Hi Brenda! Author of Cold Mourning set in Ottawa

A little while ago I reviewed the amazing Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman who sets her police procedural against the snowy backdrop of her home city of Ottawa. Well, she was gracious enough to accept some tea and cake with me recently and we had a right old chat! we reminisced a little about Ottawa, poutine in Quebec City and all that snow. And of course I asked her about Cold Mourning – my first post and review can be found here – 

Canadian crime fiction at its finest
Canadian crime fiction at its finest

If you haven’t come across any Canadian crime fiction before, then take a look at Brenda Chapman – you will not be disappointed.

Waiting for Brenda, tea ready, just waiting for the freshly baked cake to cool down before serving.
Waiting for Brenda, tea ready, just waiting for the freshly baked cake to cool down before serving.

Hi Brenda, come on in

Can I take your coat? The cake’s just out the oven, would you like a slice? It’s lemon drizzle. An old favourite of mine

Here, let me take that owl off that chair. He gets everywhere bless him. He’s in the pics and thinks he’s the star of the show!  I can’t wait to get chatting. I’ve got tons of questions. Are you sitting comfortably hehe?

I want to talk about your new book which is not out until March 2014 but which I want to give a heads up about! Cold Mourning….

 1. You’ve written a series of mysteries but this is the first in the Stonechild and Rouleau   series. What made you want to write this book?

Like many mystery readers, I am a fan of the police procedural series. Not only do I enjoy a suspenseful plot, but I also want to follow the development of characters and their relationships. My first adult murder mystery, In Winter’s Grip (Dundurn 2010) was a standalone, but I knew that this was a warm up to creating a series where I could take the characters and readers on a longer journey. In Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau, I’ve created two complex, flawed cops who are intelligent and interesting enough to make me want to keep writing about them.


 2.How important is your snowy Ottawa setting to the plot?

For me, two of the most important aspects of the reading experience are to feel empathy for characters and to feel a strong sense of place. I studied poetry in university and have always been moved by the evocative use of language—words that bring me into the setting along with the characters and feel what they are feeling. One of my goals in writing this book was to describe Ottawa in winter well enough to have the setting feel like another character and for readers to experience something of what I feel when, for example, I step outside into a freezing winter evening or lie in bed at night, listening to the wind howl around the house.

3. How do you like Ottawa. I lived there for a short while and thought it amazingly friendly. Very pretty too with the feel of a small town. Where would Stonechild and Rouleau take me to in Ottawa?

I grew up in a small, isolated mill town of 2000 people on the north shore of Lake Superior, but moved to Ottawa after university. Ottawa is nearing a million people now, but still manages to maintain the small town, community feel with the countryside just a short drive away. With Ottawa as the setting for Cold Mourning, this allows me to draw on both my small town and city experiences.

Stonechild and Rouleau would take you on an insider’s tour of the city: the mansions of Rockcliffe and the colourful Byward Market. We’d follow Elgin Street to the Canal through the Glebe into Chinatown, Little Italy, Hintonburg, and my own neighbourhood, Westboro. We could take a trip across the Ottawa River into Quebec for a drive to the Gatineau Hills—spectacular in autumn when the leaves turn colour.


 4.How important was your Native American character Kala Stonechild. What you did try to show via her working relationship with Rouleau from the Ottawa police?

Kala Stonechild became the central character as I wrote Cold Mourning. I’d intended for her and Rouleau to have an equal share of the spotlight, but her storyline rose to the fore. Perhaps this is because Stonechild has such an interesting, disturbing past and she’s a newcomer to the police department. In addition, she’s out in the field investigating while Rouleau spends more time coordinating work back in the office. The fact that she is Native American, or Aboriginal as we say in Canada, is key to her character—her past is slowly be revealed throughout the series. The relationships that she develops with Rouleau and others on the force have room for a lot of intrigue, misunderstanding and conflict.

5. You create a lot of tension and twists and turns along the way. Did this novel take a lot of plotting?

I’m actually not a big plotter aside from broad strokes; for example, I decide on a crime, victim and perpetrator. I have an idea of the characters but they take shape as I write, sometimes with new ones appearing out of nowhere. Once the story gets going, I spend a good deal of time reworking scenes and thinking about the next chapter. This means that I sometimes have to rewrite sections later on to make everything fit.


6.What kind of research did you do?

The type and depth of research that I undertake depends on the project. In addition to writing, I work as a senior communications advisor for the federal government and so track stories about my files in the media. I’ve worked on Aboriginal files for the past four years, and while I cannot use anything I learned specific to these files, I can use the general knowledge I’ve gained through reading news articles and information available to the public. Kala Stonechild is the result.

To keep the storyline authentic, I had a retired Ottawa police officer read the Cold Mourning manuscript to give me feedback on the crimes and clues. He gave me insight into the police working environment that I would not have had otherwise.

I also use Google maps extensively, but know Ottawa intimately since I’ve lived here over thirty years. Still, there is nothing like first-hand experience when it comes to writing about a location; I made two field trips to locations on the Rideau River to find the perfect location to kill off a character. My brave husband came along on the isolated walks through the woods, although I had to promise not to reenact any of the scenes.

 7.Here in the UK, Canadian crime fiction can be somewhat overshadowed by that from American or Scandinavia. What makes Canadian fiction unique?

Great question. Every country has its own geography, history, customs and way of viewing the rest of the world. Canadians are no different in this regard, and our stories are no less fascinating.

Canadians are known for being polite and cooperative, but we are so much more than these traits. We come from explorer stock and have been shaped by a vast, rugged landscape with long winters and immense, untamed stretches of wilderness. The multi-faceted geography is evident the lives we lead. It has made us survivors and innovators; and while we’ve worked to control our environment, deep down we know that it is our environment that has the final say. A person living in Newfoundland has a much different reality than someone living in the Prairies, the Arctic or Montreal. We Canadian writers bring this wealth of multicultural experience, geography and flavour to our stories along with a haunting, intangible quality that is uniquely Canadian, and is shaped I think, by our closeness to the land. We also share a droll, dry sense of humour and an ability to see the absurdity in life.


 8. You attend your ideal book fair and meet your 4 favourite authors or those who have inspired you. Who would they be?

When I was growing up in that small northern town, my favourite author was Enid Blyton—the Famous Five, the Secret Seven—her mystery stories shaped my love for working out clues and solving a good puzzle.

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is the novel that taught me about creating empathetic characters against the backdrop of a well crafted story. This was a book I read over and over when I was in high school.

Current day, I would love to while away an evening in the pub with Michael Connelly, Denise Mina, John Harvey and Liza Marklund, all writers whom I respect and admire for their great story-telling and believable, flawed characters.

Thanks Brenda for answering all those questions I’ve thrown at you! Very kind of you. I do like a good natter about a good book. I hope you’ve enjoyed the cake and tea. There’s more in the pot. Care for another slice of cake too?

Think we’ll leave it there for now but not before I share two things with you – Brenda’s website and the link to a future Canadian classic 


Cold Mourning in Ottawa


Cold Mourning is the first book in a new series by author Brenda Chapman – a well known and well respected mystery writer

Set in Ottawa, Canada, the plot is as chilling as the cold, snowy setting

Native American Kala Stonechild moves to Ottawa for her job and for something else as well. She lands herself a job in a special unit of the Ottawa Police Department headed up by detective Jacques Rouleau.

Both Stonechild and Rouleau have a past and this is one of the novels strengths -we get to know them on a much deeper level and start to care for them early on in the story.

They have a case to investigate and so must work together – business man Tom Underwood has gone missing and Rouleau’s team is charged with finding what has happened.

When the case later turns to a murder investigation, family, friends, and business colleagues are all under suspicion. Everyone could have had a motive and the twists and turns through out the book made it hard to guess which makes the end a nice treat. There might be so many motives but no real evidence. Each character is flawed, and the subplots and background set up a perfect backdrop to this first in  a series of novels.

You see, Tom is not your ordinary business man – he has a very disfunctional family and questionable friends. Not to mention the character of the man himself –

 Tom Underwood looked across the room at his wife and wondered how it would feel to place his hands around her slender neck and throttle the life out of her

Meanwhile, Kala has her own mystery to solve – she needs to find her cousin, with whom she once shared a horrific nightmare of brutality and murder.

A cold winter in Ottawa
A cold winter in Ottawa

A multilayered novel with a unique premise made all the more chilling by the frosty cold environment of an Ottawa winter

The snow there was soft and deep, but years in the bush made her sure-footed and quicker than most in the shadowy darkness

If you haven’t read any Canadian fiction, you would not go wrong starting with Brenda Chapman – an Ottawa gem

Local Customs – a journey from Scotland and England to Africa


Based on real events

What happens when a Scot becomes the Governor of Cape Coast?

What happens to his English born wife?

Who knows the truth?


Local Customs by Audrey Thomas –


George Maclean,  was born in 1801 in Banffshire, Scotland and was the  council president of Cape Coast, West Africa, who laid the groundwork for British rule of the Gold Coast.

In 1838 he married the poet and novelist Letitia (Letty) Elizabeth Landon or L.E.L. as she was more commonly known. She died a mysterious death a few months later. Was it from an overdose of prussic acid? Her doctor and chemist swore that they had never prescribed such a thing.


There are all sorts of rumours flying about. Was Letty involved with other men? Brodie Cruickshank is in love with her. Is she all she seems? Is George? Her husband describes her –

My wife was a woman who had lived entirely in her imagination


But what really happened to LEL in this exotic and dangerous place so far away from her home?


Local customs refers to the changes and new experiences that westerners in particular must get used to in order to settle in the new country and to do their jobs. We are introduced to Fante – the local language and the tradition of washing pregnant women in the river – things that seem strange and new to Letty at first. The heat and the humidity however, she learns to cope with, despite the fact that most visitors there find this the hardest thing to bear.


Letty may tell most of the story from her perspective but it is the changing view points from herself and George at the beginning, that I found the most interesting. When she tells us that she is dead however, it is hard to focus on anyone else.



The setting of this book was of course a large part of the attraction for The Book Trail and it doesn’t disappoint.


The two principal streets are very wide and lined with umbrella trees.

Chickens  and children wander freely, women walk to and fro with babies trapped to their backs; men sit under a huge silk-cotton tree, talking and playing a game they call Oware


And of course the weather –


The rainy season  was supposed to be ending, but one afternoon the skies opened and a torrent of rain descended; I had never seen anything like it. It was biblical the sort of rain poor Mr and Mrs Noah must have experiences as they floated away with their menagerie in the ark.

On another book trail note, Letty mentions that her favourite book as a girl was Robinson Crusoe and she explains how she thought he was clever and brave to be trapped on a desert island. She though this might be fun – having to create everything from scratch. Her innocence is coupled with a funny anecdote of how Friday may have got his name. This level of detail enriched the story and added a unique flavour to Letty’s thoughts.


Published by Dundurn Press in Canada,     –    this is an intriguing story based on real events and takes you to Africa and shows you around.