The latest Heather's Pick, M.L Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, is an unforgettable debut novel of history, hope and loss. Tom Sherbourne, seeking some peace after his traumatic experiences in World War One, retreats to a life of isolation, becoming the lighthouse keeper on a small island off the coast of Western Australia.
On one of his infrequent visits to the nearest town, Tom meets Isabel Graysmark, and after a long courtship they eventually marry. Heartbroken by repeated miscarriages, Isabel is certain that their wishes have been granted when a boat drifts ashore carrying a dead man and an infant girl. Tom is less sure, but his wife’s desperation compels him to make his choice to raise the girl as their own – and only years later does the impact of that fateful decision become apparent, when the baby’s real family comes seeking the child.
A perfect read for anyone who loves the work of Kate Morton, and a provocative and tender tale of unforgettable character striving to do the right thing in a terrible situation, M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans is available now.
27TH APRIL 1926
… Janus Rock was a square mile of green, with enough grass to feed the few sheep and goats and the handful of chickens, and enough topsoil to sustain the rudimentary vegetable patch. The only trees were two towering Norfolk pines planted by the crews from Point Partageuse who had built the light station over thirty years before, in 1889. A cluster of old graves remembered a shipwreck long before that, when the Pride of Birmingham foundered on the greedy rocks in daylight. In such a ship the light itself had later been brought from England, proudly bearing the name Chance Brothers, a guarantee of the most advanced technology of its day—capable of assembly anywhere, no matter how inhospitable or hard to reach.
The currents hauled in all manner of things: flotsam and jetsam swirled as if between twin propellers; bits of wreckage, tea chests, whalebones. Things turned up in their own time, in their own way. The light station sat solidly in the middle of the island, the keeper’s cottage and outbuildings hunkered down beside the lighthouse, cowed from decades of lashing winds.
In the kitchen, Isabel sat at the old table, the baby in her arms wrapped in a downy yellow blanket. Tom scraped his boots slowly on the mat as he entered, and rested a callused hand on her shoulder. “I’ve covered the poor soul. How’s the little one?”
“It’s a girl,” said Isabel with a smile. “I gave her a bath. She seems healthy enough.”
The baby turned to him with wide eyes, drinking in his glance. “What on earth must she make of it all?” he wondered aloud.
“Given her some milk too, haven’t I, sweet thing?” Isabel cooed, turning it into a question for the baby. “Oh, she’s so, so perfect, Tom,” she said, and kissed the child. “Lord knows what she’s been through.”
Tom took a bottle of brandy from the pine cupboard and poured himself a small measure, downing it in one. He sat beside his wife, watching the light play on her face as she contemplated the treasure in her arms. The baby followed every movement of her eyes, as though Isabel might escape if she did not hold her with her gaze.
“Oh, little one,” Isabel crooned, “poor, poor little one,” as the baby nuzzled her face in toward her breast. Tom could hear tears in her voice, and the memory of an invisible presence hung in the air between them.
“She likes you,” he said. Then, almost to himself, “Makes me think of how things might have been.” He added quickly, “I mean . . . I didn’t mean . . . You look like you were born to it, that’s all.” He stroked her cheek.
Isabel glanced up at him. “I know, love. I know what you mean. I feel the same.”
He put his arms around his wife and the child. Isabel could smell the brandy on his breath. She murmured, “Oh Tom, thank God we found her in time.”
Tom kissed her, then put his lips to the baby’s forehead. The three of them stayed like that for a long moment, until the child began to wriggle, thrusting a fist out from under the blanket.
“Well”—Tom gave a stretch as he stood up—“I’ll go and send a signal, report the dinghy; get them to send a boat for the body. And for Miss Muffet here.”
“Not yet!” Isabel said as she touched the baby’s fingers. “I mean, there’s no rush to do it right this minute. The poor man’s not going to get any worse now. And this little chicken’s had quite enough of boats for the moment, I’d say. Leave it a while. Give her a chance to catch her breath.”
“It’ll take hours for them to get here. She’ll be all right. You’ve already quieted her down, little thing.”
“Let’s just wait. After all, it can’t make much difference.”
“It’s all got to go in the log, pet. You know I’ve got to report everything straightaway,” Tom said, for his duties included noting every significant event at or near the light station, from passing ships and weather, to problems with the apparatus.
“Do it in the morning, eh?”
“But what if the boat’s from a ship?”
“It’s a dinghy, not a lifeboat,” she said.
“Then the baby’s probably got a mother waiting for it somewhere onshore, tearing her hair out. How would you feel if it was yours?”
“You saw the cardigan. The mother must have fallen out of the boat and drowned.”
“Sweetheart, we don’t have any idea about the mother. Or about who the man was.”
“It’s the most likely explanation, isn’t it? Infants don’t just wander off from their parents.”
“Izzy, anything’s possible. We just don’t know.”
“When did you ever hear of a tiny baby setting off in a boat without its mother?” She held the child a fraction closer.
“This is serious. The man’s dead, Izz.”
“And the baby’s alive. Have a heart, Tom.”
Something in her tone struck him, and instead of simply contradicting her, he paused and considered her plea. Perhaps she needed a bit of time with a baby. Perhaps he owed her that.
Special thanks to our friends at Simon and Schuster Canada for providing and sharing this excerpt. Excerpted from the book The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
Reprinted with permission of Simon and Schuster Canada.
One good thing about working in the book industry is that sometimes you get to read things early, and all I’ll say about The Twelve is this: trust us, it’s worth the wait. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:
He ran like hell.
He had made it halfway to the Ferrari when he heard the first viral drop behind him. There was no time to turn and fire, Kittridge kept on going. The pain in his knee felt like a wick of fire, an ice-pick buried to the bone. At the periphery of his senses he felt a tingling awareness of beings awakening, the garage coming to life. He threw open the door and wedged himself inside, tossing the AK and rucksack onto the passenger seat, slamming the door behind him. The vehicle was so low-slung he felt like he was sitting on the ground. The dashboard, full of mysterious gauges and switches, glowed like a spacecraft’s. Something was missing. Where was the gear-shift?
A wang of metal, and in the next instant, Kittridge’s vision was filled with the sight of it. The viral had leapt onto the hood, assuming a reptilian crouch. For a frozen moment, it regarded him coolly, a predator contemplating his prey. He was naked except for his wristwatch, a Rolex fat as an icecube. Warren? he thought, for the man had been wearing one like it the day he had taken Kittridge to see the car. Warren, old buddy, is that you? Because if it is, I wouldn’t mind a word of advice on how to get this thing in gear. He discovered, then, with the tips of his fingertips, a pair of levers positioned on the undersides of the steering wheel, left and right. Paddle shifters. He should have thought of that. Up on the right, down on the left, like a motorcycle. Reverse would be a button somewhere, on the dash. The one with the R, genius. That one.
He pushed the button and hit the gas. Too fast: with a squeal of rubber the Ferrari shot backward. Kittridge knew what was about to happen before it did. As the viral tumbled away, the right rear quarter panel of the car clipped a concrete post; Kittridge’s head was slammed into the driver’s-side window. His brain chimed like a tuning fork; glittering motes danced in his eyes. But to contemplate this fact, even for a moment, was to die. The viral was rising from off the floor now, preparing to leap. No doubt it would try to take him straight through the windshield.
But something else seemed to catch its attention. With a birdlike darting quickness, it swiveled its head toward the stairwell door.
As the viral jumped away, Kittridge swung the wheel to the left and gripped the right paddle, engaging the transmission as he pressed the accelerator. A lurch and then a leap of speed: Kittridge was thrust back into his seat. Just when he thought he’d lose control of the car again he found the straightway, the walls of the garage and its parked vehicles streaming past; allowing himself a quick glimpse in the rearview, he saw the viral tearing into the body of one of the soldiers. The second was nowhere visible, though if Kittridge had to bet, the man was surely dead already, torn to bloody hunks. In school, Kittridge had learned that you couldn’t catch a fly with your hand because time was different to a fly: in a fly’s miniscule brain, a second was an hour, an hour was a year. That’s what the virals were like. Like beings outside of time.
The ramp to the street was at the far end of the lot, which was laid out like a maze; there was no direct route. The soldiers had bought him a moment but that was all: the only safety was daylight. As Kittridge downshifted into the first corner, engine roaring, tires shrieking, two more virals dropped from the ceiling directly in his path. One fell under his wheel with a damp crunch – he almost lost control of the car again – but the other leapt over the roof of the Ferrari, striding it like a hurdler. He didn’t look back.
They were everywhere now, emerging from all the hidden places. They flung themselves at the car like suicides, driven by the madness of their hunger. He barreled through them, bodies flying, their monstrous, distorted faces colliding with the windshield before being hurled up and over, away. Two more turns and he’d be free, but one was clinging to the roof now. He braked around the corner, fishtailing on the slick cement, the force of his deceleration sending the viral rolling onto the hood. A woman: she appeared to be wearing, of all things, a wedding gown. Gouging her fingers into the gap at the base of the windshield, she had drawn herself onto all fours. Her mouth, a bear-trap of bloody teeth, was open very wide; a tiny golden crucifix dangled at the base of her throat. I’m sorry about your wedding, Kittridge thought as he drew one of the pistols, steadying it over the wheel to fire through the windshield, point-blank into her face. He turned the final corner; ahead, a golden shaft of daylight falling down. Kittridge hit the ramp doing seventy miles an hour, still accelerating. The grate was sealed, but this fact seemed meager, no obstacle at all. Kittridge took aim, plunging the pedal to the floor, and ducked his head beneath the shattered windshield. A furious crash; for two full seconds, an eternity in miniature, the Ferrari went airborne. It rocketed into the sunshine, concussing the pavement with a bone-jarring bang, sparks flying. There was nothing to stop him, he realized; he was going to careen into the lobby of the bank across the street. As he bounced across the median, Kittridge stamped the brakes and swerved to the right, bracing himself for the impact. But there was no need. With a screech of smoking rubber, the tires bit and held, and the next thing Kittridge knew, he was flying down the avenue, into the summer morning.
He had to admit it. What were Warren’s exact words? You should feel the way she handles.
It was true. Kittridge had never driven anything like it in his life.
Special thanks to our friends at Random House Canada for providing and sharing this excerpt. Excerpted from the book The Twelve by Justin Cronin.
Reprinted with permission of Random House of Canada.
We’d like to begin by thanking you – for your time in answering these questions, and for Bobcat and Other Stories. Bobcat was a real pleasure to read – modern, adult, aware. As well, it was a kind of welcome challenge, as what you’ve written has a real sense of the unexpected throughout – of the strange, surprising, and, your phrase, “small, soft shocks”. We are very excited by what you have written, and thrilled to bring it forward to readers as a Spotlight title.
Indigo Fiction Blog (IFB): The story "Fialta" was first published in 2001 and "Bobcat", eight years later, and this collection some three years after that. How much time does this collection represent for you? And can you talk about how this collection has come about?
Rebecca Lee (RL): The earliest story in the collection is "Slatland", which is the first story I wrote that tried to think about the Prairies, about what its like to ride around in an old truck down a long highway, through endless wheatfields. When I was young, I just thought that was life, everybody's life, but by the time I was writing the story, I realized that is a real landscape, as worthy of artistic representation as, say, a seashore or a mountain range. One of my high school teachers, Richard Nostbakken, was an artist and had a series of really powerful but humble drawings of what wheat looks like as it emerges from the under the earth. I could be misremembering this, but they were essentially cross-sections of a piece of wheat, showing it under the ground and then emerging. To me they were beautiful and then also so interesting, and one of my first great lessons that everything, at least natural things, are more interesting under their surface, and art is the great excavator.
IFB: Similarly, the collection seems so integrated, and of a piece, in tone, style and consistent sensibility. What was your process? How were you able to be so consistent over time?
RL: My process is so slow that I can't at all recommend it, but still, it has given me years of pleasure. I basically read and drink coffee in the dark early morning, until the combination of new light and caffeine and another person's thoughts combine to create the inspiration for me to jump the tracks and start writing on my own. It would be unthinkable for me to write without reading first; I just couldn't do it. But then sometimes I miss that magical moment when I should turn away from reading and begin writing and I regret that for literally the whole rest of the day.
IFB: You teach writing at University of North Carolina. Does teaching writing affect how you write now?
RL: I love teaching. There are all sorts of interesting arguments against writing programs, and I enjoy reading them – there is the ever-present question of whether writing can really be taught and then there are thorny problems that have to do with any sort of business that gets built around art (or anything), but then all that just sort of clears away for me once I'm in the classroom. It also reminds me daily that writing is a response to life, and the depth of that response is what matters, not whether it gets published. It's very humbling for me to see all sorts of great writing that will not be published but nevertheless has a life of its own. That's even more true with the internet, and I think that's a good thing.
Also, sometimes, if we're lucky, the classroom becomes a place where writing lives, for a moment, and it doesn't matter what happens to it in terms of publishing. Maybe it's just me that's thinking that. But yesterday, for instance, a woman in an undergraduate class read a short exercise out loud about what it's like for her to be a high-functioning autistic (she has Asperger's). It started off with the line, "I've always wanted to be a real girl, not patched together like this." And as she read, unless I'm imagining it, you could feel everybody's interest totally engaged, their perceptions of her changing, and all these attendant questions rising out of the work for everybody – such as what does she mean by 'real', what is real, and what is it that makes people feel at home in the world and in themselves. I guess what I'm saying is that there are realms of experience that don't necessarily get discussed or understood until somebody writes them, and I consider a writing class one (of many) ways to encourage people who want to do that.
IFB: You’ve been away from Canada for some time. And yet the country, especially the Prairies, has a place in your stories, as well as in your earlier novel, The City is a Rising Tide. There seems to be an enduring hold; but it never seems like a geographical rosebud, an obvious emblem of something, paradise lost or Prairies escaped. Interestingly, Canada is acknowledged – but it is not obvious what Canada is or was to you. What does it mean to you, to now be published by Penguin Canada, and to receive such deserved attention at “home”?
RL: It means everything to me. To be part of that tradition is an honour and it also makes my life seem like it all makes sense after all. I grew up on Canadian writers. My teenage years were immersed in Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood, and one day I aspire to write the book that is the lovechild of those two.
To continue reading, Part Two of this interview can be found here.
Thanks to Penguin Canada for facilitating this Q and A session, and Sebastian Hanna, Michael Nicholson, and Susan Finn of Indigo for this interview’s questions.
Thanks most of all to Rebecca herself for taking the time and energy to provide such thoughtful answers.
This January, we launched Indigo Spotlight, a new reading program. Each month since, we’ve read and debated a wealth of titles and sought to bring forward the one book that got us talking and infectiously reading.
And now we’re coming home. We’re thrilled to announce our latest Spotlight choice – and our first Canadian selection. For many this will be an introduction of sorts, new work by a major new voice in Canadian literature. For many of us, Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories is the richest reading experience of any title so far considered for Spotlight.
For readers of Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, and The New Yorker, Rebecca Lee is an original talent – funny, full of surprise, adult and aware. Her stories are humane, modern, open-ended, always integrated by her acute understanding of relationships, and by the consistent excellence of her style as a writer. She takes the familiar and makes it a little strange and surprising – she makes you wonder: what just happened?
-Sebastian Hanna, Indigo
What a treat to encounter a writer with the artistry of Rebecca Lee. In her new short story collection, she introduces characters and situations that defy expectation. Each story is a fully realized tableau with characters that are contemporary and complicated. Her construction of a moral universe is well thought out and her storylines are compelling. This is an encouraging and welcome addition to the tradition of the modern short story.
-Michael Nicholson, Indigo
Each story is rich with passion, indulging the reader with an appreciation of the complexities of real social relationships. The story that I found most engaging was “The Banks of the Vistula”, about a college student who plagiarizes a linguistics paper. The level of anxiety and angst felt as a reader watching the lie snowball was exhilarating. I have read this story twice now, and cannot remember if the student ever gets caught. What has stayed with me instead is the way Lee created characters that are authentic and relatable, and stories that are more about the journey than the destination.
-Kristi Reilly, Indigo
I’ve always had a love for short stories; quite often a short story is more difficult to write than a novel (at least a good short story) and they can be the real test of an author’s ability. The beauty of them is that they allow a writer the opportunity to show his or her love of language.
This then was what I found in Bobcat – an author who clearly loves language, loves to play with words and has the confidence to be subtle. Each story was rich, multilayered and ingenious and each was a definite joy to read. I only wish there was more.
– Maureen Frost, Indigo
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee crossed my desk unexpectedly. I read the first story, then, entranced, skipped lunch and read another and another and another until I finished the entire thing mid-afternoon, the sun low in the sky, an important meeting all but forgotten. Like The Corrections and The Secret History, it’s a book you can get lost in, in the best possible way, and yet still find time to marvel at the magnitude of its sentences. While the stories between the covers are short, Lee writes with a big heart and this book is truly huge.
– Nicole Winstanley, President and Publisher, Penguin Canada
From the beginning, I was completely drawn into her unique, contemporary stories and her realistic characters whose dialogue was so natural and authentic I felt like I was in the room with them.
– Beth Lockley, Executive Director, Publicity and Marketing
The stories are contemporary and smart without seeming glib, and they’re sometimes sad, sometimes funny. She builds a lot into a story: it’s like finding yourself in a small, comfortable room where suddenly doors and stairs materialize to take you somewhere else entirely.
– Diane Turbide, Publishing Director, Penguin Canada
I picked up the book for a re-read on my subway ride home yesterday, and I was struck again by how compulsively readable Rebecca’s stories are. While the stories relate such fundamental truths about trust and deception, love, jealousy and loss, they are often framed by the absurd and unexpected, and can be as funny as they are heart-breaking and wistful. It’s rare for me to take a book of stories and devour them all in a row like I did with Bobcat the first time I read it (and to still find more to love the second time around).
– David Whiteside, Rights and Contracts Manager
Bobcat grabbed me from the moment I started reading these stories. She sees the little things we often miss in the insanity of everyday life and digs deeply into the souls of her characters. Within a few hundred pages, these stories made me laugh and cry and question. Once finished, all I wanted was to read more. And then I promptly began to read it again.
– Rachel Brown, Editorial Assistant, Penguin Canada
Rebecca Lee manages to create entirely different characters and situations for each story, while keeping to a consistently clear and gorgeous prose. So consistent that I felt like I was reading a novel in vignettes. Regardless, I loved it. And think you will too.
– Charidy Johnston, Marketing Director, Penguin Canada
Another great book chosen by Indigo's Chief Booklover and CEO Heather Reisman.
"This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same."
This exquisitely written debut novel sweeps you into the lives of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne. After WW I, Tom returns to Australia very much alone and deeply marked by what he has seen and done. It comes as a shock when the beautiful Isabel finds him attractive. A proper courtship ensues and before long it is Isabel herself who boldly declares her love for Tom. She willingly leaves her comfortable life to join him on the remote island of Janus Rock in Western Australia where he takes up the post of lighthouse keeper. Her only wish — and his too — is to have lots of children with whom to share their love.
But life does not unfold as it should. Isabel experiences a series of miscarriages and, most cruelly, a full-term stillborn. She is devastated and inconsolable. And then, a small miracle: a half-destroyed boat is washed ashore carrying a dead man and a softly crying infant. Tom, ever the serious and honorable professional, wants to immediately report the shipwreck but Isabel convinces him that this was meant to be — that likely the baby's mother has drowned and with the father dead, the baby is truly an orphan. Reluctantly Tom acquiesces and they declare to their friends and family back home that finally they have borne a child.
Baby Lucy lights up their world and they shower her with the love they so longed to give. And then… the lie of Lucy's birth begins to unravel and Isabel and Tom are forced to deal with moral choices that no parent should ever have to make. This beautiful debut novel by M.L. Stedman will touch your heart deeply. It will move you to tears and it will keep you riveted from first page to the last.
-Heather Reisman, Chief Booklover
Two weeks ago on the Indigo Fiction Blog, we posted our very first epistolary blog post. Driven by a shared adoration for Maria Semple’s new novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Jordan Ferguson and I produced a praise-filled dialogue for this quirky and heartfelt read. We are now very pleased to share an interview we had with Maria Semple about the book. If you haven’t picked it up yet, take our word for it − you will not regret it. This is the perfect novel to curl up with as the autumn air rolls in!
Indigo Fiction Blog (IFB): On your website, you posted the story of how Bernadette came to be. I was amazed by how many parts of the book were actually pulled from your life! You did the move from L.A. to Seattle, made a big career change and had a young daughter. So I have to ask, where did the idea of Antarctica come from?
Maria Semple (MS): It came from going to Antarctica! It’s a trip we had booked about a year in advance. During that year, I began writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The idea for the book began with Bernadette. Because I knew I was heading to one of the most exotic places on earth, I thought it would be smart to work it into the narrative. I figured she would end up there. But I didn’t figure out the logistics until I went myself.
IFB: In the same piece, you mention how you had written your first book in a style that was considered more commercial. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the total opposite, written in a rarely attempted epistolary style. Some might consider this risky, but it makes the novel so unique. How did you feel about the format of the book while writing it?
MS: It felt so right for the story I was trying to tell, that writing the book in the epistolary form was pure fun. That being said, about half-way through, I mentioned to my editor that I was writing an epistolary novel and she said, “Does it have to be an epistolary novel?” I pretended I didn’t hear it and charged ahead.
IFB: Bernadette has received some stunning praise from publications, authors and advance readers. How has it felt reading all of this as it comes in?
MS: I still haven’t gotten over the shock that the book actually makes sense! Writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette was a total gas, but the whole time I was genuinely worried that nobody would be able to follow it. I wrote three drafts before I let anyone read it. I vividly remember when I gave the manuscript to my first reader, a friend from LA who was staying with us. She read it in one night and when she came down to breakfast the next morning she hugged me and told me how much she loved it. I kept repeating in disbelief, “You mean you could follow it?!”
IFB: One of my favourite descriptions in the book was of the old Catholic girls' school that Bernadette and her family live in. I could just picture the vast hallways, leaky roof and the blackberry bushes out in the yard. Where did the idea for the school come from?
MS: Out my window, I see the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Because so much of writing is looking out the window, I placed Bernadette’s house on the hill so I’d always be gazing at her. The hill is dense with Craftsman houses (which I write about) but looming large among them is one old fashioned red brick school. I started wondering what would happen if I put Bernadette in that building, and liked where my mind went with it.
IFB: Though the novel deals with so many things, love is by far the most prominent emotion. The relationships between Bernadette, Bee and Elgie are so touching and real. As an author, how did it feel creating such a strong family bond between them?
MS: I’m really glad you asked this question. I began writing Where’d You Go, Bernadette when my daughter was about 5 or 6, an age where her personality began to bloom. I fell crazily in love with the ease I felt with her and the conversations we’d have. I also adored the relationship my boyfriend (her father) had with her—it brought out a sweetness in him I’d never seen. And yes, the book is wild and funny, but what I was really trying to capture, and which is most meaningful to me, was this new love our daughter brought into our life. It’s why the book is dedicated to her.
We would like to send a special thanks to Maria Semple for speaking with us and to Hachette Book Group Canada for their help! Photo credit for the author photo to Leta Warner.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide at Sûreté du Québec, is summoned to the remote Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups monastery, home of 24 cloistered monks. But when one is murdered, there are now 23 monks – and 23 suspects. What would cause a pious man of peace to murder another?
One of the best mystery authors writing today, Louise Penny gets better with each novel, and the titles in the Inspector Gamache series function as complex mysteries, as well as excellent character studies. If you are new to Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery is a great place to start – and even better, if you start at the beginning of the series, you have the seven earlier novels to enjoy.
We’re pleased to share a teaser for her new novel today, just to whet your appetite. Mark your calendars - The Beautiful Mystery is in stores on August 28th, or you can pre-order your copy today.
The phone rang. Not the robust peal of the landline, but the cheerful, invasive, trill of a cell. It was Beauvoir’s. He ran to the bedroom and grabbed it off the nightstand.
No number was displayed, just a word.
He almost hit the small green phone icon, then hesitated. Instead he strode out of the bedroom and into Annie’s light-filled, book-filled living room. He couldn’t speak to the Chief standing in front of the bed where he’d just that morning made love to the Chief’s daughter.
“Oui, allô,” he said, trying to sound casual.
“Sorry to bother you,” came the familiar voice. It managed to be both relaxed and authoritative.
“Not at all, sir. What’s up?” Beauvoir glanced at the clock on the mantle. It was 10:23 on a Saturday morning.
“There’s been a murder.”
It wasn’t, then, a casual call. An invitation to dinner. A query about staffing or a case going to trial. This was a call to arms. A call to action. A call that marked something dreadful had happened. And yet, for more than a decade now every time he heard those words, Beauvoir’s heart leapt. And raced. And even danced a little. Not with joy at the knowledge of a terrible and premature death. But knowing he and the Chief and others would be on the trail again.
Jean-Guy Beauvoir loved his job. But now, for the first time, he looked into the kitchen, and saw Annie standing in the doorway. Watching him.
And he realized, with surprise, that he now loved something more.
Grabbing his notebook he sat on Annie’s sofa and took down the details. When he finished he looked at what he’d written.
“Holy shit,” he whispered.
“At the very least,” agreed Chief Inspector Gamache. “Can you make arrangements, please? And just the two of us for now. We’ll pick up a local Sûreté agent when we arrive.”
“Inspector Lacoste? Should she come? Just to organize the Scene of Crime team and leave?”
Chief Inspector Gamache didn’t hesitate. “No.” He gave a small laugh. “We’re the Scene of Crime team, I’m afraid. Hope you remember how to do it.”
“I’ll bring the Hoover.”
“Bon. I’ve already packed my magnifying glass.” There was a pause and a more somber voice came down the line. “We need to get there quickly, Jean-Guy.”
“D’accord. I’ll make a few calls and pick you up in fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen? All the way from downtown?”
Beauvoir felt the world stop for a moment. His small apartment was in downtown Montréal, but Annie’s was in the Plateau Mont Royal quartier, a few blocks from her parents’ home in Outremont. “It’s a Saturday. Not much traffic.”
Gamache laughed. “Since when did you become an optimist? I’ll be waiting, whenever you arrive.”
And he did, placing calls, issuing orders, organizing. Then he threw a few clothes into an overnight bag.
“That’s a lot of underwear,” said Annie, sitting on the bed. “Are you planning to be gone long?” Her voice was light, but her manner wasn’t.
“Well, you know me,” he said, turning from her to slip his gun into its holder. She knew he had it, but didn’t like to actually see it. Even for a woman who cherished reality, this was far too real. “Without benefit of plunger I might need more tighty whities.”
She laughed, and he was glad.
At the door he stopped and lowered his case to the ground.
“Je t’aime,” he whispered into her ear, as he held her.
“Je t’aime,” she whispered into his ear. “Look after yourself,” she said, as they parted. And then, as he was halfway down the steps she called, “And please, look after my father.”
“I will. I promise.”
Once he was gone and she could no longer see the back of his car, Annie Gamache closed the door and held her hand to her chest.
She wondered if this was how her mother had felt, for all those years.
From The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. Copyright © 2012 by Louise Penny. Published by Minotaur Books, St Martin’s Press. Reprinted by permission of Macmillan Books. All rights reserved.
Obsession can be a killer. In her debut novel, Creep, Jennifer Hillier introduces us to recovering sex addict and psychology professor Sheila Tao, whose affair with one of her teaching assistants, Ethan Wolfe, turns deadly. When she calls off their passionate physical relationship to secure her a future with her fiancé, Morris, Sheila feels like she is finally turning her life around. She has found the right man, is excelling in her career and up until her slip-up with Ethan, had been making strides with her battle against sexual addiction. But Ethan is more than just than just the pretty face Sheila knows. He is darker, twisted and a cold-blooded killer. Though the finale of Creep reveals Ethan's demise, it also introduces questions about his long-time girlfriend, Abby Maddox. In a heated moment at the police station, Abby makes a move that casts her in a shocking new light; from victim to murderer.
And this is where Freak begins. A year has passed since Ethan's death and Abby has spent the time in a high-security penitentiary, paying for her murder attempt on private investigator and former police officer, Jerry Isaac. Trying to block out Maddox's face in the news, Sheila struggles to carry on with her life, and relationship, as normal, but this becomes increasingly difficult as bodies of young women resembling Maddox start turning up in hotel rooms across the city. The women share more than just a resemblance to Maddox; they all have the words "Free Abby Maddox" carved into their skin. But does Maddox have anything to do with it?
Freak features the return of a fabulous cast of characters from Creep: the flawed but lovable Jerry Isaac; the gruff, burly and protective fiancé Morris Gardener; the bone-chilling Abby Maddox, and of course, Sheila Tao. Where Creep centered around Sheila, her complicated past and seemingly rocky future, Freak focuses the spotlight on Jerry. Though far from perfect, Hillier gives Jerry such depth that readers can't help but be enamoured of him.Freak stays true to its title throughout the story. Readers beware: what flows through these pages is not always easy to stomach, but I dare you to take your eyes off the page. The chilling descriptions are a testament to Hillier's talent as a thriller writer. I read the first few chunks of the book over a two-day span, then hopped into bed to read a chapter or two before dozing off. What ensued was hours of fierce page flipping because I simply couldn't sleep until I was guaranteed the safety of one of the characters (which seemed increasingly less plausible). Only taking breaks to send late-night tweets to Hillier about my inability to put the book down, I finally turned the last page at 1:30 am. I felt like I had been on a rollercoaster that had just come to a startling halt. This was an action-packed, heart rate-escalating and terrifying follow-up to Creep and if you want a read that will have you on the edge of your seat for hours, I suggest you give these two novels a go!
Today’s blog comes to us courtesy of Indigo Bookseller Kristi Reilly, who is calling this novel her favourite book so far this year. A good deal of us concur with her, and highly recommend this charming and emotional novel.
“Will you be long?”
“I’m only going to the end of the road.”
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry centers on the life of Harold Fry, a 65-year-old recently retired man living in Kingsbridge, England with his wife of many years, Maureen. As the boredom of being unemployed is just settling in, Harold receives a letter from Queenie, a former co-worker he hasn’t seen in decades, writing to say goodbye as she is dying from cancer. Harold decides to mail a letter in response, but instead of putting the letter in the post he starts to walk, deciding to bring the letter to Queenie’s bedside at Berwick-upon-Tweed on foot, in an attempt to ‘save’ her. The book follows Harold’s implausible trek across England, and the many emotional and physical hurdles he must overcome to complete his mission.
Reading this book felt literally like taking a journey. You are right there with Harold though every emotionally and physically painful step, reliving his memories and helping him make new ones. When his feet ache from the physical strain of walking such a distance, you are rallying for him to rest and buy some new shoes. When the many hangers-on begin to join him on his journey, you can feel them weighing him down in both mind and body. I thought a lot about Canadian icon Terry Fox while reading this novel (there actually seems to be a lot drawn from Terry Fox – a walk for cancer which begins with little fanfare but becomes a corporate and media circus even though the trekker does not wish it to be so). I also thought a lot about The Road by Cormac McCarthy, with similar themes of loneliness, father-son relationships, and a seemingly never-ending journey. I had the same visceral experience while reading both books, where the experience was totally enveloping, and I was unaware of my actual physical surroundings. It felt like I was actually travelling through the apocalyptic wasteland with the father and son in The Road, and along the dirt roads through the English countryside with Harold.
The novel centers on the relationships between Harold and everyone in his life – his wife Maureen, son David, the people from his past and those he meets along his journey. Harold’s relationship with his wife Maureen will ring true to many couples who have been married for decades – the spark in their relationship died years ago, and they are both struggling to remember a time when they actually enjoyed one another’s presence. Maureen is the overbearing, naggy, un-physical wife and Harold is the docile, reliant, ‘yes dear’ husband. Both Maureen and Harold believe he was an insufficient father to their son David, and Harold’s constant flashbacks to the moment he failed when David needed him the most have haunted both of them for years. When Harold decides to walk to save Queenie, it is the first time that Maureen can ever remember her husband actually doing something in his life, something with meaning, taking a chance. Harold’s journey is described as him “not so much walking to Queenie as away from himself”. This journey feels like Harold is constantly trying to change the inevitable – he is trying to ‘save’ Queenie from a terminal cancer, believing that if she can just stay alive until he got to her side she will be ok. He is trying to change the past, to right all of the wrongs he has done to his family and friends throughout his life. He is trying to prove he can be a good father, a good husband, a good friend. He doesn’t want his life to end feeling like the coward he and his family believes he is. This central theme of life being a journey, everyone having regrets, but that sometimes you need to take a chance is one that holds meaning for people of all ages. Harold spent his whole life avoiding confrontation and attention, but through the notice his walk receives his life becomes the complete opposite. He is forced to rely on the generous nature of strangers – people he would have previously tried his best to avoid eye contact with. The dichotomy between Harold beginning to mend his relationship with his wife through their physical distance and forging a connection with other folks by letting go of his anxieties and ‘English pride’ is obvious, and exceptionally heartrending to read.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is my favourite book I have read so far this year. Rarely has a book touched me so deeply. Whether or not Harold reaches Queenie is not the point of this book. The idea that you can just get up and go, leave a life that you are unhappy with, and take a journey to become the person you never knew you longed to be is one that everyone will enjoy and take meaning from.
Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, released on July 24, 2012 – and we’re already calling it one of the Best of 2012. Today we’re pleased to share this piece by the author of this extraordinary novel on how the novel came to be.
Six years ago, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry began as a play for BBC Radio 4 that I wrote for my dad as he died of adenoid cystic cancer of the head and neck. I knew he would never hear it – and he didn’t. The last play of mine that he heard, he came to me afterwards and said, "You’ve done it again. You’ve made me cry."
I was never sure if he was happy or sad about that.
The play won an award for best radio play. He didn’t know that either.
I had wanted for many years to write a book, but never had the courage it would work. I tried several times, and they came to nothing. (For a start, I didn’t show them to anyone.) So I enrolled in a novel writing course as a way of gaining confidence and also making a commitment.
I started writing through the night when my family were asleep. Or I’d have to stop the car on the way to school and jot something down on a bit of paper or the back of a receipt. My children got very good at taking notes as I dictated them. The other day I found one in my bag jotted down by my youngest daughter. It says: ‘what is Harold’s atitud to alcool?’
In writing the book, I listened a lot to other people. I wove a lot in of what I saw as I passed. People move me very much. Sometimes I think I feel more for them than I can say; it goes into what I write. It was the same when I used to work as an actress. I felt able to express the things inside me that didn’t have a place anywhere else.
The book isn’t about my dad. But it maybe (somehow) is about me wanting him not to die. He was a very fit and sharp man. His battle against cancer took four years and was very distressing to witness. He was reduced and reduced and reduced. We didn’t talk about it because he didn’t want us to. He insisted on doing the London – Brighton cycle race shortly after one operation. After another, I’d go to visit him in hospital and he was in an awful way, but still wearing a shirt and tie. Just like Harold.
This book has my heart in it. I tried to write a story that wouldn’t quite fit the rules. So that the reader might think they knew where they were, and then discover they weren’t there after all. I wanted to make the implausible, plausible after all.
Thanks to our friends at Random House of Canada for sharing this blog.