There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold…
– Robert W. Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
Wild’s debut novel, Strange Things Done, is a two time Arthur Ellis Award Winner. In 2017, she won “Best First Novel”, presented by Kobo, and in 2015 won the Arthur Ellis Unhanged for “Best Unpublished Mystery”. Strange has been on multiple shortlists for other awards internationally and was a recent Winner in Women in Film’s “From Our Dark Side” genre writing competition. As such, she is participating in a 5-month film incubation program and will be pitching Strange at the FRONTIÈRES international co-production film & television festival in Montreal in July 2017.
The protagonist of this debut mystery is twenty-five year old journalist, Josephine Silver. She has just arrived in Dawson City, Yukon after fleeing from a scandal in Vancouver. She feels guilty after being persuaded by the Vancouver Police Dept. to kill a huge story about a serial killer dubbed “The Surrey Strangler”. The daughter of a policeman, she did kill the story in order to not alert the suspect. As a result, another woman perished and Jo blames herself… One of the products of her guilt is that Jo now drinks far too much.
Josephine (Jo) has come to Dawson City to take up her role as editor of the Dawson Daily News. Expecting a much bigger operation, Jo arrives to find that the ‘Daily’ was in actual fact a ‘Weekly’ and her predecessor, Doug, only works part-time at the newspaper – he is a teacher by day. Also, all the stories she researched online that were written by the paper’s ‘staff’ were in fact all written by Doug. He just used assorted pseudonyms to engender interest. The only other being at the paper besides Doug is in fact, a one-eyed, newspaper munching guinea pig named Marshall. (I loved Marshall !)
“Dawson had a long history of being the last refuge of the desperate.
Still is, she thought. She was living proof.”
The novel begins in Jo’s first week in Dawson City. She wakes up with little to no memory of the previous evening. Once again, the demon liquor has erased her recollection of events. This time though, it is imperative that she remember because a woman was murdered and she might have been a witness to the murder.
Dawson City is getting very close to ‘freeze-up’. A time when the booming summer population of about 60,000 drops to just over 1,000 stoic persons. This is a town where there is no cellular telephone service and the streets remain unpaved to preserve the authentic ‘gold rush’ atmosphere.
Josephine finds herself in the center of a triangle, finding herself attracted to the policeman in charge of the case, Johnny Cariboo, and the main suspect, artist Chris Bryne. She also finds herself being questioned in connection to the murder. In order to find out what really happened she does some investigating only to find that Dawson, and its population are very secretive and the secrets they hide can be dangerous to those who discover them. One thing she does speculate is that many leads seem to culminate at the mine at Sourdough Creek. Also, she wonders if the town is trying to hide possible water contamination due to ‘placer mining‘.
This novel is riddled with eccentric and quirky characters. One of the quirkiest (and my favorite) being the woman Jo rents accommodation from, a ‘dancer’ named Sally LeBlanc.
I found that I couldn’t really warm to the main character, Jo Silver. She seemed to make a lot of unwise decisions. Perhaps her youth was to blame? The writing was very good, especially the descriptions of Dawson. You could almost feel the cold and hear the squeak of the snow under booted feet. The pacing was spot-on and kept me avidly turning pages. The ending seemed to tie things up well, but it happened so abruptly that it felt rushed.
To sum up, I enjoyed reading this closed community mystery, but I didn’t LOVE it.
I wish to thank TAP Books/Dundurn Publishing via Edelweiss for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of the book in consideration of my review.
From the Dundurn Press website:
Elle Wild grew up in a dark, rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Canada where there was nothing to do but read Edgar Allan Poe and watch PBS mysteries. She is an award-winning short filmmaker and the former host of Wide Awake on CBC Radio One. Her debut novel, Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Wild lives on an island in the Salish Sea.
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