Author Tags: Crime, Fiction
Prior to turning her hand to writing West Coast mysteries, R.J. (Rachel) McMillen and her husband explored B.C.'s coastal waters for 30 years on a sailboat that they built.
The mid-coast provided the settings for many of the scenes in her first novel, Dark Moon Walking (Namu, Klemtu, Hakai Pass area) and Nootka Island (Friendly Cove) on the east side of Vancouver Island features prominently in Black Tide Rising. A third title in her series, Green River Falling, will feature Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. Her reluctant detective in all these stories is a former cop, Dan Connor, who likes to go exploring by boat.
In the debut novel, Dark Moon Walking (TouchWood $14.95), Connor works alongside a First Nations man he once busted in order to track down a missing biologist—while encountering a wide range of eccentric coastal characters on east coast of Vancouver Island.
In the follow-up story also set on Nootka Island, Black Tide Rising, Connor is again unwillingly involved in a murder mystery when he discovers blood at the site of destroyed sacred totem on the beach where Captain Cook landed at Friendly Cove (aka Yuquot.)
A Summerland business owner and a freelance magazine writer, R.J. (Rachel) McMillen was born in England and raised in Australia.
Dark Moon Walking (TouchWood $14.95) 9781771510660
Black Tide Rising (Touchwood Edition, 2015) $14.95 9781771511230
Black Tide Rising by R.J. McMillen (TouchWood $14.95)
from Cherie Theissen
With the comings and goings of four unsavoury villains, Nootka Island’s Friendly Cove is not living up to its name in R.J. (Rachel) McMillen’s second crime novel.
Here, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Chief Maquinna and Captain James Cook had the first documented on-land contact between Europeans and coastal First Nations.
Now this spooky beach is almost deserted except for a lighthouse and a self-elected First Nations caretaker named Ray Williams and his wife Terry who greet the tourists who arrive on the MV Uchuck III from Gold River.
When retired cop Dan Connor arrives in his converted fish packer, Dreamspeaker,* he’s hoping to revisit some happy childhood memories of fishing in the area with his father, visiting the lighthouse and its long-time keepers, Gene and Mary Dorman. It has been 30 years since he saw them, as a child of ten.
But as soon as he arrives, he learns that Margrethe, the wife of the assistant lighthouse keeper, has gone missing.
Was she mentally unstable? Was there a bear attack?
The risk of foul play has to be considered when Dan Connor finds blood near a mysteriously defaced totem pole. Who the hell would want to carve up a Nuu-chah-nulth totem? Surely not Ray and Terry’s son Sanford, himself a carver, who is visiting his parents from his home in Campbell River.
Short-staffed and under the gun to solve the case, Dan Connor’s old boss is soon deputizing the retiree who had been looking forward to his get-together in Kyuquot with the new romance in his life.
Soon there is news of a body found near Kyuquot, identified as a missing troubled native youth from Gold River. The 14-year-old kid often ran away to Nootka Island, the traditional territory of his people. So did the currents take his body from Nootka to where it was found?
It’s clear the author knows the area, the waters and the people tucked into remote coastal areas. R.J. McMillen and her husband have explored B.C.’s coastal waters for the past 30 years on a 36-ft. sailboat they built, called Maquinna. Her insider knowledge and experiences bring a confidence and authenticity that add a documentary dimension to the book.
Even some of McMillen’s characters, mostly notably the Nuu-chah-nulth carver, Sanford Williams, are real people (he granted McMillen consent for him to appear in the novel.)
“I realized that if I continued to ignore all the knowledge and richness that other cultures offer,” says McMillen, “my life would be much poorer.”
In both her mysteries we are introduced to Walker, a First Nations protagonist who helps Connor solve the murders. He’s a loner, someone who was severely disabled years before. (It happened when he fell off a roof while he was being chased by Connor for a robbery.)
Now Walker mostly lives in accordance with the old ways, living off the land and sea, embracing the mythology and spirituality of his ancestors, and somehow showing up whenever Connor heads into western waters and finds himself embroiled in crime.
“While the plot may be that of a thriller, the story is also about the conflicts between two cultures—represented by Dan and Walker—and different lifestyles,” McMillen says. It’s also a tale rich in the supernatural. Justice can be meted out in different ways and nature is always a palpable force.”
McMillen gives us the bad guys from the get-go. So the suspense that arises from not knowing the criminals and their designs, so often the driving force in mysteries, is missing from Black Tide Rising.
Conversely, there is also a mysterious fourth man, who remains an unknown figure. Possibly his identity will be divulged as the series continues.
Regardless, readers will find the rain, the squalls, the currents, and the tang of the sea stay with them after putting the book down.
Tables will be turned in the third mystery in the series, Green River Falling, in which Walker will be asking Dan for help in finding a friend of his who is a suspect in a series of murders. These murders will occur along the proposed route of the northern pipeline.
“The quest takes them from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert,” says McMillen, “and onto the revived ghost town of Kitsault. It will challenge them both on three levels: physical, mental and spiritual.”
Cherie Thiessen reviews fiction from Pender Island.
* * *
*Dreamspeaker is also the name of a 1977 Claude Jutra film featuring George Clutesi, that won 7 Canadian Film Awards. It was written by Anne Cameron of Tahsis, who released Dreamspeaker as a novel in 1979. Laurence Yeadon-Jones and Anne Yeadon-Jones [see Who’s Who entry page 40] sailed across the Atlantic from England in 1985 in their 36-foot sail boat named Dreamspeaker and have since published their Dreamspeaker sailing guides.