Inspired by the Yukon winter and the road closures that lead to a feeling of isolation, Elle Wild
wrote her first crime novel and set it in Dawson City.
The novel, called Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award 2015 for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel from the Crime Writers of Canada.
Based in Bowen Island, B.C., Wild is a writer and former host of the CBC Radio One Vancouver program Wide Awake. She named her debut novel after a line from Robert Service’s poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”
Like all cheechakos, Jo, the main character, doesn’t know what she is getting herself into.
She is surprised by local customs, such as getting a coffee with alcohol in it at 9 a.m. from The Pit. She learns what it means to become a sourdough and that it leads to getting a little sour on the inside. As a journalist coming from The Vancouver Sun, she expects her new workplace at Dawson Daily to have other co-workers, but there is only one editor, the others are just pen-names.
Author Elle Wild, was working as a journalist herself and drew from her experience for the book.
“I was interested in the problems of objectivity and truth in storytelling, which is something that I wrestled with myself as a journalist,” Wild says. “I liked the idea of the story within a story that you could have, with a premise based on a character who tells stories.
“I wanted the plot to be like an onion, where you could peel back layers of story and find another, alternate presentation of the ‘truth.’ I hope that readers will keep thinking about the story after they’ve finished reading and question everything again.”
Jo is looking for the truth about the one night she can’t remember, because she drank too much. That night, a body was found in the Yukon River. She finds herself on a journey to the truth. Byrne, a very charming guy, was with her that night and holds a secret. Jo is attracted to him, but feels that he is not a good guy – yet is unable to resist his northern-charm.
Then the journalist herself becomes the murder suspect. Would she kill to get a good story? A story, that can bring back her success as a journalist?
Wild writes suspense well and she catches the atmosphere in Dawson during wintertime. She was fascinated by it.
“Dawson City looks like a set from a Western film, but with snow drifting through town instead of tumbleweed,” Wild says. “The most extraordinary experiences I had in Dawson, though, had more to do with the people than the physical location. Toque-adorned, well-mittened strangers showing up with warm bread and spare parkas, welcoming me into their community. These moments stay with me. Also, I have fond memories of a particularly rocking trailer party where I met almost the entire village in one night.”
The characters in this book are well-developed; the descriptions of the atmosphere and winter are poetic. Wild knows how to keep her readers up all night and Strange Things Done is a good book for a long, dark winter night.
The book will be released on Sept. 24. Check out the book trailer on YouTube.