In keeping with this column’s focus on Yukon related material, I’m returning this week to a successful thriller that is set in a version of Dawson City. It’s not quite my town in both geography and details, but Elle Wild didn’t try to pretend it was when I talked with her about it, and even put a map of her fictional version on her website so people could see the difference.
Strange Things Done is a murder mystery published by Dundurn Press. A somewhat disgraced journalist from Outside arrives to take up a post at the Dawson Daily, a local paper run by a guy who is a teacher at the local school.
This was a shock when I read it, seeing as that was pretty much me from 1989 to 2008, until I retired from teaching, but we’d never met when she was here in 2004, so it was a coincidence.
An even greater coincidence was that her investigating RCMP officer bore the moniker of Johnny Caribou, which is the actual nom de guerre of one of our long time locals. She swears she never met him and had no idea.
Newly arrived, Jo Silver investigates the mysterious death of a local politician on the river, from a fall that could not actually take place as described, but I’ll forgive that. Mysteries multiply and the body count rises.
Winter sets in; the airport shuts down and the highway is closed. These things don’t actually happen, either, but having them in the book does ramp up the tension.
Silver is that staple of noir mysteries: a failed reporter full of self doubt and a number of character flaws. She means well, but has trouble getting past her own inadequacies.
Anyway, this is, to some extent, a bit of a “cozy” mystery with an exotic locale and an intriguing puzzle, and it started winning awards before it was officially published, picking up the 2015 Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel.
Arthur Ellis was the name used by the official hangman in Ontario. Not his real name, just the one that the various occupants of the role traveled under to remain incognito. It’s the Canadian version of the American Edgar (after Poe) or the British Agatha (after Christie).
The publisher’s notes describe Strange Things Done as “A dark and suspenseful noir thriller”, and it does have noir-ish overtones.
Before it won that Ellis award, it had already racked up some other nominations or wins:
• 2014 Telegraph/Harvill Secker Crime Competition — Shortlisted
• 2014 Southwest Writers Annual Novel Writing Contest — Silver Winner
• 2014 Criminal Lines Crime-Writing Competition — Shortlisted
• 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Longlisted
This year, it scored another Ellis award, this time with the 2017 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.
In addition, it won the 2017 Women in Film “From Our Dark Side” Contest.
You can read more about Elle Wild and see a video teaser for the book at her website: StrangeThingsDone.ca. I recommend it.
Strange Things Done is available through the Yukon Public Libraries system. It is also for sale at Mac’s Fireweed Books on Main Street in Whitehorse, as well as online and in ebook form.