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Fiction Literary

The Hour of the Fox

by (author) Kurt Palka

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jul 2018
Literary, Historical, Small Town & Rural
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2018
    List Price

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From the bestselling author of The Piano Maker comes a stunning, profoundly moving story about motherhood, grief, marriage, and friendship. For fans of M. L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans.

Margaret Bradley is the most senior associate at a prestigious law firm, and she is on track to make partner. It is the 1970s; her climb up the career ladder in this male-dominated profession has been difficult, but with hard work she has made herself one of the best in it. She is dedicated to her work and is happily married until one day her entire world is shattered by the sudden death of her son Andrew, a military pilot. Now, Margaret lives with a heavy, all-encompassing sense of loss and regret that is pushing her further and further away from the person she once knew herself to be, and from her husband, Jack, a successful geologist and a loving and loyal partner.

Consumed by her sorrows Margaret is drawn back to the family summer home in Sweetbarry, a small town off the coast of the North Atlantic, where she spent much of her childhood. Her lifelong best friend, Aileen, is close by. When Aileen's adult son, Danny, is questioned by local police in connection with a violent crime that shocks the community, Margaret provides legal and moral support. And it is while doing so that an opportunity presents itself for her to confront her sorrow. She sees "a door opening. A way forward," and she boldly reaches out with an act of courage and humility that has profound consequences.

Set against the backdrops of the rugged Atlantic coast, Toronto, and Paris, The Hour of the Fox is emotionally resonant, atmospheric, and unforgettable in its depiction of motherhood and loss.

About the author

Contributor Notes

KURT PALKA was born and educated in Austria. He began his working life in Africa where he wrote for African Mirror and made wildlife films in Kenya and Tanzania. After moving to Canada he worked on international stories for CTV and GLOBAL TV, wrote for American and Canadian publications such as the Chronicle Herald and the Globe and Mail, and worked as a Senior Producer for the CBC. He is the author of several novels, including Hammett Prize finalist Clara, which was published in hardcover as Patient Number 7.

Excerpt: The Hour of the Fox (by (author) Kurt Palka)

     He came back and sat down. "That was the Vancouver office about the forward core samples on the new silver mine. They want me to come out there for the evaluation." He paused. "Unless you'd like me to stay here a day or two longer. I could probably arrange that."
     When she said nothing, he put his hands flat on the table and prepared to get up. But then he sat back again.
     “Margaret,” he said. “We need to move on from where we are, where we are stuck. Can’t we do it together? As a team?”
     He sat looking at her, waiting. After a while he shook his head. “You see. There it is again. Your silence. Your unwillingness to meet me halfway. And we used to be so close. We could talk about anything and work out every last problem. We’re mature and we can think. So let’s please help each other.”
     Surely there was something she could be saying now. Should be wanting to say, if only she could see it clearly. Perhaps that she felt the same way but that she was lost and couldn’t find her way back. That she sometimes wished she were dead, and that what she felt was much deeper and older, and if Michael was right it was even primal and mostly female, with no way across the divide that she could see. And suddenly she could not breathe again . . .
     Abruptly she pushed back her chair and stood up and touched her eyebrow.
     “So would you like me to postpone British Columbia?” he said. “Stay a bit longer?”
     “Maybe not just yet, Jack. But thank you.”
     He sat watching her, and he never said another word while she fumbled up her plate and cutlery and took them to the kitchen and then picked up her briefcase and purse and hurried away, down the back stairs to be alone again.

She walked with the fingers of her left hand pressed to her eyebrow and talked to it. No, she told it. Not now. Please. But it was not listening and the pain expanded and became the red cloud, and then on the path near the cottage she fell but managed to get up and make it through the door. She dropped the briefcase and withher hand pressed to her mouth ran to the bathroom and in the dark fell to her knees by the toilet and vomited into the bowl. For a while she hung over the rim, then she let go and lay face down on the tiles with her feet out the door and her nails digging into the grouting for a finger hold or keep falling. She pressed the offending eyebrow to the hard ceramic chill and concentrated on the calm side of her brain.
     After a while she rolled over and put the palms of her hands over her eyes to make it all even darker. Lying flat on her back in her black suit with her legs outstretched, like some thing fallen from a great height. After a while she stirred and poked the emergency pill out of her jacket pocket. She bit on it and moved the crumbs under her tongue and let her arm fall to her side.
     When the pain began to lessen she rolled over and stood up slowly. She turned on the small mirror light and took off her jacket and slapped away the floor dirt. She slapped angrily at the skirt too and then washed her hands and rinsed her face and mouth, refusing to look up into the mirror.

She could have talked more to him just now. Slowed herself down and said something kind when he offered to delay his trip for her. An explanation, but of what, using which words? And not with this pain coming.
     So much change. If she were to step out the door now and look toward the elderberries, she’d see the spot where Jack and she made love for the first time. Finally letting go had been such an enormous event, so very daring and liberating at the same time. Just down the slope a bit, in the grass.
     Late summer, a Saturday night. They’d had dinner with his mother, who did not talk much any more—not since the event, as his father’s suicide had been called. After dessert they sat a while longer, then they excused themselves. He kissed his mother on the cheek and Margaret said, Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Bradley, and good night, and then they left her sitting at the table. Like a shell. Abandoned. Margaret paused at the door and, feeling guilty, turned back to say something more, but the woman was not looking at her and there was really nothing more to say. In the kitchen the maid, Anna Maria, was washing dishes and Margaret called out good night to her, and then like giddy children they hurried down the back stairs and along the path and past the cottage all in darkness, deeper into the garden.
     Watching Jack across the dinner table talking to his mother, watching his face and seeing the care in it, she’d fallen in love with him all over again and she’d made the decision, or it had made itself. At one point Jack looked at her, and he must have seen it in her eyes or in her smile. And he stopped talking and got all red in the face and lost his train of thought.
     And how perfect it was.
     For a while she was still conflicted even though she knew it was a safe day, but how sweet even that, giving herself permission to let go. In the dark amid the scent of the grass, a sliver of moon and a million stars, starlight like milk on their skin. And his hands on her, finally. And hers on him, completely overwhelmed by all this.
     How long ago? Not so very long. Not so long.


On Monday evening Aileen saw the lights of the police boat heading out, red and blue lights flashing, and briefly she could also hear the sound of the engines. She watched from her window as the lights moved away and eventually she lost them on the horizon. The police boat, going where?
     Next morning, when she was up in the roadside blueberry patch, a car came her way trailing dust. It slowed at the turnoff, drove past it, then stopped.
     She shielded her eyes with her hand to see against the low sun. The car backed up and turned into their gravel road. A black car with wide tires and something mounted on the dash. The sun gleamed on its side and dust danced around it. Small stones leapt away from the rolling tires. She saw all this with an ominous clarity, the black car and the way it came rolling into her world.
     There was just one man in it, a man in a suit jacket and a blue shirt and tie, and he turned her way going past and gave a quick nod and drove on. On the rock shelf in front of her house he stopped and climbed out and looked around.
     Franklin was there, working on her Vauxhall, and he saw the man and put down the tools and spoke to him. There was a short exchange and then Franklin looked her way and waved an arm for her to come down.
     She took up the blueberry pail and climbed slowly down from the rise onto the road, holding on to plants and roots. She was annoyed at the interruption. Her hands were blue and sticky, and she was dressed not for company but for picking, in a windbreaker and a balding pair of corduroys and her old boots.

Franklin had gone back to working on the car, and the visitor stood waiting for her by the picnic bench. Under one arm he held a yellow file folder, and he reached into his jacket pocket and took out a card. He held it out to her.
     “Inspector Jack Sorensen, Mrs. McInnis. I was hopingto find your son Danny here.”
     She took the card and looked at it.
     “And what’s this all about?”
     “We want to talk to him.”
     “What about?”
     “Ma’am, is he here?”
     “No. Danny doesn’t really live here any more. He just visits.”
     “He owns a boat, right? And he looks after summer properties in the off-season?”
     “Yes, he does do that.”
     She put the card on the picnic table and stepped to the outside tap and turned it on. She rinsed her hands and then took her time with the towel, hoping it would calm her.
     Over her shoulder she said, “Danny is a grown man and I’m not checking up on him any more.”
     “But surely you know where we can find him.”
     “Well, no. It depends on which loop he’s doing. North or south, and in his truck or in the boat.” She hung up the towel and turned to him. “The boy is busy and he often stays over at places.”
     “When was the last time you talked with him?”
     “That would be a few days, maybe a week now. Maybe more. A good while, anyway.”
     “You don’t know how long ago, Mrs. McInnis?”
     "No. Not exactly." 
     He stood looking at her, taking his time, and she disliked him for his calm, for the trouble he was bringing.
     “All right,” he said finally. “If he calls or shows up, please tell him to call the number on the card. Or call Sergeant Sullivan at the station. They’ll find me. It’s important.”
     “You still haven’t told me what it’s about.”
     “Ma’am. Your son is wanted for questioning by the police. It’s as simple as that.”
     He nodded at her and then climbed into his car, closed the door, and started the engine. He didn’t bother to look at her again, just made a three-point turn with pebbles grinding on the rock and drove off. She walked over to Franklin where he stood by the open hood of the Vauxhall, watching her, holding a rag and a spanner.
     “What was that all about?”
     “A policeman. Wants to talk to Danny.”

Editorial Reviews

“Elegantly-written and utterly compelling from start to finish, this is an exquisite outing.” —Toronto Star

Other titles by Kurt Palka