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Fiction Literary

The Mysteries

by (author) Robert McGill

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Oct 2005
Literary, Thrillers
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2005
    List Price

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A twenty-eight-year-old writer bursts onto the scene with this virtuoso debut novel in which a woman’s disappearance unlocks the dark secrets of a small town
“Secrets had a way of growing inside you. It became difficult to breathe sometimes, a struggle in the company of other people to pretend that all was well. Mike would never forgive her if he knew what she’d done.”
– from The Mysteries
With literary finesse and an assured eye for the complexities of our most human desires and failings, Robert McGill has created a multi-layered, utterly engaging novel set in a small Ontario community in which, it seems, everyone has something to hide.

Alice Pederson has been missing for almost two years. Her husband, Mike, and their children must carry on despite grief and the frustrations of a police investigation that has hit a dead end. Then, when remains are found along a nearby shoreline, a series of coincidences emerges: young Daniel Barrie returns suddenly from school in England; local former hockey coach Stoddart Fremlinis arrested in connection with Alice’s murder, then crashes his small plane and escapes across a dark field; Rocket DeWitt, once the town hockey star and among the last people to see Alice alive, abruptly leaves town; Bronwen Ferry, the insurance investigator, pursues Alice’s husband’s claim for reasons of her own; and something out in the bush is making grisly attacks on farm animals. Meanwhile, Native groups are protesting the building of a henge on the grounds of Cam Usher’s wildlife park, an area they know to be a sacred burial site. Adding to the disquiet, an unknown traveller arrives one night carrying a weather-beaten notebook, with instructions to give it only to Alice Pederson.

Weaving back and forth in time, and told from the distinct perspectives ofits cast of memorable and eccentric characters, The Mysteries hums with tension and vividly evokes the tangled web of relationships within a small town. Robert McGill is a hugely talented and inventive new writer who has the ability to draw us into the world he has created and hold us, rapt, until the very last page.

About the author

Robert McGill’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines including The Atlantic, The Dublin Review, Hazlitt, and The Walrus. He teaches at the University of Toronto. His previous books include two novels, The Mysteries and Once We Had a Country, and two nonfiction books, The Treacherous Imagination and War Is Here. Visit him at

Robert McGill's profile page

Excerpt: The Mysteries (by (author) Robert McGill)

“Hello?” she shouted. “Is anybody out there?”

As she moved out of the headlights’ glare, she began to see the shapes of white objects scattered across the dark field. A wheel, a door, a portion of the aircraft’s tail. Dozens of unidentifiable metal pieces. Farther ahead was the main section of the plane, and she realized that it must have slid more than fifty yards to have left wreckage behind it for such a great distance. She called out, and when there was no response a sickening ache grew in her gut. She stepped forward with dim horror, afraid of what she might trip over.

After the litter of parts that preceded the bulk of the fuselage, she was surprised to see the body of the plane was almost undamaged. The windows had shattered, but it was still upright and otherwise intact. Perhaps the burst of flame was simply from the friction of impact, the resulting fire only burning grass, so dry and dead along the runway that it had been consumed quickly.

From beyond the fuselage she heard sounds of movement.

“Who’s there?” she said.

There was no answer, but the sounds continued: the clatter of metal against metal. She moved slowly around the plane, thinking against all probability of the tiger. When she reached the far side, her chest contracted at the sight of a figure on all fours. It wasn’t any animal, though. It was Stoddart Fremlin.

He looked up at her.

“Help me,” he said. “Help me gather it all up.”

“Dr. Fremlin, are you all right?”

“I don’t want them to see what happened.”

“You shouldn’t be moving. You could be injured.” She went up to him and put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off. He smelled of alcohol. “We shouldn’t be this close to the wreckage. The fuel could ignite.”

“There’s no fuel,” he mumbled. “Damn thing ran out of gas.” He continued to slide around on his hands and knees, picking up pieces of debris and throwing them into a pile. It was difficult to tell in the darkness, but she couldn’t discern any wounds — no gashes in his clothing, no contorted limbs.

“Dr. Fremlin, you were just in a plane crash. You’re in shock. You need to go to the hospital.” But she almost believed that he didn’t.

“They’ll put me back in jail,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to be flying.”

“Don’t worry about that. The important thing is that you’re all right.” She heard the sound of engines and looked back to see headlights approaching from the road — her hatchback, and then the other Ferry cars behind it. “Please try not to move, Dr. Fremlin,” she said. “There’ll be people to help you soon.” She ran to meet the approaching vehicles.

“I called the emergency numbers and then your mother took over,” said her father from the hatchback as she drew near. “The whole town will be coming now.”

He was right. Within fifteen minutes, it seemed like everyone had arrived. The peace of the night was replaced by the flashing lights of ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. Esther Fremlin and her boyfriend were on the scene, and Harry Midgard was talking to them. But Stoddart Fremlin was nowhere to be found. In the interval when Bronwen had run to speak with Hamish and her father, he had vanished.

Editorial Reviews

“With his first novel, Robert McGill shows himself to be a young writer of remarkable talent and enormous narrative appetites – a storyteller who refuses to keep things straight, and for this produces freshly captivating effects. The Mysteries contains all the hooks and puzzles that its title suggests, but its ambitions don't stop there. It is a work that shows how secrets can bind all of us to a single tragedy, to crimes large and small, and ultimately, to each other.”
–Andrew Pyper, author of Lost Girls and The Trade Mission

Other titles by Robert McGill