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Fiction Women Sleuths

Why the Rock Falls

The Falls Mysteries

by (author) J.E. Barnard

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2020
Women Sleuths, Crime, Small Town & Rural
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2020
    List Price

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Danger lurks in the wilderness of the Rockies.

After a dinner-party clash between entrenched oil interests and liberal Hollywood insiders, only Michael and Tyrone, the two children at the disastrous event, remain friends. But soon one dinner guest dinner guest is dead and two more are missing in the Alberta wilds.

As Jan Brenner comforts the newly-bereaved Michael, Lacey McCrae infiltrates the Caine oil dynasty to learn which of Tyrone’s older half-brothers and their scheming mothers most want him gone. With the search for the missing heading into its third night, Lacey uncovers a massive hole in the Caine ranch’s security network as well as evidence of previous attacks on Tyrone. Then Jan discovers a long-buried connection between the two families that threatens Michael, too.

As thunderstorms roll over the vast limestone cliffs of the Ghost Wilderness, danger stalks Michael, Tyrone, and the women who struggle to keep them safe.

About the author

J.E. Barnard is an award-winning author, public speaker, and Steampunk enthusiast. Her first Steampunk novella, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, was a 2016 Prix Aurora finalist. When the Flood Falls won the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award in 2016. She was also a finalist for the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award and the CWA Debut Dagger for When the Bow Breaks. She lives in Calgary.

J.E. Barnard's profile page

Excerpt: Why the Rock Falls: The Falls Mysteries (by (author) J.E. Barnard)

Chapter One

The helicopter’s blades shredded the hot August afternoon, their every thwap vibrating up through Lacey McCrae’s workboots. Fed up with gazing down on the barren dust of clear-cuts and oil wells, she looked the other way, into the green cirque of Black Rock Bowl, at deserted ski chalets half hidden amid fluttering aspens. The ski slopes lay golden in the sun, their late-summer grasses split by peninsulas of pine and spruce. The chopper swung away, around the mountain. Immense limestone walls closed in, their jagged grey faces ripped by white granite veins. Ominously close, it seemed to her. Jake Wyman, in the co-pilot seat, sat calmly as the rocky valley narrowed. He’d have been this way lots of times, visiting his well sites out in the Ghost Wilderness. Today was Lacey’s first ride-along. After a day baking in the boulder-strewn wilds, she longed for nothing more than cool water and dust-free clothing. At each site, she’d tested cameras and motion-sensor lights, replaced one solar panel — and hadn’t mentioned aloud the irony that oil companies used renewable energy to power their equipment. There’d been no sign of the vandalism her boss told her to watch for; only normal wear and tear from exposure to harsh mountain winters and the scouring winds of summer. She opened her phone and added no sabotage to the report. The sooner she emailed the document to Wayne, along with her time sheet, the sooner she could stop the clock and jump into a shower. The chopper flew straight at a vast, sheer cliff, like a hummingbird about to splat on a picture window. She’d almost compared it to a mosquito, but that label belonged to the neon splash that was surely a mountain climber clinging to bare rock a hundred metres from anywhere. Soon she made out tanned limbs splayed against the grey cliff and traced the rope that anchored the climber from above. The helicopter hovered at a distance as the climber edged across the rock face. The pilot’s voice came through her headphones.“Up or down, sir?”Jake’s thumb went up. The machine followed. Soon the cliff-top lay below them. Two more brightly clad climbers sat in the sun while another guided the rope that dangled over the edge. As the helicopter settled on a flat spot well back from the valley, one of the sitters pulled off a helmet, revealing short auburn hair. Jake said, “That’s her.”The woman jogged to the chopper and scrambled in. Clearly an experienced passenger, she clipped herself into her seat and put on her headphones before speaking. “Thank you, darling. You have my luggage, too?”Jake nodded. The helicopter lifted off. The new passenger turned dark glasses on Lacey’s workboots and sweat-stained T-shirt and as promptly looked away, chatting to Jake about her last climb, a 5.11b — whatever that meant — and her son Earl, the one still climbing. “He’s head of our Denver office now,” she said. “A far stronger leader than any of his brothers, although they won’t admit it. Bart fills his desk chair when he remembers, and Ben is still rebelling against his father by protesting the company in ridiculous ways. He’s been arrested more times than I can remember.”Nobody Lacey knew. She tuned out and watched the scenery unroll below: the Bow River, braided turquoise and blue; the navy depths of Ghost Lake, where boats darted around like water bugs; a dusty sage pasture dotted with black Angus cattle; the Trans-Canada Highway slicing the rolling prairie from Calgary to the mountains. The chopper picked up the greeny-grey Elbow River and followed it to Jake’s estate overlooking Bragg Creek. After a gentle landing on the gravel helicopter pad, everyone except the pilot piled out. A young man in a green staff polo shirt brought a golf cart for the baggage and passengers. Jake offered a hand to the red-haired woman. “I’ll have a car for you in five minutes, Giselle.”“Make it twenty and give me a drink first,” said the redhead. She linked her arm through his and told the driver to take them to the house. Left behind, Lacey strolled toward the main swimming pool at the west end of the sprawling ranch house. The breeze cut off when she stepped inside the high walls. The pool was an oasis of luxury, with a waterfall tumbling down a fieldstone chute, a huge hot tub, a swim-up bar, and floating devices that ranged from inflatable alligators to lounge chairs complete with drink holders and waterproof phone docks. After her dusty afternoon a swim would be heaven, but today she was technically staff — well, Wayne’s staff, but he worked for Jake — and her privileges did not extend to this area. Reluctantly, she opened one of the glass doors beyond the bar and followed the dim corridor to the airless, windowless security office. The good news for Wayne would be the lack of vandalism. Drunken off-roaders sometimes broke stuff for fun, and hunters occasionally shot up equipment, but there’d been no sign of those today. No radical environmentalists, either. She wasn’t sure how real that last problem was, but every oilman she knew was convinced eco-sabotage was a real threat. They told each other stories of the lunatic up north who’d waged a years-long campaign of pipeline damage before being caught. There hadn’t been wide-scale sabotage elsewhere, but the oilmen’s concern ran deep. An undetected pipeline blowout could poison a wilderness watershed and hand anti- pipeline activists a potent public relations weapon. Still, if oilmen weren’t worried about eco-saboteurs, Wayne wouldn’t have half his clients, and she wouldn’t have the job of maintaining his on-site security equipment. She finished the report, hit Send, and stretched. Day’s work done and still time to do a few laps in the swim machine on the lowest level before Dee arrived for her workout. One small perk of her grey-zone existence between staffer and neighbour was Jake’s willingness for her and Dee to use the workout space he’d built for his frequent hockey guests. He’d only offered because he still felt guilty about last summer’s mess. Even though he’d played no intentional role in Dee’s near-fatal attack, he had deviated from his own code and inadvertently exposed her to it. Access to his fully equipped workout area up the road from Dee’s made him feel better and her rehab a lot more convenient. Returning to the sunny pool, Lacey strolled past chaises with their striped cushions and headed down the cliff stairs to the terraces below. Halfway to the lowest one, she realized its glass wall was drawn back, opening the workout area to the lovely afternoon. The swim machine’s hum warned her someone was there already. Dee wasn’t supposed to swim without supervision, in case her weakened leg gave out. Lacey hurried. The swimmer was a stranger. Pinned against the back wall by the current, her thin arms scrabbling at the small pool’s rim, she dipped beneath the surface. Lacey dashed across the paving and knelt to grab one bony forearm. She pulled up until the woman’s face cleared the water. “I’ve got you. Take a few breaths.” The woman was skeletally thin, light enough to hold like this indefinitely, but already too exhausted to help herself. Lacey adjusted her grip. “If I get you to the ladder and give you a hand, can you climb out?”“I—”The woman coughed. “I think so.”After a few minutes’ crawl to the ladder, and a few more while the woman rested up, Lacey finally got her out of the pool. The dark blue one-piece huddled on the tiles as water drained from the thin brown hair. The spidery limbs seemed uninjured, and the woman was breathing, although heavily. She coughed again. “How are you feeling?”“I’m fine, really. Had the current set too high.” After a moment the woman added, “Can you help me up?” Lacey led her to a chaise and wrapped her in the terrycloth bathrobe spread across it. She lay there, wan and trembling, but when Lacey moved toward the house phone, one shaking hand came up. “Please. Don’t tell. They’ll worry.”“You should get checked out by a doctor. You’re very weak.”“I’ll be okay.” The woman lay there, eyes closed, until the elevator chimed. Then, surprising Lacey, she scrambled up and pushed into the elevator as Dee exited. In a moment, she was gone.

Editorial Reviews

I really enjoyed this book... a great way to spend a few hours.

I've Read This

Readers already invested in the series are most likely to appreciate this one.

Publishers Weekly

A dramatic setting: the Alberta foothills, with all the scenery and threat of eco-protesters that entails


Beneath the many mysteries of Barnard's character-driven debut are enduring questions about the complexities of life and the choices people make.

Kirkus Reviews, for When the Flood Falls

A taut, high-stakes thriller that is deeply personal, internal, and psychological.

Foreword Reviews, for When the Flood Falls

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