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After James
Excerpt

From Part 1 : Alice After James

When the sun breached the hill that morning it caught for the first time since October the narrow edge of the streambed exposed by a break in the trees. By midmorning the haze had burned off and the light made lenses in the ice that melted themselves beneath the surface. The stream began moving and as the thaw took hold in the leaves clotted on the bank and the mud farther along, the water ran into the shade of birch and maples and coaxed snow into motion as, unexampled in memory, the late-winter warmth became a baking heat all in a day, effecting weeks of return in just hours.
     The dog kept to the bed, where the vapours were strongest, crazed into the firstness of things. He had come a long way and had organized the scents as they recurred along the route until a new one came on the air and he found himself moving into the leaves. He was at the source and digging before he understood that the form set into the ground was human. The discovery confused him and he backed off the shape and barked and continued barking until the smell sent him forward again in a wonderment half-full of forgetting, and when he followed up from the human hand along the arm and then uncovered the muddy head, the discovery was new again and he ran up out of the trees and stopped and circled back down, then came up a second time and a third. At some point he lowered onto his belly and looked for a long while in the direction of the humanform until a shortened whimper escaped him, the sound sending him to his feet barking again, hearing the strangeness of his sounding in the air of this new place. Again he took the route down the bank and up, barking the whole time, and he stood high now and was about to go back down when the shot tore through him and sent him over the bank and into the creekbed as if even dead he could regard the humanform yet again and again find it a great mystery uncovered but not dispelled.
     That night the dog’s body burned along with that of the human he’d found, and then burned again until its ashes were general with all else on the wind. They lifted on the heat and floated out under stars and over the country thawed and returning with a force beyond that of any since people first appeared. They drifted over the creek now run to a river, and a river run into the broken fields and roads and up into the lower slopes of hills, disturbing even the wet, heavy soil there and exposing shards of pottery and bone that hadn’t breathed in centuries and were now carried by water to greater waters and replaced into other muds with other sediments over them. The ashes fell thinly on the currents in greyblack flakes without distinction, and the knowing that was the dog moved there too, running inland to the heart of the wild returned from its dream to its last waking.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Best Novel
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Wishful Seeing

Wishful Seeing

A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Excerpt

Prologue

Committal Proceedings, Cobourg Courthouse, September 21, 1853

Thaddeus Lewis was not in the least surprised that the courtroom was packed with spectators. The newspapers had been full of lurid details about the Paul Sherman murder, and the fact that the accused was a woman made the case even more sensational. As he elbowed his way to the front of the room, he couldn't help but overhear snatches of speculation and opinion. The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Ellen Howell had been thrashed over many times in the days leading up to the committal, but everyone seemed to expect that the prosecution would today present further evidence that was not yet common knowledge.
      In Thaddeus's opinion, most of the people he pushed out of the way were gawkers and idlers,,there out of nothing more than curiosity.They would repeat the details of the proceedings later in the streets and taverns. Others would crowd around to hear news of the latest developments. Some of them would even pay for drinks in exchange for eyewitness accounts.
      Thaddeus managed to find a seat in the second row of benches on the right hand side near the prisoner's box. Mrs. Howell had asked him to attend, "So I know for certain there's a friendly face in the crowd,"she'd said; but his presence would be no comfort if she couldn't see him. A beefy man and an elderly woman with a cane had glared as he shoved past them and slid into a vacant seat. Under any other circumstances, Thaddeus would stand back and let the woman take the space. Today, he would firmly claim possession of a few inches of bench.
      The hubbub in the room grew louder as the prisoner was led in from a door at the side of the courtroom. She walked with her head down, looking neither left nor right, but just as she reached the box she stumbled slightly and reached out to steady herself, grabbing the rail in front of her. At that moment she happened to glance up. Thaddeus caught her eye and nodded. She smiled slightly.
      The crowd quieted and everyone rose as the three grim-faced Justices of the Peace entered and took their places at the front of the room. Thaddeus rose only far enough to show the requisite respect. He wasn't taking a chance on losing his seat. When they had all settled themselves again, the clerk read out the charges, alleging that "Mrs. Ellen Howell did feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought, on the night of September fourteenth, in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-three, in the Township of Hamilton, kill and murder Mr. Paul Sherman."
      Mrs. Howell's head sunk lower as the accusation was read, and the audience in the courtroom was strangely silent as the gravity of the charge struck home. Newspaper reporters scribbled furiously, recording every detail so they could later describe it all for their readers.
      One by one the prosecution witnesses were called and swore to tell the truth. The first to testify was the coroner, who had determined that the death was suspect and called together a jury who agreed. He described the scene when he arrived on Spook Island, and read the autopsy report stating that Paul Sherman had died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
      The prosecutor thanked the coroner and then walked the other witnesses through their testimonies.
      Donald Dafoe, the man who found the body, repeated his account that he had been fishing, and had put ashore on Spook Island to cook a pickerel, whereupon he discovered the dead man.
      Two people testified that they had seen Ellen Howell on the shore with her husband earlier on the day in question. Two more swore that they had later seen her walking along the road from Sully in the direction of the      Howell farm, although "she was ahead of us," one said, "and turned up the lane before we reached her." Both claimed she was wearing a blue dress. And one witness testified that Ellen Howell had previously attended a Methodist meeting wearing that same blue dress. He said he remembered it because his wife had remarked on it and had been badgering him for one just like it ever since.
      The crowd became restless as the testimony proceeded. This was all old news. These details had been discussed and debated long since. They were hungry for something new to talk about.
      The next witness was a man from Close Point who had rented his skiff to "an Englishman." He was a newcomer to the area, and did not know the man's name.
      "And was this man alone?" the prosecutor asked.
      "No," the witness replied. "There was a woman with him. A woman in a blue dress. She stood a little way away, so I didn't see her face."
      "Nevertheless," the prosecutor continued, "can you say with any certainty that this same woman is in the courtroom today?"
      "No, I can't be certain at all. She was about the same height and build as the woman in the prisoner's box, but she wore her bonnet low and I wasn't close enough to see her clearly."
      Thaddeus thought the lack of positive identification was a point in Mrs. Howell's favour, but then he realized that all the testimony did was confirm that both the Howells were present when the skiff was hired.
      It was Chief Constable Spencer who finally gave the spectators what they had come for. "I personally interviewed a number of the witnesses called today," he reported, "and there was ample evidence to warrant a visit to the Howell farm, just south of Sully. My intention was to interview both Mr. and Mrs. Howell."
      "And what did they have to say for themselves, Mr. Spencer?"
      "Mr. Howell said nothing. He was not present, being away, according to his wife, on business. Mrs. Howell claimed not to know Paul Sherman, and denied ever having set foot on Spook Island. We commenced a search of the premises and discovered a blue dress soaking in a washtub in the summer kitchen."
      The prosecutor was on sure ground now. "And did this dress match the description of the blue dress as reported by the witnesses you interviewed?"
      "It did. And on further examination, it was evident that its laundering had not been sufficient to remove a large stain on the skirt."
      "And in your opinion, what was the cause of the stain?"
      Thaddeus felt, rather than heard, the crowd's sudden intake of breath.
      "It looked to me for all the world like blood."
      A gasp, and then an eruption of comment from the crowd, as though this was proof of guilt indeed. The bailiff called for order and gradually the chatter died away.
      The prosecutor thanked the witnesses, signalling that the presentation of evidence was at an end.
      One of the justices turned to Mrs. Howell, asking if she cared to cross-examine any the witnesses. She didn't look up, only declined with a quick shake of her head.
      The deliberation took little time. The clamour of the crowd was deafening when one of the justices announced that evidence in the case was sufficient to proceed.
      Ellen Howell would be tried for murder.
      Thaddeus remained in his seat, deep in thought, while the courtroom emptied. He would have to find some way to help her.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Best Novel
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The Fortunate Brother
Excerpt

His father  was sitting at the table by the window, drinking coffee, when he came out of the shower. Addie was laying a plate of beans and runny egg yolks before him and Kyle’s stomach curdled and he lunged for the door. Holding on to the grump, he spewed into the water, his ribs spearing through his side like knives. He looked up, seeing two men in a boat paddling offshore from the outcropping of rock and cliff that blocked his view of Hampden. Hooker’s father, Bill, and his grandfather. They were standing now, tensed, looking ashore towards the rock face. Their voices grew louder, alarmed. Bill grabbed the oars and, still standing, rowed furiously towards the cliff, vanishing behind the outcropping.
Kyle heard his mother coming to the door, calling him, but he eased himself down over the wharf onto the beach and trekked across the shoreline towards the outcropping. As much to escape her attentions as to satisfy his curiosity.

During high tide the only way around the outcropping was by boat. This morning the tide was out. He climbed across wet rock made more slippery by tide-abandoned kelp. He’d been climbing around here since he was a kid, shortcutting it to Hampden. The front of the outcropping spanned a few hundred feet of rugged rock face, a small inlet forged into its centre. Hooker’s grandfather was holding the boat steady near a clutch of rocks before the inlet. Bill was out of the boat and hunched over, looking down at something amongst the rocks, his face scrunched up as though tasting some- thing nasty. Straddling the rocks opposite Bill was Clar’s dog, whin- ing and pawing at the head of a large pool of water left over by the tide. Something greenish was floating in it.
“What’s going on?” called Kyle. No one looked at him. He came closer and then went down on one knee, his breath sticking in his throat. Clar Gillard. Half submerged. Flat on his back, arms and legs strewn out as though he were basking in sun-warmed waters. Blue jeans suctioned like skin to his legs. Greeny brown seaweed shifting with the water over his chest and bobbing around a face that was grey and frozen like clay on a winter’s morning. His mouth was stretched open, his eyes wide and emptied. Clar Gillard did not look pretty in death.

“Teeth marks on his shoulder,” said Bill. “Looks like the dog dragged him ashore.”

“His truck’s over on the wharf,” said the old man. “Was there all night.”

“He must’ve fallen overboard,” said Bill. “Drunk, I suppose.” “Don’t think he could swim,” said the old man. They both looked to Kyle as if he might know.

“He ain’t never gonna learn now,” said Kyle.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for Best Novel
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Cold Girl

Cold Girl

A B.C. Blues Crime Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
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Where The Bodies Lie

Where The Bodies Lie

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : political
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Best First Novel sponsored by Kobo
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Still Mine

Still Mine

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

The Girl on the Train meets The Silent Wife in this taut psychological thriller.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU VANISH FROM YOUR LIFE AND LEAVE NO STORY BEHIND?

SOMEONE WILL MAKE ONE UP FOR YOU.

Clare is on the run.

From her past, from her husband, and from her own secrets. When she turns up alone in the remote mining town of Blackmore asking about Shayna Fowles, the local girl who disappeared, everyone wants to know who Clare really is and what she’s hiding. As it turns out, she’s hiding a lot, …

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Excerpt

Still Mine

With the moonless sky, Clare doesn’t see the mountains closing in. But then the road begins to rise and she knows she’s driving through the foothills, then come the switchbacks and the hum and pop in her ears, and finally the peaks and shadows, blank spots in the ceiling of stars. By dawn the mountains crowd the long vista of her rearview mirror, she is deep among them, and Clare guesses she’s covered nearly six hundred miles since sunset.

Drive west into the mountains, Malcolm said. Then cut north to Blackmore.

Clare climbs one last hairpin turn before signs of life pepper the roadside, peeling billboards first, then a scattering of ramshackle buildings. Her car lurches and revs, the ascent of this narrow road too much for its old engine. She passes a sign hammered right into rock: WELCOME TO BLACKMORE: ­POPULATION 2500, the word zero spray-painted across it in black. The road flattens out and Clare reaches the row of storefronts that marks the town proper. Most of them are shuttered with plywood, the main strip devoid of cars and people.

Beyond the lone stoplight Clare finds the motel. She turns in and parks. Weeds grow through cracks in the asphalt, the motel L-shaped and bent around an empty swimming pool, its neon sign unlit. The barrenness washes over Clare, eerie and surreal, like a movie set built and then abandoned. Panic cuts through her, a grip tight around her chest, the coffee she’d picked up at a gas station hours ago still whirring through her veins.

The folder Malcolm gave Clare sits on the passenger seat. She flips it open. On top is a news article dated ten days ago: “Blackmore Woman Missing Since Tuesday.” Next to the text is a grainy photograph of a gaunt and unsmiling woman named Shayna Fowles. Clare examines the photo. They are roughly the same age, their hair the same deep brown, their skin fair, alike in certain features only. Is she imagining the resemblance, imposing herself on this woman?

This is your job, Malcolm said. You will go to Blackmore. See what you can find.

The car fills with the dampness of the outside air. Clare leans back against the headrest and closes her eyes. She thinks of Malcolm across from her in that diner booth, sliding the folder over to her, his own meal untouched. She had wanted only to get away from him, and Blackmore was the option on offer. Now she must gather herself up, muster the nerve to introduce herself to strangers, tell them her name, or at least the name Malcolm chose for her. Clare grips the dewy handle of the car door and lifts her backpack. Though she hasn’t worn her wedding ring in months, her finger still bears its dent.

Time to go.

At the motel reception Clare rings the bell once, then again when no one comes. She can hear the muffled din of a TV. Behind the desk the room keys hang in a neat row. Black mold snakes around the windows and patches the carpet in the corners.

“Hello?” Clare’s voice barely rises above a whisper.

Nothing. In her exhaustion, Clare cannot decide what to do next. At dawn, she’d pulled in to a lakeside rest area, walking straight past the picnic tables and the outhouse, wading thigh deep into the lake, catatonic, transfixed by the vast, jagged landscape of snow-peaked mountains. A foreign land. She’d hoped to take a warm shower. Malcolm told her about this motel. Clare slams her hand down hard on the bell.

The door at the far end of the office opens. A man in his sixties peers through, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“We look open to you?” He tosses the napkin over his shoulder.

“The door was unlocked.”

“We’re closed.”

The man is gray haired and rosy cheeked. An old family portrait hangs on the wall to his right, a younger version of him the beaming father to two red-haired boys, his hand resting proudly on his pretty wife’s shoulder.

“If the rooms are still standing,” Clare says, “maybe I could just—”

“I’m closed.”

Clare nods.

“I’ve never seen you before,” he says.

“I’ve never been here before.”

“You a reporter?”

“No.”

“A cop?”

“No. I’m not a cop. I’m just here to see the mountains.”

“Huh. Right.”

“I take pictures.”

“Pictures. Of what?”

“Landscapes, mostly. Anything off the beaten track.”

“No one around here likes getting their picture taken,” he says, his voice flat.

“Like I said. Landscapes. Not people.” Clare pauses. “Is there another place in town I could stay?”

“No.”

Clare gropes through her bag for her car keys. Just arrived and already she’s failed at her first task. This motel might have been busy once, when Blackmore was still a bustling mining town, when there were jobs for everyone, money to go around, people to visit. Maybe this man’s sons had been miners. Maybe they were underground five years ago when the mine blew up and killed three dozen of Blackmore’s men. Clare detects a slight softening in the motel owner, his shoulders relaxing. He peels himself off the wall and approaches the desk.

“We had a bad melt in the spring,” he says. “All twenty rooms flooded. I’ve barely had a customer in months. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t help you.”

“It’s okay,” Clare says. “I’ll figure something out.”

“There are plenty of mountain towns. You could pick another one.”

“I could,” Clare says.

Already her story feels like too much of a ruse, arriving in Blackmore alone and unannounced. On the drive she’d anticipated the questions the attendant just asked of her. Who are you? Why are you here? She’d rehearsed her answers. She and Malcolm had been hasty in picking photography as her cover, the one skill in her thin repertoire now ringing false on delivery. The attendant walks around and props the door open to usher her out.

“Turn around,” he says. “Drive back down the hill. That’s my advice.”

Clare retraces her steps to the car. The mountains are cloaked in low clouds, Blackmore’s main road fogged from view. She hears the bolt of the office door behind her. Clare knew full well the reception here would be cold. She grew up in a small town beset by the same woes as Blackmore. She remembers the way her neighbors closed rank when strangers turned up, all prying eyes unwelcome. Who knows what the motel owner sees when he looks at Clare? Maybe he knew Shayna Fowles, maybe his sons were friends with her. Maybe it rattles him, one woman gone missing and another turning up out of nowhere, a stranger in his midst.

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