One of the Sunshine Coast’s most prolific authors has released the latest book in her series of travelogues-turned-mysteries, with sobering themes lightened by literary intrigue.
Emma Dakin’s Shadows in Sussex launched on Oct. 21 with a fully-subscribed reading at the Gibsons Public Library. Emma Dakin is the pen name of Marion McKinnon Crook, who last year won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Community History Award for her memoir of nursing in B.C.’s Cariboo-Chilcotin, Always Pack a Candle.
Plots in Crook’s British Book Tour Mysteries are anchored by the unflappable tour guide Claire Barclay. As in the previous four instalments set in other British locales (Hampshire, Cornwall, Yorkshire and Edinburgh), an enigmatic death accompanies Barclay’s survey of literary landmarks.
The sudden death of Reece Martin, son of the proprietor of the hotel where Barclay’s guests are lodged, begins as an open-and-shut case: drug abuse seems to have claimed the life of the young man.
Crook’s familiarity with addictive drug culture stems from personal family experience, she explains. “It made me very interested in it,” she said. “From the perspective of my public health background, first there’s awareness [of addiction] and then you do something about it. But if people refuse to be aware, then nothing gets done.”
There are other elements of Crook’s own experience woven into the story. Three of the travellers who enlist for the tour of Sussex are Indigenous women from Canada, representing Anishinaabe and Gitxsan nations. The trio arrive with a specific agenda: to better understand British literature so they can countermand its colonial themes with Indigenous narratives.
“Three of my grandchildren are Gitxsan,” said Crook. “I think most authors weave their experiences in life through their books, which gives the books an authenticity. It may not be correct in terms of social attitudes or things, but that’s how we see it. People often say, ‘Don’t put me in your book.’ I don’t really put them in my book, but I might put my experience of them in a book.”
As Reece’s drug-related death is revealed to be suspicious (which requires the services of Claire’s conveniently positioned love interest, a detective inspector), darker themes of childhood trauma are revealed. The young man’s diary plays a pivotal role in exposing the perpetrator.
Meanwhile, the fictional tour group visits real-life destinations in the Sussex countryside, giving Crook an opportunity to highlight some of her own favourite authors. (She reads four to five mystery novels each week.) The guests pay homage to Arthur Conan Doyle; the inventor of Sherlock Holmes had a home in Crowborough, Sussex. Upon touring Canterbury, the travellers profess to have read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in full (a fact that is itself rather suspicious).
Crook wrote the novel during the COVID-19 pandemic. When travel restrictions were lifted, she flew to Sussex herself and updated the book’s draft as she travelled. What she didn’t expect was the generous candour of locals. At a park, she told Sussex residents that she is a Canadian mystery writer searching for a plausible place to stash a body. “They’d get all enthusiastic,” Crooks recalled. “They’d say, ‘I know a place, and there’s another park over there with an even better place.’”
Shadows in Sussex is available for sale from local book retailers and online merchants. Crook’s website at crookpublishing.com foreshadows her three forthcoming releases in 2024: another British mystery, a sequel to her award-winning autobiography, and a murderous tale set in nineteenth-century Vancouver.