A newly-released book by Gibsons-based author Marion Crook, who writes her British Mysteries Book Tours series under the pseudonym Emma Dakin, provided Crook with an opportunity to mine her Scottish heritage for cultural gems.
Danger in Edinburgh (published by Seattle’s Camel Press) is the fourth in Crook’s series. Each book features protagonist Claire Barclay, owner and tour guide of The British Mysteries Book Tours company. As Claire shepherds her charges across storied landscapes — previous tales have been set in Yorkshire, Cornwall and Hampshire — suspicious circumstances inevitably arise. She juggles her care of charismatic tour members with a talent for keen-eyed sleuthing.
For Crook, weaving a rollicking murder plot into the tapestry of Scottish literature and history was a unique challenge. “That’s a lot of work,” she said. “If the journey that Claire goes on [across Scotland] took over the book, then you don’t really have a mystery because you lose your pacing. I have to balance that need for suspense and interest to keep the mystery going at the same time as Claire’s travels.”
Following her discovery of a serial killer’s victim in Edinburgh, members of the Scottish constabulary keep Claire apprised of developments by telephone as she leads her tour from the Firth of Forth to the Western Isles. She consults with her partner Mark Evans, himself (conveniently) a Detective Inspector, while comforted by the presence of her well-travelled canine companion, Gulliver.
“Tour guides are really multitaskers,” Crook said. “I’ve been on a few tours, and [given] the amount of challenges they face, I find them amazing. They have to adjust. So Claire is kind of typical, in that way, of a tour guide.”
Crook herself has travelled through Scotland on several occasions. On her most recent trip, accompanied by her daughter and friends from Gibsons, they applied their experience as adult learners of the fiddle. “We took [our fiddles] everywhere,” she said. “When we played our fiddles, people talked to us. We played in pubs when we could, and people would talk to us on the trains, wanting to know where our gig was.”
Crook traces her parentage from the McKinnon clan. Her grandfather migrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan in the 1880s and married a woman whose family had made the same journey. While visiting the Scottish west coast to gather research for her book, Crook discovered that century-old connections are evergreen in the Hebridean archipelago. Upon landing on a small island, a stranger asked if she was from Canada. Once she shared the name of her grandfather and great-grandfather, the man pointed at a cottage. “[Your great-grandfather] Donald McKinnon lived right there,” he said.
The characters of Danger in Edinburgh traverse more than heather-strewn hillocks and lowland lochs. Book Tour participants sprawl in the Magpie Café, a locale invented by Crook to incorporate elements of her favourite Edinburgh eateries. Amidst speculation about the murder’s perpetrator, they muse idly about real-life authors who reside in the Scottish capital, paying homage to giants of the detective genre like Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith. “The mention of writers comes in every book of the series,” said Crook, “because that’s the purpose of the [Claire’s] tour. And readers like that, giving them people to look up, another author to read.”
Earlier this year Crook received the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing for her memoir Always Pack a Candle. On Dec. 3, she will read from Danger in Edinburgh at a book launch event at the Sechelt Library. Crook will be joined by fellow crime writer Winona Kent, author of the recently-released novel Ticket to Ride.