Confined Spaces: The quintessential Kootenay mystery thriller
By Eli Geddis
Author Deryn Collier’s debut novel, Confined Space, seems like the quintessential Kootenay mystery thriller.
Its characters are a guileless blend of red meat rural folk and green-blooded gardeners, often one in the same. They are polite, self-effacing, and unassuming, even when committing grisly acts of murder and sabotage. They drink local beer, discuss endlessly about entering farmers’ markets, can easily walk from their homes, to the murder scene, and then back home again, while only crossing two city blocks.
The town seems familiar, but is situated in an undisclosed pocket of the Purcell Mountain range. It’s too close to Revelstoke to be Creston, but it’s too close to Cranbrook to be Nelson.
If the setting seems close to home, that’s because it should. Deryn Collier, a local Nelsonite, has cherry-picked the best, weirdest, and darkest parts of the Kootenays, and combined them to form the fictional town of Kootenay Landing. This is a great little tale about murder, small towns, breweries, unspoken love, and the importance of letting your loved ones know that you’re working late in case somebody should choose to drown you in highly acidic caustic solution (Page 4 spoiler alert!)
After many years of mystery novel skepticism, Confined Space was a joy to read. Our hero, Bern Fortin (yes, pronounce that as a Quebecer would) is no hard-boiled detective, but a rookie BC coroner, whose usual clients are not the femme fatales or robbed millionaires, but expired octogenarians. Our heroine is no helpless heiress, but an obsessive-compulsive workplace safety regulator. They are damaged and finely-wrought humans, making most of the right choices while concurrently making most of the wrong ones.
At one point in Confined Space, one of the characters looks across the first season of growth of their summer garden and finds it “flawed, riotous, and complete.” I can’t think of a better way to describe the tumultuous events in this novel that tear apart a small town, pit neighbours against each other, thrust soul mates together, and cause a whole town to question itself about the cost of success.
Though the main story arc of the novel wraps up, make sure to keep an eye out for Deryn Collier’s next outing. Something in the final few lines makes me think there’s more to come. And I can’t wait.