If you live in the Kootenays, are in any way literate, and you still haven’t heard about Kootenay Landing or Bern Fortin, then you have some seriously enjoyable catching up to do.
Nelson-based author Deryn Collier’s new mystery novel, Open Secret, is the follow-up to her much-lauded debut novel, Confined Space, in which we first met the French-Canadian newbie coroner Mr. Fortin in the fictional(ish) town of Kootenay Landing, BC. Confined Space was remarkable both for its taut, suspensefully murdery plot, and its deft portrayal of imperfect — but ultimately rewarding — small town life.
The gist is this: after unmasking last story’s murderer, shutting down the town’s biggest employer in the process, and growing his first vegetable garden, Bern Fortin decides to go for a nice relaxing stroll through the woods. Hey, it’s a small town. What could happen? What follows is a series of interlocking, deeply personal events that topple like dominoes, impacting everybody in town from the feisty barrista to the crooked pharmacist to the matronly pot farmer to the wandering bushman.
Collier has created a realistic and intimate world, one in which breakfast is a sacred bond between neighbours, but the pains of systemic mistreatment of First Nations are still reverberating.
Open Secret, picking up right where Confined Space left off, is its perfect companion novel. From the start, Collier seems determined to balance out the previous mystery’s elements with their polar opposites; where Confined Space constructed its central mystery around a claustrophobic, dark suspense, Open Secret derives its thrills from the sheer, well, openness of it.
This time, Collier gives the reader enough intimate knowledge of her characters and storylines that it’s thrilling to watch them weave and — more often — careen off each other, oblivious to the driving forces behind each of the story’s pieces. For mysteries, that often delight in keeping the reader in the dark, this book is almost frightfully open.
If there’s a take-away from Open Secret, it’s that Collier recognizes that small town life is not a contained novel. Don’t expect each thread to get taped off. Don’t expect each baddie to get his comeuppance. There are some secrets that we can’t unknow. And Open Secret does its best to make sure we learn them.
Eli Geddis is a Nelson-based writer, musician, and arts instructor.