I'm a fan of detective fiction, having enjoyed Agatha Christie and P.D. James years ago. These days it's Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George, and Louise Penny. Now I've discovered a team of sleuths closer to home: co-authors Sandy Duncan and George Szanto of Gabriola Island, British Columbia, who have created Noel Franklin and Kyra Rachel of Island Investigations International. Noel is based in Nanaimo, B.C. and Kyra is based in Bellingham, Washington where she sometimes investigates "boring" insurance cases. As a pastime and for distraction, she juggles balls, a delightful touch and an apt metaphor for her life and work.
The two investigators have been friends for a long time. Kyra is thirty-eight and wants a baby. She thinks her friend Neil would be perfect as her child's father; she plans "no sex, just sperm." Neil, a former investigative journalist who is gay, is still mourning the death of his life partner.
Most detective fiction begins with a dead body. Not in this case. Neil Franklin is hired to check out suspected plagiarism at Morsely University (fictitious) on San Juan. Neil finds himself attracted to Peter Langley, the man who hires him. The scenes with Peter and Neil are sensitively depicted with both fear and anticipation in the early days of their growing relationship.
Then there's a kidnapping: Susana Rossini, the daughter of a professor engaged in highly sensitive research. The ransom is a piece of intellectual property.
Most people are connected to one another on an island, even if it's as acquaintances at the pub. Duncan and Szanto have included all those sorts of connections in their book as well as the intricacies of ferry travel and university politics.
On occasion, Noel and Kyra get together for a nightcap and a "what-do-we know" conversation. This is a helpful device for readers, offering a summation of what's happened so far and speculations about perpetrators and their motivations.
These are characters I came to care about. I began reading the Island Investigations International Mysteries with Never Sleep with a Suspect on Gabriola Island, then skipped ahead to this latest one set on the U.S. Island, San Juan. One day I hope to meet the writing duo and ask them about the fun and challenges of collaboration. I enjoy imagining the writing room walls of these authors. Perhaps they're covered with maps and timelines and characters' names. There are many threads to follow that kept me intrigued. For example, how are a kidnapping and plagiarism connected? That's something readers will have to find out for themselves.
Besides the victims and the perpetrators, there are the stories of Noel and Kyra. When you become a reader of a series, you always want to know how things are going with Noel's love life or if Kyra pregnant yet. What case will bring the friends together again and what island in the Pacific Northwest will it be? I look forward to finding out.
Sandy Frances Duncan is the author of ten award-winning books for children and adults. George Szanto is the author of Bog Tender: Coming Home to Nature and Memory and half a dozen novels. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize for fiction. Visit his website.
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