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REVIEW: Mystery novels for the West Kootenay

Gord Turner reviews series of local mystery novels

Submitted by Gord Turner

If you haven’t read any of Iona Whishaw’s mysteries set in the Kootenays you’re missing a lot of good reading. You’ll also miss the excitement of learning about an amazing curious female who seemingly can’t help discovering bodies and uncovering who done it.

Although it’s not always possible to do so, you should read the first one of Wishlow’s eight novels first. In the beginning, we are introduced to one Lane Winslow, fresh out of England and on the run from events there. As we recognize the time frame as just after World War II, we sense that she is fleeing from something from “then”. It turns out she was a spy during that war and wants to leave it and the British high command far behind.

She buys a house in an isolated area near Balfour — an area we later discover to be Queen’s Bay, a setting the author labels as King’s Cove, a place she truly begins to love. Not long after arriving and becoming acquainted with the other locals, however, she happens upon a dead body on her property. And the novel takes off from there, as do all the novels.

Deaths occur at places she visits or at events she is participating in, and being an inquisitive woman (due to her espionage background), she can’t help but pursue the discovery of who did it or what happened. This curiosity is a feature of Lane Winslow and often gets her in trouble with the Nelson police force, most notably one Inspector Fred Darling. Darling is annoyed that she won’t leave the crime pursuit to his police force, and yet at the same time, he is quite taken by her intelligence and her beauty. His constable, Ames, is quite overcome and nearly speechless when she is nearby.

These characters form much of the basis of the eight novels Iona Whishaw has written. Along with a handful of often odd neighbours in the area where Lane lives, this cast keeps us intrigued as we move from one discovery to the next. And we begin to note the love interest developing between Inspector Fred Darling and Lane as we move from the scenes of one novel to the episodes in subsequent novels.

In fact, in A Match Made for Murder, the wedding of the two takes place, and they travel to Tucson, Arizona on their honeymoon. As they are enjoying the pleasant break from winter in the Kootenays and police work, they get involved in mayhem and murder of a kind similar to what they’ve been experiencing in the Kootenays.

These mysteries are finely crafted. They are deceptively easy to read although the plots have twists we and Lane Winslow need to work out. The titles themselves are interesting—A Killer in King’s Cove (2016), Death in a Darkening Mist (2017), An Old Cold Grave (2017), It Begins in Betrayal (2018), A Sorrowful Sanctuary (2018), A Deceptive Devotion (2019), A Match Made for Murder (2020), and Lethal Lesson (2021).

These novels focus upon murder and friendship and love in several West Kootenay settings. Death in a Darkening Mist, for example, deals with the death of a visiting Russian at the local hot springs (Ainsworth?). As the investigation into the death continues, the novel evokes the local Doukhobor community and faraway Stalin’s Russia.

All of Whishaw’s novels have a modern sensibility, a sense of justice, and a mixture of romance and community angst. Their handling of the texture of the late 1940s’ time period feels precise and carefully researched. After each novel of Whishaw’s I read, I realize I’m waiting for the next one, and apparently she has two more ready to go.