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Write On Ottawa: Debut novel is an enjoyable mystery

By Alejandro Bustos on May 16, 2014

RCMP Corp. Dave Browne was perfect as an undercover cop. Blessed with cloaking abilities, he could easily infiltrate any criminal operation by fading out of sight, and then observing his targets from the shadows.

When his disappearing power fails him during a sting operation in Toronto, however, he becomes a wanted man, as the criminal group that he was investigating seek to kill him.  To help him escape, he is transferred to Kirk’s Landing, a small Manitoba town that feels like a world away from Canada’s largest city.

But what was supposed to be a temporary assignment in a sleepy, remote region of the country, turns into an intriguing mystery, as Corp. Browne investigates the unsolved disappearance of a local man, as well as possible corruption at the mill in town that is accused of polluting the area’s lakes and rivers.

This interesting premise is the setting for Kirk’s Landing, the debut novel by Ottawa-based author Mike Young that is published by Canadian micro-press Deux Voiliers.

A fun read, this story offers up an enjoyable mystery, as well as capturing the rhythm of small town life, whether hunting in the bush, or finding creative ways to survive the brutal winter months.

“A lot of the small town feel (in the book) is from my life,” says Young, a native of Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario.  “Kirkland Lake was about 20,000 people then, and I also spent some time in Deep River and Dryden, Ontario.  Snowshoeing and snaring rabbits is part of the bushcraft my grandfather taught me. ”

Fans of detective stories will likely enjoy this book, which is filled with intriguing characters and an interesting plot.  The explanation of Corp. Browne’s fading ability, meanwhile, works perfectly, as Young is able to naturally implement a supernatural element in an otherwise realistic story.

“I was always interested in First Nations legends, and wanted to have an undercover cop with an edge,” says Young, when asked how he came up with the idea of a police officer with cloaking powers.  “Also, I was a shy quiet child that often wished I could fade into the background and not be noticed, so gave that to Dave.”

Notwithstanding these positive aspects of the book, which is good overall, the final section – in which Corp. Browne details the findings of his investigation – could have been better.  To use an analogy, it was like watching a fun movie that was suddenly stopped, the lights turned on, and the director walked on stage to explain what happened.

mike young

Mike Young

When I raised this with Young, he replied that he would have changed the ending if he had to do it again.

“I was trying to gather everyone for an Agatha Christie sort of thing, but didn’t really pull it off,” he says.  “To be honest, [my editor] wasn’t that keen on my ending either, and helped me clean it up a lot.  Haven’t used that style since!”

Despite this small quibble, the book is still very much worth reading.

The book’s sequel, meanwhile, is set to be released this summer.  While Deux Voiliers normally only publishes first-time authors, they decided to put out the sequel as well.

“Since I had the second book written (when the first was published), we thought we’d try to get it out soon after the first one,” explains Young, who started writing fiction regularly after retiring in 2010.  “I also wanted to learn more about the publishing and marketing side.  Otherwise, the plan was for me to start the long process of finding an agent and sending out queries.”

In addition to writing two novels, Young has penned about 90 Flash Fiction stories that are available online, which are short enough to let him explore certain characters or a genre to see where it might go.

Readers who want to purchase one of his books and meet him in person should go to the ByWard Market next month.

“Ottawa has started up an Author’s Corner in the [ByWard] Market, with a stall available to any Ottawa author to sell their books,” Young tells Apartment613.  “Myself and four others from Ottawa Independent Writers, including Ian Shaw, have booked June 1, 8, and 22.  In addition, we’re going to try doing readings those days . . . .  You need permits for all this of course, so here I am, at 67, with an Ottawa busker’s licence.  Mother would be proud.”