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Write On Ottawa: Barbara Fradkin takes mystery into the wilderness in Fire in the Stars

By Kabriya Coghlan on July 3, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 12.40.18 PMAs the first installment of a brand new mystery series from Ottawa author Barbara Fradkin, Fire in the Stars is a thrilling mix of a puzzling crime story and a tale of outdoor adventure and survival in the Newfoundland wilderness, complete with enough twists and turns to successfully keep you guessing how everything will be solved until the very end.

Fradkin is the author of the Inspector Green procedural crime series, which spanned ten books and won two Best Novel awards from Crime Writers of Canada. Fire in the Stars begins a new mystery series that will centre around Amanda Doucette, a former foreign aid worker coping with PTSD after a violent experience in Nigeria.

Her friend and colleague Phil goes missing at the beginning of the book, right before the two are supposed to begin a hiking trip in Newfoundland. Phil is also dealing with PTSD from their shared experiences abroad, and Amanda is concerned about his mental condition when he can’t be tracked down. Instead of waiting around, she decides to try to find him herself.

Amanda’s struggles with PTSD play into the story heavily, as Fradkin explores how her trauma continues to affect her as she adjusts to life back in Canada and worries about Phil. In an interview with Apt613, Fradkin said the decision to focus on Amanda’s PTSD stemmed from her own background working as a child psychologist for 25 years.

“People interested me, and I think that’s how writing and psychology can kind of come together for me,” she explained. “It’s all about character and creating believable motives and believable interactions and drama between people. That’s the beauty of crime fiction, because really, the crime is just a literary device, or dramatic device if you like, to spin a story around.”

“It’s not about the crime itself, it’s about the people involved and what made them do what they did and how did it affect everyone else?” she said.

Amanda’s search for Phil takes her through many small towns in Newfoundland, which Fradkin brings to life with warm characters and a vivid attention to deal. Fradkin said she traveled to the same towns and walked the same paths that Amanda traverses in the books to make sure she could write about it authentically.

“I think the first thing to making a story vivid is being able to experience it firsthand, as close as you can to the real thing,” she explained. “Nothing is the same as actually standing in the place that you’re trying to describe and using all your senses – you might not put all of them into the book in any particular place, but being aware of the sounds and the smells and the sights and the feel of the wind – things that you wouldn’t normally imagine.”

There’s plenty of misdirection and many subplots throughout Amanda’s investigation as she tries to piece together Phil’s trail, but one of the standout threads of the story involves a group of Syrian refugees Amanda encounters working on a boat. Fradkin said the choice to include those characters was deliberately motivated by political discussion at the time she was writing the book.

“You see it especially in the U.S., but even up here there’s a certain group of people (who) are pretty suspicious of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are coming over,” Fradkin said. “(They) expect them all to be trouble and terrorists and whatnot, and I just wanted to show the other side of that.”

The interesting characters Amanda meets throughout the investigation and the many angles of the mystery of Phil’s whereabouts make for a layered story that’s fun and exciting to unravel. Fradkin’s writing immerses the reader in the beautiful forests and coasts of Newfoundland and the result is a truly unique mystery and adventure story.

Fradkin plans to continue the series with Amanda travelling across Canada and solving mysteries in different corners of the country – she calls it her 150th anniversary of Canada project.

“It’s fun to have a different setting and explore a different part of Canada, and it also pays homage to Canada as a whole,” she explained. “I wanted to start at the far East, and each book will be set in a different place, and the series will end up either in Vancouver Island or up north.”

The second book in the series, The Trickster’s Lullaby, will be released in September.