I’m always thrilled when I get to announce a new release by an author contributing to Mystery Mondays. J.E. Barnard’s latest novel, When the Flood Falls, was released last week. Congrats Jayne!
As a crime writer, Jayne is here to talk about the scene of the crime. How appropriate.
Over to Jayne.
Returning to the Scene of the Crime
By J.E. Barnard
How many places have you seen in your lifetime where you could dump a body?
If you’re a sweet old lady who loves Agatha Christie books, any place has possibilities.
Take, for instance, my godmother. She’d be 90 now. On our last outing, we went together to Butchart Gardens on a warm summer evening, to admire the artful lighting and colourful fountains, to sniff the breeze for exotic floral aromas that quicken in the dew-laden air. As we strolled slowly along a path in the old quarry, she paused by a Japanese maple snugged against the rocky wall. The front leaves were translucent flame, spotlit from below; behind the trunk, in sharp and artful contrast, was shadow deep as midnight. Standing amid the delicate pale blossoms, gazing into the heart of blood-red darkness, this dear old woman sighed happily and murmured, “You could hide TWO bodies in there if you had to.”
That touching moment occurred the same summer that the city of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan was about to open its long-awaited new Art Museum. The museum’s curator took me and a few other part-time instructors on a tour of the new facility. We exclaimed over the huge clay sink (coffin-sized!), praised the classroom spaces, admired the view over the Serpentine Canal, and eventually were taken to the sub-basement via a special key and admitted to that holiest of holies in the art world: the vault.
An art vault is typically a secure storage space with diverse capabilities, from open floor space for large sculptures to shelves for smaller pieces, and metal racks from which to hang paintings and other framed artworks. These racks in particular fascinated me. To open the one nearest the wall, you had to roll each successive rack sideways, leaving a barely-body-wide gap for the unlucky curators to squeeze into with the painting to be stored.
As the curator began rolling each rack back into place, she was explaining the measures built into prevent the vault flooding if the Serpentine Canal spilled over its banks. Amid the sense of menace from rising water, the gap by the wall closed with a crunch. In my mind’s eye I saw a flood outside and, trapped at the very back of the vault, at the mercy of this half-tonne of gliding metal, a body. I went home with my brain abuzz. Whose body would it be? How long could it stay in that climate-controlled environment undetected? Who had, or could get, access to the special key card?
Life intervened, as it does to most fictive dreams, and ten years passed. Standing in a different museum in a different province, admiring a framed painting whose label said it had been in secure storage for many years, I remembered that art vault and that hypothetical body, and set to work on a mystery that would take place in a new Art Museum.
In 2016, fully 18 years after my vision in that small art vault in Moose Jaw, my mystery featuring an art vault won the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished Crime Novel. There were many changes the way – to the plot, the characters, the technology – but that vault remained. On July 14, 2018, the ‘art vault mystery’ was released by Dundurn Press as When the Flood Falls, which is set in Bragg Creek, Alberta where the Elbow River flooded slightly in 2005 and catastrophically in 2013. There’s no real-life Art Museum on the Elbow’s bank but I pictured one so vividly during the writing that I’m always surprised when I cross that bridge and the building isn’t there.
This past weekend, I read the vault scene live for the first time, at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, held annually in the Moose Jaw Art Museum. Two floors beneath my feet, in the sub-basement that is only accessible by special key, lurked the original art vault that inspired the scene in the book. Did I picture, for a disorienting instant, a real body trapped behind those real, heavy, rolling metal racks?
You bet I did. My godmother would have been so proud.
WHEN THE FLOOD FALLS
With her career in tatters and her marriage receding in the rear-view mirror, ex-RCMP corporal Lacey McCrae trades her uniform for a tool belt, and the Lower Mainland for the foothills west of Calgary. Amid the oil barons, hockey stars, and other high rollers who inhabit the wilderness playground is her old university roommate, Dee Phillips. Dee’s glossy life was shaken by a reckless driver; now she’s haunted by a nighttime prowler only she can hear.
As snowmelt swells the icy river, threatening the only bridge back to civilization, Lacey must make the call: assume Dee’s in danger and get her out, or decide the prowler is imaginary and stay, cut off from help if the bridge is swept away.