Monday, November 9, 2009

C.J.'s Question for Vicki Delany

Parts of Canada are relatively remote (i.e. the Northern Territories) from advanced laboratory/forensic facilities as well as large, well-equipped police forces. How have you made use of this paradox of wide-open spaces/claustrophobic small towns in your novels?

C.J. You’re right to note that none of my books take place in cities or suburbs. I have more of a fascination with the dynamics of small towns and rural or wilderness areas. The real-life inspiration for the town of Trafalgar, British Columbia in the Constable Molly Smith books (Winter of Secrets, Nov. 2009 from Poisoned Pen Press) is Nelson, B.C. Nelson (and thus Trafalgar) is eight hours drive east of Vancouver and eight hours west of Calgary. The nearest city is actually Spokane, Washington. You need a passport to go to the mall.

There are, in fact, no wide-open spaces as the town is completely hemmed in by mountains, but it is in the middle of the wilderness. This physical isolation from the rest of the country, and the crowded or claustrophobic feeling some people get surrounded by mountains, is part of the reason I decided to set my series in Nelson, uh, Trafalgar.

People know each other, sometimes too well; there isn’t a lot of outlet for frustrations or high-spirits; everyone knows who are the police and where they go for lunch. There is an interesting mix of neo-hippies and the comfortably retired all fleeing the big city rat race but with different values and different approaches to living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. It’s generally a safe town and the police have a more relaxed attitude towards policing than they might do in the cities. Most of the officers live in town, and again, it’s a pretty small place.

In the second book in the series, Valley of the Lost, Sergeant Winters, who has recently transferred to Trafalgar from Vancouver, is in the supermarket with his wife when, “Winters spotted a man he’d arrested for masturbating in an alley behind Front Street in the middle of the afternoon heading towards them. Winters edged away from Eliza and prepared for a confrontation. Instead the man greeted him heartily, and even introduced his own wife, a tall buxom redhead who laughed like a horse. With a cheery ‘see you next month’ – presumably in court – the man continued on his way, pushing a cart piled high with meat and frozen foods.” I got the idea for thisscene from one of the officers in Nelson who told me that things like that do happen to them.

Makes it pretty hard to go undercover, as you can probably imagine.

The Molly Smith series is essentially about people and relationships and circumstances that can go wrong and lead to bad things happening. The police solve crimes by observing people, rather than by forensic investigation, so it doesn’t interfere with the story that they don’t have all the resources big city police might have, although they are connected by computer to the major policing databases.

I also write the Klondike Gold Rush series, set in 1898 in the Yukon, and they certainly didn’t have access to any forensics, via computer or otherwise. They were totally on their own, and didn’t even have a railroad or a telegraph. Nothing moved faster than a person could travel on foot or by boat. The NWMP (precursors to the RCMP) pretty much made the laws up as they went along. Which makes that series a lot of fun to write.

Vicki Delany’s newest novel, Winter of Secrets, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said, “she uses…artistry as sturdy and restrained as a Shaker chair.” Vicki writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory) to the Constable Molly Smith series, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the B.C. Interior (In the Shadow of the Glacier, Winter of Secrets), to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush. Vicki lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she rarely wears a watch. Visit Vicki at She blogs with five other mystery writers at and about the writing life, as she lives it, at


CJ Lyons said...

Vicki, wow, love the nuances you painted and how your books are really about the people and their relationships instead of the procedure!

Thanks for visiting with us this week!!!

Rick Blechta said...

Vicki, what is that perfume you're wearing? It's absolutely intoxicating!

How come you never wear it when you're blogging at Type M. AND I notice you've got on your wristwatch this week.

Shane Gericke said...

Eight hours from Vancouver AND Calgary? Wow, that IS isolated. Sounds like it makes for a tight-knit community, though, perfect for cop mysteries.

Shane Gericke said...

Ditto what CJ said. Police procedure is boring. Relationships are much more interesting.

Donis Casey said...

I think that sleuths who are either isolated or historical have to be a lot more clever and insightful than sleuths in big modern cities who have tons of resources. Scientific procedure is not nearly as interesting (to me, anyway) as insight into human nature.

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow, Vicki, that is a cool setting! (no pun intended). ;)

I spent my adolescence in rural northern California, and have had similar experiences ... everyone knew everyone else, which made it all the more tragic when bad things happened. For a small community with mostly marijuana growers, hippies and loggers, we had our share of dark crimes.

Thanks for being our Grand Master on CM this week--I'm looking forward to hearing more! :)


Vicki Delany said...

I have absolutely no idea what Rick Blechta is talking about.

Rick Blechta said...

It's all virtual, my dear.