Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Nicola Furlong recently gave several good reasons for the popularity of mysteries. I’d like to add another. While much “mainstream” fiction has narrowed its focus to the personal realm, much crime fiction holds up a lamp to the social world we inhabit, illuminating the dark corners we would sometimes prefer to ignore.
Take, for instance, Lou Allin’s brilliant prologue to She Felt No Pain, with its convincing portrayal of the consciousness of a drug-addicted homeless man. Or Phyllis Smallman’s expose of slave labour among Florida agricultural workers in Champagne for Buzzards. Or Stephen Legault’s spirited defense of wild ecosystems against corporate fish farms in The Darkening Archipelago. Or R. J. Harlick’s sensitive portrayals of Canada’s First Nations in her Meg Harris series.
I could go on. I’m sure at least one Canadian crime novel addresses every conceivable social problem or injustice.
But crime novelists also celebrate what is good about Canadian culture. And since I write police procedurals (my main character, Constable Danutia Dranchuk, is a member of Island Division, RCMP), I’d like to celebrate the amazing dedication of the riders in the Canadian Cancer Society Tour de Rock and their supporters.
Every fall, a team made up of law enforcement officers and media representatives cycles more than 1000 kilometres from Port Alice in northern Vancouver Island, down the east coast, across the mountains to Uclulet and Tofino, back to the string of towns from Nanaimo to Mill Bay, over the Malahat, then to Sooke, back to Sidney, ending two weeks later in Victoria. The purpose of the ride is to raise money for pediatric cancer research and to send children affected by cancer to Camp GoodTimes, where they don’t feel strange or different because they aren’t.
This year, my husband (and sometimes co-author) Chris Bullock and I had the good fortune to experience some of the social side of the Tour de Rock, as part of our research for the still-distant fourth novel in the Danutia Dranchuk series. In tiny Port Alice (population 821), we joined locals at the Legion for a seafood dinner and lively auction with the riders and support crew. The next day we learned that Port Alice had raised $14,500 “and still counting.”
We were on hand in Port Hardy when the team swept into town, heralded by fire engines and escorted by three motorcycles and two patrol cars. There we watched a young Canadian Junior Ranger give up her long curly red hair for the cause. That night in Port McNeill we chatted with a tableful of riders about their reasons for volunteering and their experience so far.
The next morning we tooted as we passed the team labouring up a hill in high winds and heavy rain, bound for Sayward, their longest day’s cycle at 140 km. At the finale in Victoria on October 7, Lou Allin and I handed a cheque for $1000 to team co-captain Constable Alvin Deo of the Victoria Police Department, proceeds from the Bloody Words 2011 silent auction.
As gruelling as it is, the Tour itself is only a small part of the commitment these riders make. For seven months before the tour, they train and fundraise. Many are motivated by their experience with cancer, firsthand or among friends and family. Others are motivated by the Junior Riders who are their partners. Others simply believe that serving the community is part of their duty as police officers.
Whatever their reasons, they light up our world.
For more about the Tour de Rock, see www.tourderock.ca
For more about Kay Stewart’s mystery series, see www.kaystewart.ca
Kay Stewart is the author of two police procedurals featuring RCMP Constable Danutia Dranchuk (A Deadly Little List, co-authored by husband Chris Bullock, and Sitting Lady Sutra). She has also published short stories and personal essays, co-authored two writing textbooks, and co-edited two volumes of personal essays by contemporary Canadian women. She taught at the University of Alberta before moving to Vancouver Island to devote her time to writing.
Kay is active in the crime-writing community, having served as National Vice President and President of Crime Writers of Canada and co-chair of Bloody Words 2011.