For almost a year and a half, Victoria author Jean Paetkau walked daily along the Ogden Point breakwater to capture stunning photographs at sunrise or sunset.
It was while on one of these walks that Paetkau came up with the idea for a murder-mystery novel called Blood on the Breakwater involving a journalist who stumbles upon a body in this breakwater area. And the body turns out to be someone connected to the Victoria art world. The journalist is then thrown into a cold-blooded case then faces deceit in the world of art and academia.
“It sort of echos Emily Carr, but fictional,” said Paetkau, who also works for the CBC. She explained that it also has a second plot that goes back to the 19th century, centred around a fictitious painter, with the two plots woven together by an art gallery.
The author started writing Blood on the Breakwater last November.
“It’s been really fun because I’ve had a lot of connections with people on social media through my photographs of sunsets and sunrises, but then also this murder mystery,” Paetkau said. “Authoring can be lonely most of the time, so it’s really great to have that.”
Paetkau has loved murder mysteries her whole life and has always wanted to write one.
“I consider them a kind of puzzle and when you have a restless mind like mine, it’s very relaxing trying to solve a whodunit,” said the author. “So I’ve been reading Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and British sort of murder-mystery authors since I was very young.”
She said this is her “first book for grownups.”
Before writing the murder mystery, at the height of COVID-19, Paetkau was trapped in her house with her children and started writing kids’ books. She claimed that she couldn’t have written the murder mystery if it wasn’t for previously writing the children’s books.
“The three kids’ books were really good books in terms of the daily routine, writing every day, finishing a chapter, reviewing it,” she said. “This was like running a motivation after you’ve been running 10K all the time.”
Although the adult novel was more difficult to write, Paetkau enjoyed the challenge as it allowed her to be more linguistically creative.
“The fun thing about writing grownup books is you get to use bigger words because I love language.”
Not only is the vocabulary richer in her novel, but the word count is too. Her kids’ books are around 16,000 words, while the murder mystery was 66,000 words.
While Victoria’s Breakwater District is featured as a location, there are also a number of other places in James Bay in the novel.
“I guess I’ve spent my whole life reading murder mysteries in Glasgow and Edinburgh and I know Victoria well, I know James Bay really well, so I thought why not celebrate this community? It’s very rare you read a book set in Victoria and if you do it’s often non-fiction. So a murder mystery set in Victoria seemed like a really great opportunity and this community is so incredibly rich in terms of culture and beauty.”
Blood on the Breakwater will be available to purchase on Sept. 1.