Open Secret by Deryn Collier
Available at Polar Peek Books & Treasures in downtown Fernie
- Reviewed by Angie Abdou for The Fernie Fix’s June 2014 Issue
Bern Fortin is back! Fernie readers will remember Bern from Deryn Collier’s first book, Confined Space, which was the official read for last year’s One Book One Kootenay. Like the first in the Bern Fortin series, Open Secret is set in the fictional “Kootenay Landing,” a town that bears a striking resemblance to Creston, British Columbia. Part of the fun for Kootenay readers is guessing which Kootenay-related theme will serve as the inspiration for each book. Where Confined Space focuses on a murder in the brewery, the second in the series explores the West Kootenay’s most poorly kept secret – the marijuana trade.
Open Secret is significantly darker than Confined Space. In this new book, readers learn that growing marijuana is no longer a harmless pastime of peaceful hippies. “Where there are drugs, there’s organized crime,” explains the local police officer. Kootenay Landing has become Hells Angels’ territory, a reality that Bern has difficulty absorbing. “Not what I’d expect in this tranquil environment,” he says.
However, Bern should know that even in a small, remote mountain town things are rarely as simple as they seem. Everyone in Kootenay Landing has secrets. Bern, for example, is more than an intriguing single man with a sexy French accent. In Open Secret, his military past tracks him down in this (not so tranquil) Rocky Mountain hideout, pulling him deep into horrific memories of Rwanda killing fields.
Hell’s Angels, Rwanda killing fields, First Nations’ struggles, domestic abuse – Open Secret is a heavier, wider reaching, and more ambitious novel than Confined Space. On my first reading, I expressed surprise at the turn this novel takes, and I told Deryn that I didn’t know she had that kind of darkness in her. She replied that she can go there when the novel needs her to go there: “It’s not all heirloom tomatoes and cinnamon buns.”
Open Secret does stretch Deryn Collier in new directions as a writer. Bern Fortin, who was already an appealing character, becomes more complex and multilayered. The cast of Open Secret is larger. It draws on a wider range of characters and delves more deeply into what it means to be a part of a small community. The book raises uncomfortable issues and ventures into volatile territories. Deryn Collier rises to the challenge. Open Secret is a riveting read.
Collier has quickly become one of my very favourite mystery writers. I can’t wait to learn what Kootenay-inspired murder she has planned for Bern Fortin next.
Other Kootenay Reads:
Bull Head (short stories) by John Vigna – runner up for the Danuta Gleed Award
Ballistics (novel) by D.W. Wilson – finalist for the Amazon First Novel Award
When is a Man (novel) by Aaron Shepard – new release, star review in Quill & Quire
Angie Abdou is a local fiction writer. Her fourth book, a novel about contemporary parenthood and domestic labour, will be out in September 2014. For more information on Angie’s books and upcoming speaking engagements see this website.