Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe on Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Blog Site

EQMMI was delighted to be asked to write a post for the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine blog site – and here it is. Read why mystery stories are a perfect fit for the Festive Season, not to mention some tips for seasonal mystery reading.: https://somethingisgoingtohappen.net/2017/12/13/murder-mayhem-and-mistletoe-by-elizabeth-elwood/

And even better, order the holiday issue of the magazine and read my story: “Ghosts of Christmas Past”

Meet Max, the Ho Hum Husky

If you think Marley was difficult, you should have met Max.  A rescue dog with a difficult past, his antics kept us on our toes, and many people dined out on ‘Max’ stories over the years.  “Max and the Christmas “Light-bulb”, “Max and the Work-sock”, Max and the Fish Guts”, “Max Swims Out to Sea”, “Max Busts out from Backstage”—the list goes on and on.  Needless to say, he was a dog who had adventures.

LITTLECHAPMax was a husky, shepherd cross with some wolf in the mix, not to mention an Alpha male personality, and we soon discovered that our new pet was more than we could handle.  He wasn’t a big dog—more husky than shepherd, with short, stubby legs and a barrel chest—but he was strong as the proverbial ox.  After our first walk, where I found myself towed behind Max and facing the alternative of either breaking into a sprint or having a dislocated shoulder, I realized that I needed a trainer—a dog trainer, that is, not a personal trainer to improve my running skills.  Fortunately, I found the person I needed in Gary Gibson, who very quickly taught me some techniques to show Max who was boss.  It was so appropriate that Gary and his wife Kathy’s company was named “Canine Corrections”.  The title was a reference to the wonderful dog-training program that Kathy established with the inmates of the women’s prison at the Fraser Foreshore, but it was certainly an appropriate title when it came to training Max.  Gary very quickly established some ground rules that brought my feisty white husky into line, but he also acknowledged that, with Max, there would always be some degree of negotiation.

INLET THEATREGary was the one who told us that Max needed a job, and after a while, we realized we had the perfect role for him within our puppet company. Once the Max marionette was created and became the star of many of our shows, Max became part of the show, waiting backstage during performances, and then joyously coming out to bow or demonstrate his tricks with his puppet after the final curtain. Feisty, he was, but how he loved being part of the show.  As Gary said, many years later, after Max had passed away: “He was more dog than most.”

 

mBecause of his unpredictable nature, Max demanded far more of my time and attention than any other dog I’ve ever owned, but because of this, the two of us became very closely bonded over the years.  I still miss him, and I take pleasure in having his personality live on through my artistic endeavours.  Not only was he the inspiration for Max, the Ho Hum Husky, the lovable star of 14 of our 20 marionette musicals, but he also lives on as MacPuff in my Beary Mysteries Series, even if his appearances there are often as fleeting as the movie cameos of Alfred Hitchcock.

maxI have always wanted to write Max’s story, and I have the perfect title—Strings Attached —which reflects how close we were and the part he played in our marionette company.  However, since my plays and mystery stories bumped this project to the back of the line for several years, the ‘dog blog’ served in the interim to tell the tale of my rescue dog with an attitude, Max, the Ho Hum Husky. Finally, this summer, Max’s project came to the front of the line and I’m now polishing up manuscript that will tell his story in book form. Watch for updates early next year.

 

Murder, Mayhem and Mistletoe!

 

Why is it that crime-writers love to combine the Season of Peace and Goodwill with a juicy murder mystery?  Incongruous themes?  Not really, when you consider how psychologists expound on the subjects of anxiety, tension and depression at Christmas.  The Web abounds with sites that offer tips on how to avoid stress during the festive season.  It’s the time of year when families come together, whether the individual members like each other or not.  There is an expectation that the feuds be buried, or at least suspended, no matter how much resentment might be simmering under the surface.  One is conscious of obligations to others, whether the will is there to follow through.  There are gifts to be purchased, which stretch budgets that may already be out of control.  People who are alone feel lonelier; those who are inundated with relatives feel overwhelmed and exhausted.  Such a lot of smoldering emotions for a crime writer to plunder.

ngAs if the turbulence of family relations was not sufficient to tempt a mystery writer, Christmas also provides a wealth of opportunity for atmospheric settings.  What could be more ‘cozy’ than firelight flickering in the hearth and snow falling outside the window?   What can be more chilling than a black winter night with only the soft beam from a streetlamp lighting footsteps in the snow?  What possibilities for sinister disguise lie in the cross-dressing of a Christmas pantomime?  What great opportunities for the evil-minded are presented at those parties and dinners where food abounds and glasses and plates are often left unattended.  No wonder mystery writers can’t resist creating a Christmas dilemma for their detectives to solve!

rumpChristmas mysteries have been around for a long time.  Charles Dickens certainly knew how to wring drama out of the Christmas season, and what a trend he began.  Sherlock Holmes solved the puzzle of a goose that provided a lot more than Christmas dinner; G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown recovered “The Flying Stars”, diamonds that disappeared at a Christmas party; Hercule Poirot’s Christmas included a body in a locked room; Ngaio Marsh produced a corpse that was Tied up in Tinsel; and Rumpole has a whole book of Christmas stories.  There are many anthologies too, such as Murder Under the Mistletoe, which features a host of stories by writers such as Margery Allingham, Peter Lovesey and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Current authors continue the trend.  The detectives in Deborah Crombie’s compelling novel, And Justice There is None, mingle Christmas shopping with the the investigation of a particularly brutal pair of murders; Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks suffers through a Blue Christmas; and Anne Perry has written an entire series of Christmas novellas, as has M.C. Beaton.  Mary Higgins Clark, with her daughter, Carol, has also produced a set of seasonal mysteries, and following the same trend, Charles Todd put out a similar publication this year.  The list goes on and on.

poI think it’s a great tradition, and one that I’ve been delighted to follow.  I enjoyed concluding my last three books with a Christmas story, each one utilizing a setting that has brought me personal pleasure during the festive season.   My childhood, and my children’s childhood, always included an annual visit to the Christmas pantomime, so it was great fun to write “The Mystery of the Black Widow Twanky”.  My nod to our years of performing as the Elwoodettes Marionettes is reflected in “Christmas Present, Christmas Past”.  My fourth book concludes with “The Mystery of the Christmas Train”, and what a joy it was to write a light-hearted story that could re-create the atmosphere of Stanley Park’s Bright Nights festivities. I’m now working on the sixth book in the series, which will include a story titled “The Feast of Stephen” and most exciting of all, my story “Ghosts of Christmas Past” will appear in the holiday edition of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

alSo what am I going to do this Christmas?   Our holiday season will include a visit to the Vagabond Players pantomime and a visit to Fort Langley to see the lights. We’re cutting back on the marionette shows, so that means more time for visiting with friends and family, and last, but definitely not least, leisurely time sitting by the Christmas tree and reading the deliciously cozy mystery stories that I put on my Christmas wish list—firelight flickering, snow drifting down outside the window, and the mysteries only within the pages of my book.  A Merry Christmas indeed.

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 From “The Mystery of the Christmas Train”

Richard Beary had one inviolable rule.  Never allow a girl to meet one’s family on a first date.  Nothing spelled death to a potential romance like a premature introduction to a surfeit of boisterous and opinionated Bearys, led by a matriarch whose cozy chats as she assessed the newcomer resembled an interview with the Grand Inquisitor.   Whenever Richard felt it was appropriate to introduce a girlfriend into the family circle, he took care to break her in gently.  No more than one or two Bearys at a time.  Therefore, there was one outing that Richard always attended alone.  Every December, the Beary clan convened en masse for a festive visit to Stanley Park and a ride on the Christmas train, revelled in by senior and junior Bearys alike.  The event was always followed by a late supper at his parents’ home.  Richard enjoyed this annual jaunt, for it provided him with an opportunity to socialize with his nephews and nieces, who seemed to have grown like weeds every time he saw them.  But the train expedition was a solo outing.  Dates were out of the question.

However, one year, temptation appeared in the form of a new neighbour who had moved into his apartment block.  Larissa Swinton would have made the stoutest man weaken.  Her soft blonde hair, delectably alluring lips and pouter-pigeon bosom brought Scarlett Johansson to mind, and her baby-blue eyes held an ocean of promises.  However, her luscious curves were well protected, for the young divorcée, in addition to her mouth-watering attributes, also possessed a ten-year-old son called Billy whose vice-like grip on his mother was as immovable and effective as a medieval chastity belt.  It was obvious that the route to the winsome Larissa’s heart was through her son, for she made it quite plain that she would be delighted to go on a date as long as it was a child-friendly activity and Billy could come too.

Sorely tempted, Richard reminded himself of his rule.   And broke it.

 

Body and Soul wins two CTC awards.

Body&SoulPosterVagabond Player’s production of Body and Soul  was a winner in two categories at the Community Theatre Coalition awards. Elizabeth Elwood and Jacqollyne Keath won for Best Sound Design and Miles Lavkulich won for Best Lighting. Kudos also to Mary Larsen, Miles and Elizabeth for their nominations for Best Set Decoration and Best Significant Achievement. Congratulations to all the CTC winners and nominees, and a special thank you to the wonderful Body and Soul cast, crew and production team that made the project so successful.

 

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Body and Soul director, Elizabeth Elwood, received the award for Best Sound Design.

 

Cast photo

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Set design by Elizabeth Elwood
Set design by Elizabeth Elwood

Oops! Do I dare admit a link between one of my characters and a real-life person!

Front coverThe Devil Gets His Due and Other Mystery Stories, as with my other books, comes with a disclaimer that the characters in the various tales are entirely a product of my imagination. However, unlike my other books, Devil has one notable exception where fact meets fiction, and what fun that was to write.

Anne Kent in “The House of Once Before” is the one exception and her character is based on National Post columnist, Barbara Kay, who has encouraged my writing ever since I sent out review copies of my first book. After reading To Catch an Actress, Barbara contacted me to say how much she had enjoyed it and gave me permission to quote her endorsements. She continued to be supportive after my second book was published, and subsequently, when I was visiting Montreal, we arranged to meet.

3 Day Event_Front coverWe discussed mystery writing—Barbara also had a manuscript in the works, later to be published as the intriguing mystery novel, A Three-Day Event—and when I told her my intention to use Montreal as a setting for a future story, she laughed and asked if my outspoken protagonist, Bertram Beary, was going to meet an equally outspoken newspaper columnist on his travels.  I took this comment as lightly as Barbara had made it, but after I returned to Vancouver, we kept in touch.

0595428509.qxdSubsequently, I wrote two more books and after The Beacon and Other Mystery Stories came out, Barbara gave me another wonderful boost when she featured my series in her column. A couple of years later, Barbara and her husband were downsizing, and she wrote a column about their new home, which happened to be a house that she had visited and loved in her youth.  The next time we were in touch, I quipped that her move would make a great subject for a mystery story. She reminded me that we had joked about Beary meeting an outspoken lady columnist and suggested that this was my chance to make it happen.

prospect pointAnd so “The House of Once Before” was born. Naturally, Barbara’s new home had an imaginary set of characters as the first occupants, for these provided the mystery that Anne Kent solved. It was great fun to create a literary mystery for a female protagonist who, like Bertram Beary, never fears to say what she thinks and refuses to hide behind the veil of political correctness. Thank you, Barbara, for stepping into my story and making it special.

[box] The photo above was taken at Prospect Point during Barbara’s recent visit to Vancouver.[/box]

 

Inspiration from Fort Benton

One of the advantages of writing a short-story collection is that I can send my characters travelling to places that I have enjoyed visiting myself. One such location is a small town that we discovered while searching for a coffee shop during a cross-country driving trip several years ago. Fort Benton, which boasts of being ‘The birthplace of Montana’, is located on the Missouri River a little below the series of rapids that gave Great Falls its name. Because the river was not navigable beyond that point, the town became the place where the steamboats stopped and the stage coaches began.

FFF39Starting as a fur-trading post and later sold to the military, Fort Benton was where infamous trails such as the Whoop-up Trail to Alberta and the Fort Walsh Trail to Saskatchewan began. According to one of the plaques in the riverside park, the town in the early days was so wild that the U.S. Calvalry had to be called in if arrests had to be made.

M0NTANA FLAGSWith the advent of the North West Mounted Police in 1874, however, the whiskey trade was halted and an era of commercial interaction and cooperation between Canada and Fort Benton began. This historic connection is reflected in the three flagpoles that stand by the river, for the Canadian flag flies between the U.S. and the Montana State flags.

THE CAMELBACK BRIDGEIn 1883, the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Helena and the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Calgary caused a decline in business and ended Fort Benton’s importance as a prosperous commercial hub; however, there are still many fascinating sites to see that reflect the town’s history and its glory days. The Fort Benton Bridge, which was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River in Montana Territory, is the oldest steel truss bridge remaining in the state. THE COLONEL'S ENDAlthough a new traffic bridge was built in 1963, the old bridge is accessible as a walking bridge and provides lovely views of the river and surrounding hills. When I strolled out and watched the powerful Missouri churning past the metal plates that sheathed the concrete piers below the bridge, I realized it was the perfect location to begin a mystery story.

GRAND HOTELAnother striking historical landmark in Fort Benton is the Grand Union Hotel, built in 1882. Although the hotel failed when the town’s fortunes declined, a multi-million-dollar project in the nineties restored the hotel to its former elegance, and now it provides a delightful lodging and dining experience for visitors to the town. Fine dining, old-world atmosphere, and a saloon providing beer on tap with highly original names! My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay there, and I resolved on the spot that one of my story characters would have to stay there at some point in the future.

CLOSE UP OF SHEPThe thing that most deeply touched my heart, though, when we first visited the town, was the statue of a dog that stands outside the Grand Union Hotel. Our dog, Max, had died shortly before we began our trip, so the Montana memorial was particularly moving for me. The statue is of a dog called Shep, whose sad story goes back to 1936 when his master died and the body was sent back east at the request of his family. The faithful dog kept vigil at the railway station, continuing to watch for his master until the day he died. Shep was buried on the hillside overlooking the railway station and a small cairn marks the spot, alongside the original Shep memorial.

FB28The statue by the hotel is a bronze sculpture surrounded by bricks that people can buy to commemorate their own pets. Naturally, we bought a brick to commemorate Max, and on a subsequent trip to Montana, we returned to see it in place. So if you ever visit Fort Benton, be sure to look for the brick that bears the name, Max, the Ho Hum Husky.

FB33The Shep statue was not the only moving tribute to dogs in the town of Fort Benton. The military park adjacent to the fort has a section devoted to service dogs, and predictably, one of the plaques is dedicated to a Shep who served in Vietnam. Naturally, having visited the two Shep memorials and having read the touching dedication to service dogs in the military park, it was inevitable that the final story in my latest book would be a novella set in Fort Benton and developed around a series of incidents related to dogs. Now that The Devil Gets his Due and Other Mystery Stories is out, I hope readers will enjoy their literary visit to this charming town as much as I enjoyed our stays there.

CH3Oh, and by the way, Fort Benton did have that coffee shop we were looking for, and it was a delightful one too!

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Now available on Amazon

 

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EXCERPT:  The footbridge that crosses the Missouri River at Fort Benton is the most historically significant bridge in Montana. Certainly, it is one of the oldest, built in 1888, a year before the Territory became a State and the first bridge to ford the Missouri in Montana. For seventy-five years, the steel-truss bridge carried traffic—horses, carts and wagons in the early days, and later motor vehicles—but in 1963, a new bridge was built a quarter-mile upstream, and the old steel bridge was closed. The striking quartet of trapezoidal trusses connecting to the east bank remains intact; however, the original swing span that was constructed to allow the passage of steamboats was replaced when the centre pier was washed out in a flood in 1908. Today, the west bank connects to the original structure by a long camelback span, supported, like the original trusses, by concrete piers sheathed in metal plates. The old bridge now serves as a pedestrian feature of the river park, although it can only be accessed from the west side, as the cottonwood-laden east bank is privately owned. So while the traffic in and out of Fort Benton motors across the Chouteau County Memorial Bridge by the Grand Union Hotel, tourists strolling the river path can walk out over the old bridge and look back towards the unique little town that constitutes the birthplace of Montana.

However, on a Saturday morning in September, tourists are a rare commodity, and the locals, long used to the black metal span yawning over their river, rarely deem it worth the crossing, knowing that they simply have to return again. Walkers and joggers stick to the river path and feel no temptation to turn onto the concrete walkway that leads to the bridge. But children are another matter, and the young Mason boys and their friend, Rory O’Mara, considered it an adventure to walk out along the wooden planking and stare down at the swirling waters below.

As they reached the point where the camelback truss ended and the trio of Baltimore trusses began, the boys turned back to see one of their schoolmates walking her dog along the river path. The German shepherd was bounding ahead, and as it came to the bridge, Jack Mason whistled and yelled out, “Hey, Shep! Here boy!” As an afterthought, he waved to the girl and added, “Sally, come join us.”

Shep darted onto the planked walkway. Sally waved back and followed the dog onto the bridge. She was only part way along the camelback span by the time the dog reached the boys. Ralph Mason gave the dog a perfunctory pat and then leaned out over the railing. He liked to see the powerful water surging up and curling around the metal plates.

Jack and Rory started to play with Shep, but Ralph remained mesmerized by the water below the bridge. Something that looked like a sack seemed to be bobbing against the concrete pier.

As Sally reached the end of the first span, Shep abandoned Jack and raced back to meet her. Rory turned to see what had transfixed his friend’s brother.

“There’s a sack down there,” said Ralph. “It’s caught on the pier. It’s full of some stuff, and there’s bits of cloth attached to the back of it.”

“No way,” said Rory. “A sack wouldn’t float.” He moved to the railing and stared down into the water.

“Jeez, you moron,” he said. “That’s not a sack. It’s got legs. That’s a body down there.”

Jack abandoned Shep and came to the railing.

As the boys stared downwards, the body lifted, and an expanse of tan cowhide rose and subsided, its tattooed insignia of interlocking antlers hovering momentarily in view before it glided back under the slate grey water. 

“Holy moly, that’s The Colonel!” said Ralph.  

Jack’s eyes bulged and his face went white. Then he gasped as the force of the current rolled the torso against the pier. He felt suddenly sick. He reeled away from the railing and threw up.

“What are you guys staring at?”

Sally’s voice behind him made Ralph look round. She and Shep had reached the centre span.

“We gotta get the sheriff,” said Rory. “There’s a body down there.” 

“No,” breathed Sally. “Are you serious?” 

She moved towards the railing.

Ralph stopped her. Even at the age of ten, cowboy-country gallantry was ingrained in his psyche, and he had already seen the effect of the corpse on his older brother. 

“Don’t look,” he said firmly. “He doesn’t have a head.”[/box]

 

Now available – Body and Soul

front-coverAfter a highly successful run with Vagabond Players at the Bernie Legge Theatre, Body and Soul is now available for other theatre groups. This charming romantic comedy was enthusiastically received by New Westminster audiences and the play is sure to be a hit with community theatre groups everywhere. The plot combines time travel with the supernatural, the script is witty and original, and the story is full of surprises. For queries about royalties, contact info@elihuentertainment.com, and for additional information, view the Body and Soul page in the play section of this website and read about the Vagabond Players production.

Body and Soul

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a marionette musical called The Christmas Spirit, which Elwoodettes Marionettes produced for the Vagabond Players Christmas show in 2003. The audiences were greatly amused by the whimsical plot where, though time travel, a woman named Mary Fairfax was brought forward several hundred years and found herself inhabiting an old English manor house which was haunted by her spirit. Thus she found herself present in both body and soul.

The Bernie Legge Theatre, Queens Park, New Westminster
The Bernie Legge Theatre, Queens Park, New Westminster

Because the plot went over so well, I thought it would be fun to take that concept and use it in a romantic comedy for actors, as opposed to marionettes, and what better place to premiere the play than the Bernie Legge Theatre, which reputedly has several ghosts of its own. The original story took place in England, but the play is set in Canada—in a heritage home in the Queens Park area of New Westminster.

A visit to Irving House.
A visit to Irving House.

The historical details have been adjusted accordingly. Mary’s ‘tragic’ story now stems from an event during the second Boer War, specifically the battle of Paardeberg Drift, a struggle where Canadian soldiers stood out for their bravery. The references to Mary being the star of the local operatic society are also pertinent as there was an opera house in New Westminster at the time. The design for the wainscoting and other set details were inspired by a tour of Irving House.

The real Wee Geordie.
The real Wee Geordie.

One reference in the play needs clarification: Geordie Fairfax, the tall, cantankerous Scottish landlord in the play, is referred to by his tenants as ‘Wee Geordie’, an eponym that will resonate with people who are old enough to have seen the delightful 1950s comedy of that name that starred Bill Travers. The film was loosely based on the life of Scots Olympian and farmer, Tom Nicolson, so the real Geordie, being a sturdy hammer thrower, was definitely not ‘Wee’.

Jim Keary's Queen of the Night
Jim Keary’s Queen of the Night

Another point of interest for long-time Vagabond Players patrons: The opera collages that will be decorating the set are the artwork of the late James Keary, a member of the club who acted in and designed sets for Vagabond Players shows during the eighties. Jim is fondly remembered by all who knew him. He was a great supporter of my own artistic endeavours and I like to think that he, along with his collages, will be there in spirit on opening night.

Body&SoulPosterThe play is now cast, with a wonderfully talented group of actors, and an equally fine production team is in place. The lovely poster design by Michael McCray is ready to go, reflecting the New Westminster heritage-house location. The cast list and other details can be seen on the Body and Soul page in the play section on this website. Another new play! Another new adventure.

Inspired by Opera.

When I recently attended the charming Burnaby Lyric Opera performance of La Bohème at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, the afternoon brought back memories of many lovely productions of the popular Puccini opera. Surprisingly, considering how familiar I was with the opera, I had only seen one other production on stage, and that was with the Vancouver Opera in 1970.

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Metropolitan Opera production with Stratas.

However, I had watched several filmed productions, including the wonderful Zeffirelli film with Mirella Freni and a Metropolitan Opera version in which Teresa Stratas was by far the most consumptive-looking Mimi I have ever seen. The glorious score is familiar to me from listening to the Pavarotti/Freni recording many times, not to mention from working on the arias with the wonderful Luigi Wood in my younger days as a singer.

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Chorus time – on the other side of the curtain.

My familiarity with La Bohème also stems from experience on the other side of the curtain. I had been in the VOA chorus for the company’s 1976 production, which was directed by Jan Rubes, and starred Clarice Carson as Mimi, William McKinney as Rodolfo and Mary Costa as Musetta. The chorus as a whole was only on stage in Act II, by far the liveliest act and great fun for the participants. However, the few tiny bits and pieces from Act III—customs officers, milkmaids and peasants scurrying back and forth between the customs house and the tavern—were allotted to a handful of the chorus singers too. My memories of that scene are vivid.

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The Pavarotti/Freni Recording

The setting is a cold February morning and the snow is slowly falling. I can still remember the feel of the chill in the air, which could have been a draught from the wings as I crossed the massive Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage, but more likely, it was the dim blue lighting and the sporadic snowflakes that created such a wintry atmosphere that I actually felt cold. It was eerie on that vast stage, looking back at the warmly lit windows of the tavern, and then gliding across to the snow-covered customs house. No wonder, years later, when wanting a suitably spine-chilling atmosphere for a mystery story, I recalled this experience and gave my heroine, Philippa, one of those bit parts. Naturally, in between singing her chorus music, she also solves the murder of a spectacularly unpopular prima donna. Appropriately, the story is titled “Mimi’s Farewell” and is part of an upcoming collection in the Beary mystery series.

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The Burnaby Lyric Opera production.

The subject matter of the opera lends itself well to the mystery genre. Based on Henry Mürger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, the opera deals with the life of young artists, who can sometimes be volatile and insecure individuals. Public perception conventionally thinks of Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship as a gloriously romantic love affair, but their story is actually a tale of two people every bit as riven by jealousy and quarrels as Musetta and Marcello, the secondary characters who spend most of their onstage time having spats. The difference is that, in the principals’ case, the negative scenes happen offstage. But what a perfect scenario for a mystery story where the couple’s relationship differs dramatically on stage and off and the detective must pick up the nuances that distinguish what is real and what is histrionic.

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The composer himself.

While it was fun to use the darker aspects of Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship in my mystery writing, I found a use for their more conventionally romantic image when writing my play, Body and Soul, which is due to premiere with the Vagabond Players in October of this year. The setting is a heritage house, haunted by a ghost who, in life, was a leading soprano with the local operatic society. Her most glorious memories are of moments on stage with her tenor and lover, Umberto, as they sang the love duet from La Bohème. Needless to say, the occupants of the house have to be very careful about their choice of music if they feel like breaking into song. More news to come on this project. Thank you, Puccini! So much inspiration in one glorious opera!

Episode Eighty-three: Farewell to our beloved pet.

Two weeks after our shows were finished for the season, my fears at that closing matinee were justified. January had brought snow, and although it was not a heavy fall, the park and trails were lined with patches of white. On one morning walk, as we crossed the top of the park, Edna and I suddenly saw a patch of red where Max had christened the snow. I took him to the vet that afternoon and Dr. Foukal ran a series of tests and prescribed medication. Our hope was that Max had an infection that was curable, and for a couple of weeks, it seemed as if this was the case.

Happy to be in his cottage garden.
Happy to be in his cottage garden.

Pleased to see that the bleeding had stopped, we decided to go to the cottage for a week. Max, as usual, was delighted to set off. How we relished that week of Coast walks and cozy time in the cottage! Max enjoyed every minute of it and we returned to town, relieved, for everything seemed to have settled down again. However, that evening, when I went to see why Max had not come up to our bedroom, I found him sitting by the back door, unusually subdued and reluctant to come past Minx, who was perched in the middle of the kitchen with a feisty look on her face.

Or on his cottage deck.
Or on his cottage deck.

On February 1, however, Max seemed his usual spirited self. He growled at one of the dogs in the park and played his ‘hunt the cookie’ game once we were home. But that afternoon, I took him for a second walk, and to my dismay, I noticed that the bleeding had started again. I phoned the vet right away. Dr. Foukal was tied up with an emergency, but I managed to get an appointment for the next day.

Defiant to the last.
Defiant to the last.

The next morning, Max refused to eat his breakfast. I took him for a stroll up and down the lane. He had no trouble walking, but when he tried to pee on the neighbouring Rottweiler’s fence, nothing came out. When we returned to the house, I tried to tempt him with a piece of chicken. His reaction reminded me of the time all those years before when I had ordered him to drop the dead mouse and he had looked me straight in the eye as he dropped it down his gullet. Now, with the same defiant stare, Max spat the piece of chicken out at my feet.

The end of an era.
The end of an era.

Once Dr. Foukal examined Max, we realized the situation was grim. We were referred to the clinic in Central Valley, and we had to leave Max there for further tests. When the specialist contacted us a couple of hours later, she was in tears. Max was dying. He had cancer and his kidneys were about to fail. There was very little time left, and if we didn’t make the decision to have him put to sleep, he would die in agony.

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A lovely tribute to a special pet.

Our last two hours with Max were spent in the family room at the clinic. Ironically, he seemed much as usual, happy to see us and content to settle down beside his people. Katie came from work to join us, and the three of us stayed with him, prolonging the visit as much as we could. In the end, Max went quickly and peacefully, but for us, it was not just the heartbreaking loss of a beloved family member, it seemed like the end of an era.

Our star.
Our star.

Max’s passing was mourned deeply by us. I cried for many weeks after he had gone, but the cards and condolences from friends or people who had attended the shows made us realize what a special place he had taken in so many other people’s hearts. Dan Hillborn wrote a moving article in the Burnaby Now, and Hugh and I couldn’t walk around New Westminster without someone who had seen the obituary expressing their commiseration at our loss. Max, the Ho Hum Husky, might have started out as a rescue dog with a lot of issues that needed to be resolved but, bless him, he ended up a star.