Carry Tiger to Mountain
Reviewed: June 1, 2005
By: Mark Zuehlke
Publisher: Dundurn Press
259 pages, $11.98
Carry Tiger to Mountain is the second in a series of mysteries featuring
Tofino coroner Elias McCann of Vancouver Island. McCann is an independently
wealthy second generation remittance man and former soldier in the Canadian
Forces whose natural inclinations would be to be left alone to wander the
woods and seashore with his dog, Fergus. An essentially private fellow who
carries around a load of guilt over the death of his wife, McCannís devotion
to his girlfriend, Vhanna Chan, is tinged by the knowledge that he was with
her the night his wife committed suicide.
Coroners in small town Canada donít have to be either doctors or persons
with legal expertise. McCann, who has investments in a number of successful
local businesses, took the job when he was approached about doing it out of
a sense of civic duty and because it was a good friend who did the asking.
His relations with the local RCMP detachment are mixed. Most of the members
get along with him, but the staff sergeant is convinced he killed his wife
and wonít let go of that idea. If ever anything goes wrong in Tofino, Elias
is near the top of his list of usual suspects. McCann simply gets called out
as a witness to death, and thatís exactly all that Sgt. Danchuk wants him
to do, but McCann is a bit like Quincy or perhaps Jordan Cavanaugh, in that
he canít let go of something like a murder even when he wants to.
In the case at hand Elias is called out to deal with the aftermath of a shipwreck.
A rusty freighter full of Oriental boat people is meeting its doom near Tofino
when the call comes for him to join the official party.
We already know a little about this before Elias does, thanks to the third
person italic opening of the book, told from the point of view of Kim Hoai,
a Cambodian refugee who is part of the crew of the Snakehead who is running
the operation. We will visit Kimís viewpoint a number of times during the
book, which is otherwise told to us by Elias.
When the boat goes down Cheng decides to do away with any of the survivors
who might possibly identify him, and his cold blooded approach to this task
is the engine behind this novelís plot.
Two things impede his progress. One is that Elias finds a little girl who
is not quite dead and saves her life, thus becoming involved in the welfare
of at least one member of the shipís population. The other is that the aforementioned
Kim is one of Vhannaís few surviving relatives, and he signed on for this
trip with the express hope of tracking down his cousin, whose public notices
he has seen in Phnom Penh.
There is a problem here, since Vhannaís parents were murdered in front of
her by members of the Khmer Rouge, and Kim was, for a time, one of the forced
child soldiers of this murderous Communist army. How he and Vhanna handle
this rift between them is one of the big questions in the story.
Zuehlke was inspired to write this novel by the very real arrival of a number
of ships of boat people off the BC coast a few years back, smuggled into Canada
as a port of first entry with the intention of being buried in sweatshops
in the eastern United States to work off their passage.
As for the rest of his creativity, the journalist side of him wrote a book
about remittance men, as well as books about hiking on Vancouver Island and
other places, and articles on every subject you can think of, while the historian
has written several massive volumes of Canadian war history. He writes these
mysteries for relaxation. I see by the recent publisherís catalogs that another
of them is due out in paperback shortly.
Mark Zuehlke is a former Berton House writer-in-residence.