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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

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, McCann’s 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 don’t 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 won’t 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 that’s exactly all that Sgt. Danchuk wants him to do, but McCann is a bit like Quincy or perhaps Jordan Cavanaugh, in that he can’t 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 Kim’s 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 novel’s 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 ship’s population. The other is that the aforementioned Kim is one of Vhanna’s 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 Vhanna’s 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 publisher’s catalogs that another of them is due out in paperback shortly.

Mark Zuehlke is a former Berton House writer-in-residence.

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