We’re Canadian and we cannot resist talking about the weather!
Fellow Canadian author Mike Martin is back to talk about the latest instalment in his Sergeant Windflower mysteries that are set in and around Grand Bank in Newfoundland.
Mike was previously on the show in episode 45 so after he reads to us we have a catch-up about what Sgt. Windflower has been up to since we last encountered him (including marriage and a baby) and how Mike continues to weave social issues into his mystery novels.
In the intro I also mention that on Valentine’s Day 2020 I finished the first draft in the next Freddie Lark mystery (Lark Underground). It is always a giddy time when the first draft of a book is complete. It feels good to celebrate that milestone. Soon I’ll be getting down to the hard work of revising, revising, revising and hope to release the book in April 2020.
This week’s mystery author
Mike Martin is the author of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series, his most recent is Fire, Fog and Water, which is the 8th book in the series. A Long Ways from Home was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award as the best light mystery of the year and Darkest Before the Dawn won for the 2018 Bony Blithe Award.
Mike is currently Chair of the Board of Crime Writers of Canada, a national organization promoting Canadian crime and mystery writers. He is also a member of Ottawa Independent Writers, Capital Crime Writers, and the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild. A freelance writer, specializing in workplace and social policy issues, his first published book was Change the Things You Can: Dealing With Difficult People. Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, he now lives in Ottawa.
To learn more about Mike visit SgtWindflowerMysteries.com
You can also click here to listen to the interview on YouTube.
Excerpt from Fire, Fog and Water
Sergeant Winston Windflower was not happy. That was unusual. Anybody who knew Windflower would say he was almost always happy. Today though, anyone who saw him could tell he was certainly not happy. The funny thing is, if someone dared to ask him why he was so unhappy, he wouldn’t have been able to say because even he didn’t know.
Everybody from his wife, Sheila, to his friends at work, to Molly the cat—if she could talk that is—would tell you that he was not a happy man. The only ones who were exempt from his blistering wrath were Lady, his collie, and the joy of his life, little Amelia Louise.
He started the day off fighting with Sheila, and that was unusual. He never fought with Sheila. She would say later that he picked the fight. He would say that it was already there; he just jumped in. None of that mattered. They fought, and some harsh words had been exchanged. Windflower left in a huff, something he had never done before.
He was still in that huff when he got to work at the RCMP detachment in Grand Bank. The rain, drizzle and fog didn’t help his mood either. It had been raining or drizzling or foggy every day that it hadn’t snowed, which was every second day. He didn’t know what made him madder, rain or snow, but he knew for sure that he was sun-starved. And he knew he was angry.
Things didn’t improve at work. His second-in-command Corporal Eddie Tizzard got an earful for eating crackers in the lunchroom. He looked shocked, and more than a little hurt, when Windflower yelled at him. He was always eating in the lunchroom and anywhere else he could get a snack. So what was the problem in doing that today?
Constable Yvette Jones was next in line to feel Windflower’s fury when she arrived at his office to ask for some leave so she could visit her boyfriend in Manitoba.
“Didn’t you just have leave?” asked Windflower.
“I did at Christmas, and it’s only a few days over Easter,” said Jones.
“It’s always a few days, then a few days more,” Windflower snapped back. “Doesn’t anyone care about anybody else around here any more?”
Jones felt like she was going to cry—and she never cried—when she was shooed out of Windflower’s office. She passed Constable Rick Smithson who was off duty but had a requisition form in his hands and was headed towards Windflower’s office.
“Not today,” Jones suggested.
“It’s only to upgrade our printer,” said Smithson, the resident tech expert.
Jones shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”
Smithson thought he knew better and walked into Windflower’s office with his requisition.
“What do you want?” demanded Windflower. “Don’t be asking me to approve more funding for your toys. That guy in Marystown is already screaming at me. Are you deliberately trying to get me into trouble?”
Smithson started to mumble a response but gave up under the stony glare of his superior officer. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” he finally said.
Windflower just scowled as the younger officer slunk out of his office.
Jones was standing at the counter in the lunchroom when an ashen-looking Smithson came by.
“Told you,” she said.
“I’m going home,” was all Smithson said in response.
“Me too,” said Tizzard. “I was just having a snack at the end of my shift when he started yelling at me. He’s got a real bee in his bonnet.”
“More like a hornet’s nest,” said Jones. “I’ve never seen the boss like this.”
“Me either,” said Tizzard. “But he’s got a kettle full of steam, and unless he figures out how to let go of it, he’s going to blow.”
They were still commiserating when Betsy Molloy, the office administrative assistant, came into the room.
“Lord alive! He’s a cranky-bones this morning,” said Betsy. “I said good morning, and he just snarled.”
Minutes later they heard Windflower stomp out of the Grand Bank RCMP Detachment, and as they peered out the window, they saw his Jeep peeling away from the parking lot.
Windflower arrived home, hoping to make some sort of peace with Sheila. But she and the baby had left. There was no note or indication about where they’d gone or how long they’d be. Only Molly and Lady were left behind to greet him. He brushed off Molly, grabbed Lady and threw the dog’s leash into the back seat of his Jeep. Molly was highly miffed, but Lady was thrilled that she and her master were apparently going on an adventure.
It wasn’t an adventure for Windflower, though. All he knew was that he needed to get away from other people and from his life, at least for a little while. The day was dark, gray and foggy with rain clouds threatening to drop more miserably cold moisture on him and everyone else. At least it wasn’t snowing, he thought, which was a definite possibility in the netherworld of March weather in Newfoundland. In fact, the last snow dump had melted away, leaving mini-snowbanks of a crusty brown nature, and pools of water that would linger around all day and turn into skating rinks during the night.
Windflower knew he needed to get out, breathe and think. As a resident of Grand Bank, he could get close to nature pretty quickly when he needed to. That was a real blessing for him. His head was so muddled as he drove to the trail past the Grand Bank Clinic that all he could think about were problems with no solutions. There was trouble at home, trouble at work, even trouble at the beautiful old B & B where springtime had revealed a massive leak in the roof. Luckily, they’d found it before it completely destroyed the lower levels of the building, and they’d managed to patch the roof. But that was a temporary measure. The whole roof would have to be repaired, and that was going to cost at least $10,000, which was a lot of money he and Sheila didn’t have right now.
Windflower parked the Jeep and let Lady out of the back. She was so happy, she ran around the car three times before heading off to explore the area around them. Windflower smiled, despite his mood. Maybe that’s why he still got along with Lady. She was happy to be with him and to just be alive. The dog ran back to get him and to tell him what a wonderful day it was. At least that’s what Windflower heard.
“Okay girl. Let’s go,” he said, once he got his insulated runners from the trunk. He ran up the trail, followed close behind by Lady. He sprinted through the woods to the top of the hill and stopped at the lookout. He was out of breath but finally feeling wonderful with a runner’s high that came from lack of oxygen and a rapidly increased heart rate.
He paused for a moment to take in the view of the town, partially obscured by a massive fogbank beginning its intrusion into Grand Bank. It was like it was eating the town alive, street by street and block by block. He was sure that by the time he got to the bottom, the town would be completely consumed, just like his dark mood, now returning, was taking over his day. He gazed at Lady and then took off down the hill. It was a bit greasier on the descent because less snow had melted in this area of the trail. He slowed a little, but as he neared the bottom, it wasn’t enough.
He reached a precarious turn and felt one foot slide off into the distance in front of him. When he tried to correct, the other foot followed its partner and his head and torso soon fell into step. Seconds later he was sliding underneath the branches of the trees by the side of the trail and deeper into the wooded area. He stopped abruptly next to a large boulder buried under the snow.
At least he thought it was a rock. He noticed it might be something different when Lady started sniffing and poking at it.
“What is it, Lady?” he asked. “Did you find something?” He thought the dog may have uncovered a dead animal like a rabbit or vole. But Lady’s frantic digging told him it might be something bigger. He pulled himself up on his hands and knees and moved Lady aside. He started digging around the area where the dog had made an opening. At first, he found a carpet, an old-style large rug that had been rolled up. As he managed to pull back more snow, he could see that there appeared to be something inside it.
He pushed back some of the carpet. At first, he felt it. Then he gazed down at the human head, its hair frozen and matted with blood.
Sergeant Windflower reached for his cellphone.
Windflower managed to crawl out of the bush and pulled Lady out with him. He didn’t want her to interfere any more with what certainly looked like a crime scene. There was almost no way that a person could wrap themselves in an old carpet and slide in here alone. It sure looked like foul play. But that wasn’t up to him to determine, at least not yet. He called it in to Betsy.
Tizzard and Jones were the first to arrive.
Windflower showed them the body and barked at them to secure the scene. He walked down to his car to put Lady inside and to warm himself up. Then came the paramedics, and he briefed them about the location of the body. He led his officers deal with the body and investigation and drove back to his office.
He stopped along the way to drop Lady off at the house. There was no sign of Sheila or little Amelia Louise, but Windflower reminded himself that wasn’t particularly unusual. Sheila often had errands to run, messages she called them, and she was still the Mayor of Grand Bank for a few more months until she returned to school part-time, a decision she had made just a couple of months ago. She wanted to eventually do a Master of Business Administration but had to clear up her scholastic records and complete the course load for an old degree program she had started several years earlier but had never finished.
Windflower supported her. Yes, he was sure of that. But he had a nagging feeling in his gut about being left behind or out of place or maybe just plain angry. Molly got the brunt of his discomfort next. She approached in her gentle, pleading feline way for some attention and stroking from her master. But she was met with a snarl and definite “no” from Windflower. The cat slunk away to sulk and show the world how badly she had been treated. But since her world right now consisted only of Windflower and Lady, who was already curled up on her bed in the corner, it was fruitless. If cats could sigh, she sighed her loudest plaintiff meow and went to her own corner of the kitchen.
Lost in his dark mood, Windflower was oblivious to the cat’s pain. He thought about writing Sheila a funny, yet remorseful, note but couldn’t think of anything except how he was still hurt from their morning fight somehow. He was in bad shape emotionally. Pitifully so. Uncle Frank would call it sitting on his pity pot. Maybe he should call Frank. But that thought and the one to write Sheila a note vanished when his cellphone rang. It was his boss from Marystown, Acting Inspector Richard Raymond. He paused for a moment to collect himself before answering.
“What’s going on over there, Sergeant? Another dead body on your watch,” said Raymond.
Windflower wondered how he could know that. Did he have spies in Grand Bank watching him? Before he could test out that theory, Raymond continued.
“Your admin told me you are investigating a death near the clinic,” he said.
“Yes, Sir,” said Windflower. “I was out for a run this morning and happened to find a body in the brush near the trail. Doctor Sanjay is there now, and I hope to have his preliminary report soon.”
“Age, height, any strange markings?”
“I don’t know, Sir. I didn’t want to disturb the scene. There might be more evidence nearby.”
The acting inspector decided Windflower needed a policing 101 lesson. “Getting the basic info doesn’t disturb anything,” said Raymond. “We learn that at the academy, Sergeant. Time wasted in an investigation cannot be found again.”
Windflower thought about saying something smart in return but decided to hold his tongue instead. That just left an opening for another salvo by his superior.
“Where does one get the time for a run in the middle of the day anyway? Maybe you have too much time on your hands over there in Grand Bank. I was thinking that maybe we could transfer one of your crew to HQ. We have lots of work to keep us busy,” said Raymond.
Now Windflower was in serious trouble. He could actually feel his blood boil and the colour in his face increase in intensity. He wanted so badly to tell the acting inspector exactly what he thought of him. But somehow his inner angel saved him. “Sorry, Sir. I have to go. I have another call. Maybe it’s Doctor Sanjay. I’ll send you a report tonight.”
Windflower closed the phone and looked around for something safe and soft to hit. His pets stayed in their corners and pretended he wasn’t there. He paused, counted to 10, then counted another 10. By the time he got to 50, his breathing was almost back to normal. He even felt better enough to absent-mindedly rub Molly when she came back towards him. He took one long breath and left.
He was on his way to the office when his Jeep seemed to take a turn of its own toward the Mug-Up café. The small restaurant was hot and full, but Windflower managed to get one last seat in the far end away from the bustle of the morning. He ordered a coffee and muffin from Marie, the long-time waitress, and surveyed the scene in front of him. People were chatting and greeting each other like they hadn’t seen one another in years. Yet Windflower knew that they likely had the same visit yesterday and the day before that. He nodded his thanks to Marie when she brought him his coffee and a warm blueberry muffin with butter.
“Morning, Sergeant,” came a friendly and familiar voice as Windflower was digging into his muffin.
“Good morning, Herb,” said Windflower, greeting his friend and, most recently, his tutor in the magic and mystery of classical music. “How is Moira doing?”
“She’s coming along fine,” said Stoodley. “But it’s made running this place a challenge ’til she gets back on her feet.”
“That was a nasty fall. She’s lucky she only broke her ankle.”
“Don’t tell her that,” warned Stoodley. “She’s getting angry that she can’t get up and go like she’s used to. Can’t say as I blame her. I guess that fate is awaiting all of us, but we have to maintain a good attitude. ‘With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.’”
Windflower almost smiled at that last quote. It was his cue to reply with a rich Shakespearian ditty of his own. But instead he gathered up the last crumbs of his muffin and drained his coffee mug. “I have to get back,” was all he said.
“Winston, are you okay?” asked Herb.
“I will be,” said Windflower as he stood to leave.
“I’m here if you want to talk,” said the other man.
Windflower nodded and went to the cash to pay his bill. He waved goodbye to his friend who was still standing in the area near his table. “That’s two people who’ve offered help this morning,” he mused out loud. “I guess I’m not hiding what’s going on with me very well. Maybe I should talk to somebody.”
That thought lasted until he opened the front door to the RCMP detachment and heard the screaming.
Interview with Mike Martin
Alexandra: Lovely. Thanks so much, Mike. That was great. What I was reading your piece earlier today, my favorite line was about the town being eaten alive, street by street, by the fog. I just thought it was so beautiful.
Mike: It’s certainly the story of Grand Bank and Newfoundland. The fog is everywhere. And when it comes, it just takes over everything.
Alexandra: I can imagine. I’ve never been to Newfoundland. I was thinking before our call that one of the greatest things about reading and specifically mystery novels in this case, but also just in general, is that we get to visit other places and it’s often places that we’ve never been.
And it’s such a joy, too, for me as a Canadian, someone who’s never been to Newfoundland to be able to experience it through your books.
One of the questions I wanted to ask you, we when we last spoke, you’d written five Windflower Mysteries, and now this is number eight, Fire, Fog and Water. So things have really changed since we last spoke.
Sheila was his love interest. But now they’re together officially and have a child.
Can you tell me a bit about that evolution? Has it has that been easy for the sergeant?
Mike: I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to move from being single and to doing whatever you want to. Being a being a father and a husband and having more responsibilities. And and I think that’s one of the challenges with father’s life is is how does he make that shift?
He loves being there and he loves his little girl. But we all know that it takes over your life and that it’s it’s something else that you have to manage and there’s less time for yourself. And so he’s working his way through all of that.
The other thing that’s going on is that he’s been a Mountie for a long time now and and he’s been in Grand Bank and he’s been lucky that he’s been able to stay there for so long. Usually you get transferred around quite a bit more, but he’s got some seniority and he’s got some connections. He’s managed to stay there.
It’s likely that they would ask him to go somewhere else at some point in the future. So that’s weighing on him and also whether or not he wants to stay. Being a police officer because it does it does bring another set of challenges to be a police officer and to end to have a family, because now you have people relying on you at home.
Alexandra: Right. And I imagine what must cross officers’ minds is the danger inherent in the job. Canada’s a pretty safe, safe country, relatively speaking.
But still, things do happen when people are serving as officers of the peace for sure.
Mike: And in one of the previous books, Eddie Tizard, got shot. It’s rare in Newfoundland and not that common an occurrence across Canada, but it is there. It’s more the not knowing what will happen and not even though the risk is low to sort of got shot and shot quite seriously.
And it was immediate danger because it’s not very healthy to get shot.
And also there’s a threat. They are there first responders. So they have to be in dangerous situations. And they see a lot of things that they wouldn’t want to see.
Windflower in his early days was traffic out in B.C. And he says he’d never wanted in traffic again because you see these horrific accidents and things that happen there and that’s trauma and also horror film to your psyche as well.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly. And I imagine, too, when one person is involved in the police force and then your partner isn’t, that’s a little tricky as well. Sheila’s the mayor. She’s finishing shortly, but she’s probably got connections to Grand Bank.
If her partner gets transferred away, then there’s kind of an obligation for her to go as well.
Mike: Yes. It’s a great life. But in the great life, there are challenges. And there’s there’s no bad choices to make. They have to make some decisions now and you can feel that tension sort of coming every so often between Sheila and Winston.
And mostly it’s Windflower because Sheila, it’s her home in Grand Bank. And she has this stability and she has the foundation of being there. He’s still an outsider. Even though he’s been there now for eight or nine years he’s still an outsider. And so he’s always trying to fit in or make himself accommodate the place. So another challenge.
Alexandra: I was looking back at the transcript of our previous conversation, and you had touched on the fact that you really liked Sheila as a character and that if there was anyone that you spun off from this series, it would be her.
Have you thought about that anymore? Has that come up again?
Mike: Sheila continues to grow in terms of, she was the supportive wife for her a number of years. But she also had a role before before Windflower, in that she ran the cafe.
She had to deal with her parents dying young and looking after herself. And then her husband died in an accident in Fort McMurry. And so she’s had life experience. And so I could see Sheila being a series of her own, although I have to say that the most likely person to have a series of his own is Eddie Tizzard.
In Fire, Fog and Water something terrible happens. And Eddie Tizard is faced with a choice. And out of that I can see Eddie taking another path, even though he’s much younger and loves being a cop and is very enthusiastic about it.
I probably see Eddie Tizard as having the potential of spin off, although Sheila was still a great character.
Another thing that we touched time on, when we spoke last time was the social issues that you weave into your books.
Without spoiling anything, can you touch on the social issues that might be coming up in Fire, Fog and Water?
Mike: In every one of the books there has been a little tension around the role of women in the RCMP and and the fact that women are always given the respect that the that they deserve.
There’s some of that inside the inside the RCMP. Now, that’s real. It’s better, it is improving, but it’s still there. So that’s an issue that comes up in every every one of the books.
And and also the other issue that’s there is the the drug addiction and the opioid crisis that we see it most in big cities because we see the volume of overdoses that is that is just amazing and devastating.
But in small rural communities the damage that’s done by addiction and particularly opioids is unbelievable. It’s widespread and they don’t have any resources to kind of deal with it. So that is another theme that comes through.
Alexandra: I know from personal experience here on the west coast of Vancouver Island, there have been communities that have been just devastated by the opioid crisis.
At times there have been more than four or five deaths in a very short period of time, like a couple of weeks.
Mike: It’s just a horrific situation that’s going on in a town of like two thousand people to have 50 people impacted.
It’s overwhelming for all the resources, not just the police or the Justice Department, but the hospital and the medical center. And quite honestly, there’s no treatment facilities. Maybe two in St. John’s, not for all of all the eastern part of Newfoundland.
And that’s not dissimilar from any other place. So those things become become really, really big issues for the community. And then all the crime that goes with it, because people steal and they do break and enters and all these things that happen around them.
Alexandra: Do you think that there’s more pressure on police officers in smaller communities than in larger ones?
Mike: I think that the scale is different, but the challenges are more they have to be everything in a small community.
They only have a couple of officers. They have provided 24 hour service to look out for the highway, which takes three quarters of all the resources. And so what happens is they have no resources left for prevention or community outreach or all those things that we see like we see in Ottawa.
We see police officers in schools as resource officers. Or, we see them doing the events with community groups. They just don’t have the time and people to do that, so that all falls apart.
In some ways, it’s the best life ever. Until something bad happens.
Alexandra: That’s a good point. I always like to ask authors where the ideas for your stories come from.
Do you take things from news items that you see, other than the social issues that we’ve touched on, for the actual plot. How does that come about?
Mike: I always find a place to begin. And it is often something that happens in the news and some just news things will just sort of click with you.
One story was about a visit by a group of outlaw bikers to Newfoundland one year and they looked at setting up a base in central Newfoundland. And so that became an interesting point to start a story from.
The story’s not about that. But it becomes a place to start. And once you get the place to start.
I’m not a plotter. I’m what they call a ‘pantser’. I find a place to start. And then I use the characters come and start telling the story.
I’m in the process now of writing the next book. I have a place to start. And then the characters come and they all start chattering. My job is to try to keep it all in order and write it down.
Alexandra: Do you find that since you’re pantsing, do you have to circle back at times to fix things that maybe have changed as you’re writing?
Mike: You always have to go back. By the time the book comes out, we’ll have gone through 40 to 50 drafts. But I will go back after.
For me on the first draft, first run through, I’ll do 10 chapters and go back and have a look and I’ll do another 10 and have a look.
And I have added a cheat sheet for the next issues that I want to cover, things I don’t want to forget. So I’ll have one page that says nine or ten items on it at the end of my draft. That reminds me when I pick it up again. Oh, yeah, OK. So I’ll start there and move on.
But in terms of going back, unless I really screwed something up and I may well, because I’m now into nine stories. And you can get screwed up.
But I have a great editor and I have a great beta readers. They’ve been with me through the whole series. And so they know the storyline. They come in and they’ll say, no, no, no, you can’t do that, because otherwise I probably be missing things all over the place.
Alexandra: Somehow it’s easier for readers to remember the details.
Mike: And for writers, I find that the process of writing the most exciting thing for me as a pantser is the story is there. I just can’t get it out fast enough. I have to write and write and write. Because the story keeps coming and I’m not really nice to be around when I’m thinking about it because that’s all I can think about.
Alexandra: Do you know what the next one is going to be called?
Mike: I do not know a title until a book is done.
The title tends to come somewhere along the input from the beta readers. And by the time getting ready to do a nice full draft, the title will come.
Alexandra: When do you expect the next Sergeant Windflower book to be out?
Mike: I expect it will be coming out in the fall.
I may do an extra book. I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes because this one seems to be coming quickly so there may be more and the challenge of a book when you’re writing is where do you stop?
The best thing is it’s a series so you can start another story can concerning into the storyline.
I think if everything goes well then book nine will be out in the fall of 2020.
Alexandra: Great. That’s good to hear.
This has been fantastic. Mike, thanks for chatting with me again today.
Why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find out more about you and your books?
Mike: Certainly on on Facebook, the on the Sergeant Windflower Mysteries, if you just search Sergeant Windflower Mysteries on Facebook, you can find out most of what’s going on with me and the books and activities.
There’s also a have a Web site: SgtWindflowerMysteries.com. And that’s all one word. Once again, if you search Sergeant Windflower that should come up in your Google search. And that’s more of our blogs. So that I mean, all the information is there, including where to buy the books and just about every word.
Also current activities or interesting things I’m up to. I don’t post a blog every week, but I do a couple of months, something like that. Those are the places where people can sort of track my activities.
Alexandra: Right. Okay, good. Well, that’s fantastic. Thanks again, Mike, for speaking with me today.
Mike: Thank you. Alexandra, it’s been my pleasure. Take care.