Monday, 20 April 2015

SORROW LAKE - Who Got Killed?

Photo (c) Michael J. McCann
Every murder mystery has a victim.

Learning the identity of the victim is one of the first tasks taken on by our literary homicide investigators, as it is in real life. As John Douglas, the famous FBI profiler, explained in The Anatomy of Motive, understanding the victim is the key to understanding the motive, and once the motive is clear the detective will be that much closer to knowing the identity of the killer.

Victimology is a critical part of the investigation. Knowing the victim's activities before the murder and the relationships between the victim and the people around him help detectives understand who or what may have placed him in harm's way.

In Sorrow Lake, the first March and Walker Crime Novel, the victim is William Hansen, born October 21, 1957. A resident of the village of Sparrow Lake, Ontario, he ran his own business, a car wholesaling operation. He had a wife, Vivian, but no children. As Detective Inspector Ellie March and Detective Constable Kevin Walker move forward in the preliminary stages of the case, they discover that Bill Hansen's life revolved around his business, his cars, and his network of buyers, sellers, and drivers. He and his wife had no relatives in the area and no close friends.

While a search warrant is being executed in the victim's home by the forensics team under the watchful eye of Kevin Walker, Ellie spends time in other parts of the house by herself. "She was here because she wanted to get a sense of the victim and his wife. There were many unanswered questions" (Sorrow Lake, p. 70). Later, she gathers the team to reconstruct the time line of Bill Hansen's last day. "The final day of his life. Hour by hour, minute by minute, if necessary. Somewhere in the last twelve to fourteen hours of Bill Hansen's life they would find the event that would connect him to his killer" (Sorrow Lake, p. 210).

Did Ellie and her team succeed? Download a free review copy of Sorrow Lake from NetGalley and find out for yourself!

Monday, 13 April 2015

SORROW LAKE - How does the story begin?

In previous posts we've talked about the Canadian setting of Sorrow Lake, about the two main characters in the series, and early reviews of the novel.

Oh, and don't forget, you can still get your free review ARC from NetGalley by following this link

It's time now for a sneak peek at the story itself, to whet the appetite. And what better place to choose than the beginning? So, without further ado.......

chapter ONE

      His breath visible in the early morning air, Detective Constable Kevin Walker made his way down the hill and across the farmer’s field toward the body. There was a crust on the snow from freezing rain that had fallen two days ago, and his boots punched crisp holes as he followed the footprints of the old man who’d spotted something in the middle of his field just after dawn and had come down to investigate.
      As he walked, Kevin kept his eyes moving across the snow, alert for anything out of the ordinary. Other than two sets of tracks, one belonging to the farmer and the other to Ontario Provincial Police Constable Bonnie Charles, the first responder to the scene, the surface of the snow was pristine. He reached the little circle of footprints where the farmer had staggered back and retched, he saw the spilled coffee and the cup the old man had dropped in his shock, and then he stopped.
      Close enough.
      The victim was a man in his fifties. He wore inadequate lowcut boots, grey trousers, and a tweed car coat. No gloves. No hat. The back of his neck was seared where a close-contact gunshot had passed through the base of his skull and out the front of his neck, leaving a frozen bloodstain on the surface of the snow. His face was turned slightly toward Kevin. The eyes were open and lifeless. The mouth was a frozen oval.
      Kevin recognized him. He lived in the village, not two blocks from Kevin’s house.
      He found it difficult to stop looking at the eyes. They had a disturbing cloudiness to them that made him feel uneasy. Kevin had participated in sudden death call outs before and so it wasn’t his first body, but it was the first that was an obvious and violent homicide. The blood, the stains on the trousers, and the cloudy, lifeless eyes were upsetting. He forced himself to stand there, taking in all the details, until he no longer felt repulsed.
      He heard the sound of tires crunching in the farmer’s driveway at the top of the hill and, turning, saw the EMS ambulance arrive. Members of the Sparrow Lake volunteer fire department, they were, like Kevin, residents of Yonge Township, a strip of 128 square kilometres jutting north from the St. Lawrence River between Brockville and Kingston. He watched Constable Charles point the way down the hill, waving her arm to make it clear that they should avoid the farmer’s footprints and follow Kevin’s down the snowy slope.
      As they edged their way toward him, he turned his eyes to the distant line of trees rimming the back of the field. A mixture of evergreen and bare-limbed deciduous, they were white with ice that had formed when the temperature had dropped below freezing again, the night before last. It made a picturesque tableau against the blue morning sky. A crow called out somewhere within the forest. Running his eyes along the tree line, Kevin saw nothing unusual. A second, distant crow answered the first. There was no visible disturbance in the snow between the body and the back of the field.
      Somewhere in that stretch, however, would be the expended round that had killed the victim when it ripped through his neck.
      He turned and looked at the footprints leading from the road to the body and back to the road again. Two sets coming in and one set returning to the road.
      A one-way trip for the victim and a return trip for his killer.
      “Another cold morning, Kevin,” one of the paramedics called out, by way of greeting. Behind him, his partner cursed as his boot rolled over a frozen clot of soil beneath the snow.
      Kevin held up a hand. “Just you, Philip. Come up beside me.”
     The paramedic shifted his equipment bag from one hand to the other and edged forward until he stood next to Kevin. He crouched, resting his bag on the snow, and swore. Behind them, his partner made a coughing sound and turned away. Philip studied the victim for a moment, then stood up and looked at the detective.
     “Obviously dead,” Kevin said.
     “Obviously dead,” Philip agreed. These two words, quoted from the Ministry of Health’s Deceased Patient Standard, obligated him not to touch the body unless directed to do so by the coroner. He turned to his partner. “Let’s get out of here, Dan. We’ll wait for Dalca in the truck.”
      As they hurried back up the hill, they passed Constable Charles, who was talking into her shoulder microphone as she walked down. She took a long look at the body for the second time this morning before making eye contact with Kevin. “The road’s blocked off between Ballycanoe Road and Junetown Road. Everyone’s being advised to approach from the north. We’re setting up the inner perimeters now. You said to use Mr. Lackey’s yard as the command post, right?”
      “Yeah.” The old man, Jerry Lackey, kept his yard well-plowed between his house and outbuildings, and it was large enough for a staging area that would accommodate all the respondents to the scene.
      Kevin watched Charles depart, issuing instructions into her shoulder mike, then pulled off his gloves and used his smart phone to take a few photographs of the body. He brought out his notebook and drew a rough sketch of the scene, made a few notes, then slipped it back into his jacket pocket, put on his gloves, and trudged back up the hill.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, why not download a free review copy of the novel now, while it's still available? NetGalley is free to join and offers you a wide variety of Advance Reading Copies of the hottest books before they hit the shelves-- books like Sorrow Lake! Just click here:

Monday, 6 April 2015

SORROW LAKE - Early Returns on the ARC Review Process

As you may know, the Advance Reading Copy of Sorrow Lake, the first March and Walker Crime Novel, is now available for review through NetGalley. If you're not a NetGalley account holder and would like access, it's free to sign up and free to download a copy of Sorrow Lake. Not a bad deal, right?

If you're interested, click on the cover image on the left, or on the link below. It will take you to a special sign-in page authorizing your free copy.

Not sure if you'd be interested in a crime novel set in Canada featuring homicide investigators from the Ontario Provincial Police? Take a look at the early response to the novel by NetGalley reviewers:

Blogger Mallory wrote: "A really inventive and deeply-characterized mystery/police procedural with a finely-delineated background of rural Ontario, SORROW LAKE is the first of a series, which I can tell will be one of my favorites. The characters are peeled down to the grain, and it's wonderfully gratifying to read of individuals who might be our friends, our neighbors--or even ourselves."  This review has also been posted on Amazon and in Goodreads, for which I'm very grateful.

Librarian Rosemary wrote: "I am thrilled that this is the beginning of a new series. McCann is a new author that I will now be following. And who doesn’t love the name of that publisher?" This review is also posted in Goodreads. Needless to say, the Raccoon is blushing and will probably have a swelled head for a while.

Reviewer Tracy wrote: "An exciting Canadian police procedural mystery that had me hooked from the very first page. A great strong female lead and a nice male counterpart just learning the ropes of homicide. Twists and turns I never saw coming especially leading up to the ending. I would and will recommend this book to friends and family, even strangers should the time and place present itself." Tracy also posted this review in Goodreads. Thank you, Tracy.

I'm also pleased to note that the voting on the cover design is going nicely. NetGalley viewers have so far given it 17 thumbs-up and 0 thumbs down. Thanks!

Now it's your turn, faithful followers of The Overnight Bestseller. Click on this link to find out for yourself why Sorrow Lake is going to make a lot of noise for Canadian crime fiction in 2015!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

SORROW LAKE - Advance Reading Copy Now Available


The Plaid Raccoon Press is pleased to announce that the Advance Reading Copy of the new Canadian crime novel Sorrow Lake is now available.

The ARC is available in e-book format through NetGalley, the online service that allows all publishers, large and small, to distribute review copies of new books to reviewers.

If you would like an e-book copy of Sorrow Lake, simply click on the cover image on the left or on the link below. If you have a NetGalley account, simply sign in and you will be taken directly to the Sorrow Lake page, where you may download a copy. It's available in .epub, .mobi, and .pdf formats.

If you don't have a NetGalley account, you can register with them free of charge. There's also no charge, of course, for downloading a review copy of Sorrow Lake.

What's the catch? There's only one -- if you like the book, we'd appreciate it very much if you'd let the world know by publishing a short review in your blog or column, or on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or wherever you like to go to spread the word about a book you've enjoyed.

Here's the link:

Thanks very much for your interest. I hope you enjoy the story!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Cover Reveal for SORROW LAKE - The first March and Walker Crime Novel

The Plaid Raccoon Press is thrilled to unveil the cover art for Sorrow Lake by Michael J. McCann. Set in eastern Ontario, Canada, Sorrow Lake is the first installment in the new March and Walker Crime Novel Series. It features Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police and Detective Constable Kevin Walker of the OPP's Leeds County Crime Unit.

This cover will be available for both the e-book and the paperback editions of the novel. Now, when shopping for a paperback, most people who are attracted to a book by the front cover will pick it up and turn it over to find out more about the story itself. With that in mind....


Cover Design Q & A

Now it's time for a quick interview with the author, who designed and produced this cover.

What was your overall concept for the SORROW LAKE cover design?

The novel is set in Canada, as we discussed in a previous post, and takes place in early December. Because the ice on Sparrow Lake, nicknamed Sorrow Lake by the locals, is not yet thick enough to walk on safely, it poses a danger for anyone attempting to cross it.

The footprints through the snow on the surface of the lake in the great front cover photograph by Oleg Koslov, licensed through iStock, suggest that someone has foolishly ventured out onto the lake nonetheless, and it conveys the sense of danger and suspense found in the story itself. The back photo cover, which I took on the road where I live, was shot on a very cold, overcast morning.  Along with the colour scheme, the photos convey a strong sense of a bleak, cold Canadian winter day.

Did you go through several draft designs before choosing this one?

Yes, it's my habit while writing the manuscript to spend my down time drafting cover designs. It helps sharpen my sense of the mood of the story, and it keeps me motivated during the very difficult process of completing the first draft. I had two other possible designs, both featuring photos that were predominantly blue, but one looked too much like a romance novel and the other was too bright and cheerful. Not appropriate for a police procedural set in a cold northern clime!

Everyone wants to know WHY you design your own covers. Isn't that a no-no for an independent author?

Yes, I suppose it is ill-advised in many cases, but I happen to really enjoy the process, and I approach it the same way I do everything else--with a great deal of advance research, with care and attention to detail, and with the proper tools and equipment.

Part of my research is studying the cover designs of the bestsellers. For example, while I'm in the drug store getting my prescriptions filled, I'll wander over to the book racks while I'm waiting and just stand there, looking at the rows of bestsellers, noticing how they arrange the text elements (author's name very often at the top for better visibility in a middle row!), colour co-ordination, how they place graphic elements, and so on. I read somewhere that outdoor photos are more successful on a book cover than indoor photos, and I keep things like that in the back of my head.

My son has a Mac Pro with Adobe Creative Suite 3 on it, and since he's migrated to a PC laptop these days I've confiscated the Mac. I've taught myself how to use InDesign, which is a very powerful tool for creating both the book block and the cover, and I try my best in Photoshop when I need to tweak something. I take however long is necessary to produce a product readers will find attractive and (hopefully) error-free!

If you'd like to see the cover on Amazon, you can find it here.

Do you like the new cover? Let us know in the Comments section below!

Next week: Sorrow Lake becomes available for reviews!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sorrow Lake: Who are these Canadian detectives?

Last week I introduced you to my new crime novel, Sorrow Lake, which will be making its first appearance next month. In that post I discussed the novel's Canadian setting.

Now it’s time to meet the two main characters who give the March and Walker Crime Novel series its name.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR ELLIE MARCH is a nineteen-year veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police. A major case manager with the Criminal Investigation Branch at OPP General Headquarters in Orillia, she investigates homicides and other major crimes in the force’s East Region.

Kevin Walker’s early impression of her is of a woman

in her early forties... Tall, slender, a little gawky. Her ring finger was bare. Her nails were closely trimmed. She wore no cosmetics at all and her hair, although neatly combed, was straight and unattractive. Her cheekbones were high and prominent. Her eyebrows were unplucked. The eyes beneath them were narrow and sober. He’d yet to see her smile. Even when she joked, revealing an active sense of humour, her wide, pursed lips didn’t participate. She was a very strange and intense person who didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about her.

Ellie is divorced. Her ex-husband, Gareth Miller, is an economic advisor for the federal Conservative Party. Her two daughters, Melanie (16) and Megan (12), dislike her intensely. They believe she is “the unhappiest person, like, ever. You make happy people feel unhappy.” Ellie, though, thinks this might be a somewhat unfair assessment.

DETECTIVE CONSTABLE KEVIN WALKER has been assigned to the OPP’s Leeds County Crime Unit for two years. Born and raised in Brockville, he completed a two-year college program and was hired by the Sparrow Lake Police Service as a constable. He spent nine years in the village, the last five as their only detective, before transferring to the OPP when the SLPS was disbanded and Yonge Township awarded their policing contract to the OPP.

Ellie first sees Kevin at the crime scene. He’s standing near the body of the victim with forensic Identification Sergeant Dave Martin:

The one in the ski jacket and toque was big and looked very young, while the other, the Ident officer in his white coveralls and hood, was short and middle-aged. The kid looked like a football player in full pads standing next to a referee.

Young and enthusiastic, Kevin is pleased to have an opportunity to work with Ellie, whose reputation as an interrogator and case manager precedes her. He hopes that his intelligence and insatiable curiosity for esoteric information will compensate for his lack of law enforcement experience. However, at least one of his colleagues in the crime unit feels strongly that Kevin doesn’t belong with them.

Next week: your first look at the cover of Sorrow Lake!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sorrow Lake - What's all this about a Canadian setting?

As spring approaches, work is underway to prepare my next novel for publication. Sorrow Lake, the first March and Walker Crime Novel, is set in eastern Ontario and features homicide investigators of the Ontario Provincial Police. The advance reading copy for review will be available next month in e-book format through NetGalley and in paperback through my imprint, The Plaid Raccoon Press.

I'm very excited to talk about this new series, which is a bit of a departure from the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series familiar to readers through Blood Passage, Marcie's Murder, The Fregoli Delusion, and The Rainy Day Killer (yes, a fifth novel in the series will eventually join them!). First and foremost, crime fiction fans will be interested to note that this Canadian crime fiction author is now using a Canadian setting for his mysteries!

Canada can proudly boast a strong lineup of home-grown crime fiction authors including Barbara Fradkin, Robert Rotenberg, Giles Blunt, and Louise Penny.  While Penny was quoted in the past as saying that “it was excruciatingly difficult to find an agent or a publisher in Canada or elsewhere interested in a procedural with a Canadian setting,”  her success with the Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec's  Eastern Townships and the popularity of Blunt's John Cardinal series set in a thinly-disguised North Bay (population 64,000) are proof that Canadian settings need not be a deterrent to success in the crime fiction market.

The OPP provides policing services to more than 300 communities in Ontario, including rural Leeds County, where Sorrow Lake is set. Homicide investigators in the force's East Region--where Detective Inspector Ellie March, one of two lead characters in the series, is assigned--investigate major crimes in a land area of  35,000 sq. km. with a population of over 900,000 people.  Stories in the series will be set not only in Leeds but in other parts of the region as well.

It's very interesting to compare the scope of this setting to, say, Iceland. Scandinavian crime fiction, still immensely popular in Canada and the US, includes bestselling, award-winning Icelandic novelists such as Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Arnaldur Indridason. In fact, I have copies of their novels on the bookshelf in my bathroom.  How do we explain the amazing success of Icelandic crime fiction, set in a country with a population of only 323,000 people (a third of eastern Ontario)? A question for another day, but further proof that crime fiction with underpopulated settings can be surprisingly successful.

I'm very anxious for you to have a chance to experience March and Walker in action as they investigate the brutal execution-style murder of a local used-car wholesaler in Sorrow Lake. As procedurals go, this one is well-researched, carefully told, and features intriguing, engaging characters you'll want to follow through each of their upcoming adventures.

Stay tuned for more!