With her second novel, Deryn Collier returns to the fictional B.C. town of Kootenay Landing and to the character of former Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin, who now works as the town coroner. Collier continues to develop and deepen both character and setting in a novel that satisfies as a mystery but also stands as something richer and more complex.
Open Secret begins with two seemingly unrelated events. At the U.S. border, Gary Dowd panics and abandons his car, disappearing into the nearby forest with a small package he was supposed to carry into the country for a friend. A short time later, that friend, a small-time drug dealer named Seymour Melnychuk, is gunned down at close range. Fortin is drawn into the case, working with constable Maddie Schilling to peel back layers of lies, denial, and half-truths.
Open Secret is an accomplished mystery that spans decades and gradually expands to include a disappearance, sexual abuse, and – this being the B.C. interior – lots and lots of marijuana. Everything is connected, as is often the case in genre mysteries. (And in small towns.)
Readers expecting a standard, breezy thriller might find themselves puzzled by the relaxed pace and subdued intensity, but these attributes are part of what gives the book its power. Collier spends considerable time exploring the lives and relationships of the citizens of Kootenay Landing, developing the town in much the same manner as Giles Blunt does with Algonquin Bay in his John Cardinal series.
Collier demonstrates subtle and impressive control, downshifting into seemingly casual scenes then revving back up for the story’s resolution. The climax leaves the reader with a genuine emotional pang, drawing together the community, the crime, and the hidden history with which Fortin is reckoning. It makes for powerful reading.