‘Why not set a murder here?’: Victoria author pens mystery novel based in James Bay


Jean Paetkau loves James Bay so much, she wrote a book about it.

“I like to call it a cozy mystery…” said Paetkau.

Well, it’s not about James Bay, but it is set there. The novel mentions local landmarks, even the Empress Hotel, but behind this picturesque facade is a plot twist — a sinister synopsis.

Paetkau’s a writer, photographer, and journalist — these are facts. Her new murder mystery book, about a dead body washed up on the shores of the breakwater, is “…pure fiction!” she explains.

Blood on the Breakwater tells the story of a journalist who stumbles across a dead body. The character becomes so intertwined in the mystery that they’re led down a path in pursuit of the culprit.

“Journalist Helene Unger takes daily walks on the historic edifice as a way to beat the stress of work and single parenting. However, one evening, while snapping photos of a sunset, she discovers a corpse washed up on the lower pathway of the breakwater,” reads the book’s synopsis.

There’s even a nod to Victoria’s own Emily Carr, the artist and writer, who died inside the James Bay Inn in 1945. “It’s about solving the puzzle,” said Paetkau.

And within these pages is inspiration from her own life — minus the murder.

“The character lives in James Bay, like me, has two children like me and has serious allergies, like myself and my children,” she said. “I can’t write about what I don’t know. I have to draw my inspiration from who I am and where I am.”

So, in her early 50s, Paetkau’s entering a new chapter in life, or a “marathon” as she calls it, and self-publishing her new book.

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She’s so thrilled with the support — her book is on sale now through Amazon Canada, where it reached number one in its respective category, at Volume One Bookstore in Duncan and at Munro’s Books in Victoria.

“Where apparently it’s flying off the shelves…” exclaimed Paetkau. In fact, her book has made it onto the Munro’s Bestseller List, which she says is “not something indie authors usually achieve.”

The downtown bookstore, around since 1963, is happy to support local.

“We offer space on our shelves to local authors as well because we want to support them equally, regardless of how they’ve published their book,” said Jessica Paul, the store’s manager.

“So we, and I think most of the other bookstores in town, offer a consignment program for those things, and we’re really proud to have those books on our shelves.”

But this isn’t Paetkau’s first published book.

In recent years, she published three children’s Snufflewort books, which are all part of the Greater Victoria Public Library collection and are available on Amazon, Indigo and at Russell Books.

“I wrote three of those books, one of them a Halloween book, which was a lot of fun,” she said, noting her children helped her pen them during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Paetkau’s passion is paying off, so she’s not slowing down. She’s got another page-turner in the works.

“This is my chance to reflect on our housing crisis, the ferry situation, just the general tensions of living on Vancouver Island right now,” she said.

And while every story must have an ending, Paetkau’s career as a murder mystery author is just beginning, as she reads her book on the beach in James Bay.

“…it’s a gorgeous place, why not set a murder here? I’m very satisfied that almost no one has guessed the culprit in my book.

“I feel very pleased with myself,” she laughed.

Find the book on Amazon Canada.

Ethan Morneau

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