Queen's University

Island in the Clouds: a review

Just as the Queen’s Bands were travelling to perform in the 100th Calgary Stampede Parade, I received an eagerly anticipated package from a former Bands colleague from the mid-70’s, Susan Toy, now of Calgary. The contents: a copy of her first novel, Island in the Clouds.

The Island in question is Bequia, the Carib Indian word for “Island in the Clouds” and a small island situated in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and a short flight from Barbados. It is not only the setting for an intriguing murder mystery, but also Susan’s second home. Her love of Bequia makes the book as much a travel advertisement as a mystery novel, and were it not for the summer-long hot weather we’ve been having in Toronto and across the country this year, I’d be booking a flight to experience the island life that Susan has described so well.

But make no mistake, this is a mystery, with a ne’er do well property manager/pool cleaner turned amateur detective who discovers “a body, floating facedown at the far end of the pool. A woman’s body; a naked woman’s body.” And whose first worry is how this will screw up his day, “not to mention throw off the pool’s pH balance.” This lead character, Geoff, is at once a suspect and the chief investigator, all the while trying to hide a shady past from his days in Toronto.

I admit I had some trouble picturing the Susan Toy I knew at Queen’s uttering the words, “Now, I like naked women as much as the next guy, but a naked dead woman is another matter.” But many years have passed since we’ve seen each other in person, so things may have changed! However, we are not strangers. Our relationship has now evolved into a Facebook friendship where we share our love of books (Susan is a promoter of Alberta books and authors, a publisher, and now an author herself), Calgary politics (I turned her on to current Calgary Mayor, and my former consulting colleague, Naheed Nenshi), TV mysteries including Castle, starring Edmonton-born Nathan Filion, and our love of Queen’s and the Queen’s Bands). I have already Facebook “Liked” and Google Plus’d Island, but this is now a shout-out to my old school network.

Island in the Clouds comes complete with a cast of eccentric characters including an ex-pat community with Brits, Canadians, Americans, and Germans, a collection of locals with names like Chopper, Big Fly, Pig-Face, Boney, and Jolly Boy, and a terrific English-Bequia dictionary scattered through the book that has fully prepared me to converse fluently in the island dialect whenever I finally get to Bequia.

A part of my summer reading list, coming right after James Patterson’s Private Games, set at the London Olympics, and one of the ubiquitous Clive Cussler novels, Susan’s first novel stands up to the competition. It has compelling characters, a creative plot line, and a wonderful island setting, and importantly, is not a cookie-cutter mystery that has you wondering if you hadn’t already read it.

Some good news for new Susan Toy fans is embedded in clues hidden on the book’s cover. A number 1 on the spine, and the sub-title, “A Bequia Perspectives novel” suggests more Bequia–based mysteries are in the works. We can only hope that Susan’s next novel comes much sooner than the 200th Calgary Stampede.

***

Susan M. Toy, Artsci‘76 and her partner Dennis Ference, Sc'77, own a home on Bequia, although Susan still spends half her time in Calgary. Despite the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to persons living or dead, is purely coincidental, Dennis does run a property management business on the island.

Jeff Chan, Artsci'74, first met Susan at Queen’s when he was the Bands Manager, and she was a Bands frosh. He is an avid photographer of the Queen’s Golden Gaels Football team and the Queen’s Bands (www.pbase.com/goldengaelsphotos).

Island in the Clouds is available in print and as an e-book. More information, including where to buy the book can be found at: http://islandeditions.wordpress.com/island-in-the-clouds-a-bequia-novel

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2012-08-10
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