There’s a brave new world in publishing these days, and a B.C. mystery author is hoping that a series of highways will transport her murder plots to readers around the globe. With two recently published e-books to her credit, R.E. (Ruth) Donald is working on a third novel in what she calls the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series.
Why e-books? According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans owning a digital reading device jumped from 18% in December 2011 to 29% in January 2012. A rise in e-book sales of 117% in 2011 was reported by the Association of American Publishers, while sales in all print book categories fell.
“It’s the future of publishing, and an exciting one at that,” says Donald. It gives the writer an opportunity to connect directly with the reader, bypassing the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. The overriding concern of literary agents and publishing houses is whether or not a book will make enough money to justify the expense of putting it into print. Agents and publishing houses can’t afford to take many risks with new authors and new ideas, which is why many mystery genre heroes seem so alike: the wise cracking female P.I., the rough around the edges homicide detective, the exceedingly clever defense lawyer, or the ingenuous amateur sleuth. Donald’s “semi-” professional sleuth is a long haul truck driver.
Donald’s main character, Hunter Rayne, is a former RCMP detective, travelling the highways of western North America in a big blue Freightliner. Hunter is a very Canadian protagonist: he’s soft spoken, chivalrous and above all, polite. Another main character, Hunter’s dispatcher Elspeth Watson, on the other hand, is loud, impulsive and swears like a – well – a trucker. After a painful divorce, Hunter has chosen the solitary life of a long haul trucker in order to avoid emotional entanglements and simplify his life, but thanks to Elspeth he keeps getting drawn into murder investigations.
“One of the basic tenets of writing is to ‘write what you know,’” says Donald. “With my twenty years experience in the transportation industry, it was a natural choice for my series’ milieu.” Donald’s late husband, Jim Donald, was at one time well-known in the B.C. trucking community and there are elements of him in the character, Hunter Rayne. “I try to write the kind of mystery novel I like to read, with realistic characters, multiple suspects and an intriguing puzzle to solve.”
The challenge of releasing an e-book without the support of a traditional publisher is bringing it to the attention of readers who will enjoy it. With hundreds of thousands of e-books available on Amazon, and over 4000 “pages” of books in the mystery category alone, it’s hard to get noticed. Fortunately, a number of websites are springing up that feature information on e-books of various genres, complete with reviews from readers. “I don’t expect to get rich,” says Donald, whose paperless novels sell for only $2.99, “but I get great satisfaction when a reader tells me they can hardly wait for my next book.”
The first novel in the Hunter Rayne highway mystery series is Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, set in Washington, B.C. and Alberta. When a well respected truck driver, the owner of a family trucking business, is found dead in his truck down a steep embankment along the mountainous Coquihalla highway in British Columbia, his distraught daughter wants to know how and why his truck left the road on an uphill curve. Her resemblance to his own daughter compels Hunter Rayne, a fellow trucker and former homicide detective, to help her find answers.
As he uncovers signs of illegal cross border activity originating in a Seattle warehouse, Hunter recruits an old friend, an outlaw biker, to infiltrate what appears to be an international smuggling ring. But while Hunter follows up clues and waits for critical information from his old friend, the wily biker starts to play his own angles.
Finally, putting all the pieces together, there in the dark on the same uphill curve on the Coquihalla highway, Hunter risks it all to confront the murderer.
The second is Ice on the Grapevine, with action moving from California to B.C. The story opens on a July morning with the discovery of a frozen corpse at a brake check just south of the Grapevine Pass in L.A. County. Hunter, who is in southern California making a delivery, is persuaded by his irascible dispatcher, Elspeth Watson, to help clear two fellow truck drivers who are arrested for the murder. His job is made more difficult by the fact that the suspects, a newlywed couple, won’t speak up in their own defence.
The circumstantial evidence is strong, and a rookie detective from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is eager to score a win. The investigation crosses the Canada-U.S. border when the victim is identified as a second rate musician from Vancouver, and it turns out there were more than a few desperate people happy to see him dead, including the accused couple. Hunter has to use all his investigative skills to uncover the truth.
Hunter’s ex-wife maintains that by taking to the highway Hunter is running away from his past, but he believes that the solitude of days on the road is helping him to heal from guilt over the failure of his marriage and the suicide of his best friend. His life gets more complicated when he feels an unwelcome attraction for a lawyer representing one of the
Tangled relationships and multiple suspects emerge throughout the novel, as Hunter butts heads with more than one officer of the law to solve the crime.
Ice on the Grapevine is one of the nominees for the Global EBook Awards for 2012, and Donald hopes to be in Santa Barbara, California for the Awards ceremony in August.She is hard at work on the third novel in the series, set primarily in Whistler, B.C.