By Judith van Berkom –
Barbara Fradkin’s Amanda Doucette series of mystery thrillers feature a character she describes as “an adventurous, passionate, thirty-something international aid worker who has returned to her home in Canada to recover her health and to chart a new path after a traumatic ordeal in Africa.”
There are three books in this series, all written after she retired as a child psychologist in the school system. Global issues build the background in each book.
“I didn’t need books to be a catharsis for things I was dealing with in my job,” she says, adding that “what was starting to bother me more were global human rights.”
The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, deals with the human smuggling of Syrian refugees; The Trickster’s Lullaby with the home-grown radicalization of youth; Prisoners of Hope with foreign workers, in particular, Filipino nannies who are promised permanent residency in Canada. It speaks to the hope they have of being able to sponsor their families to come over and join them. In reality, it doesn’t quite work out that way – hence the title.
Iconic, physical settings in Canada take the reader on a cross-country tour, starting with Fire in the Stars, set in Newfoundland, The Trickster’s Lullaby, set in Quebec, and her recent release, Prisoners of Hope, which takes place in Georgian Bay. The fourth in the series will be set in the Alberta Badlands.
Writing while travelling across Canada offers Barbara the opportunity to explore this great country. She likes to take people to real places with her novels and takes photos while researching settings, looking for where the story could take place.
Barbara’s writing was first published back in 1995-96. The first short story in a series of seven short-story anthologies published in Burnside ON – written by women crime writers across Canada – has since led to the publication of 17 books in addition to her short stories.
Barbara started writing at age six, as soon as she was able to write – putting into words her imaginary friends and their many adventures. Writing and reading was part of family life growing up with a father who was a university professor and a mother who was a teacher – both with extensive collections of books.
As a child psychologist, Barbara wrote reports on a computer. The creative process of writing mystery thrillers, however, is intrinsically linked for her to writing longhand. She dictates ideas into her phone and writes at night, recording her thoughts on paper.
Barbara has been a published author for 20 years. The Inspector Green series of thrillers – a total of 10 books – examines problems ordinary people face: PTSD in our soldiers, war crimes, sexual abuse, and is linked to her years practicing psychology and helping many struggling families.
The Amanda Doucette series was written on her couch with her two dogs in her home in Champlain Park and on the dock of her cottage in Sharbot Lake. Barbara launched the third book in this series on October 16 at the Clocktower brew Pub in Westboro.
Amanda, the protagonist, is half Barbara’s age, younger than her daughters. She can imagine some of the issues Amanda has to face and the language she uses. “There’s a lot of interesting, challenging things you don’t think about until you start writing the series.”
Barbara Fradkin’s latest novel is available from Dundurn Press in Toronto.
From PRISONERS OF HOPE, An Amanda Doucette mystery
By Barbara Fradkin
Amanda smiled as she watched the speedboat swoop playfully up the bay. Once it drew closer, she could make out the gleam of antique cedar and brass. A lone man sat in the cockpit, one hand on the wheel and the other trailing in the water. He leaned into the curves, grinning as the boat carved up the bay and left curls of froth and ripples in its wake.
She was sitting on a granite rock at the edge of the parking lot, and she rose for a better view as he pulled back on the throttle and aimed the powerful boat toward the nearest slip. Surely this wasn’t George Gifford. She had pictured the kayak outfitter as a rough outdoorsman piloting a dented aluminum runabout. A beard, cargo pants, and khaki jacket with half a dozen pockets and rings.
While she’d been waiting, there had been no such boat on the bay. In fact, it being late May, there were almost no boats at all. A few luxury yachts bobbed at anchor and a couple were tied up at the docks, but most of the summer cottagers’ boats were still stored in hangars or under tarps inland, awaiting the summer cottage invasion.
Cottage season didn’t truly hit its peak in Georgian Bay until the July 1st weekend, when cottagers and tourists poured in from the crowded cities farther south to set up stakes on the spectacular islands and bays that formed its coastal fringe. Over thirty thousand islands had earned the eastern coast the distinction of the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. Although it had once been overrun by the logging and fishing industries, most of it had now reverted to nature and provided an unspoiled getaway for kayakers, campers, birdwatchers, and hikers during the long, warm summer.
In May, however, the ice was barely out, and only the most intrepid were willing to brave the mosquitoes, blackflies, and chilly winds that still swept across Lake Huron from the west. Amanda was there on a scouting expedition for her family kayaking adventure in July. She had chosen the historic cottage village of Pointe au Baril as the rendezvous point with her outfitter because it was located in a deep, protected inlet near the midpoint of the archipelago. She and Kaylee had been waiting at the village dock for George Gifford for almost at hour, and she was beginning to wonder whether she’d been stood up. She’d thrown Kaylee’s ball at least a hundred times, and her arm was growing numb.
On his website, George Gifford had seemed like a reliable man. His company wasn’t big and flashy, but he was a fourth-generation Georgian Bay native who had thirty years’ experience in the guiding and outfitting business. He had kayaked all over the world from the roughest Pacific seas to the most serene Ontario lakes, and he claimed to know every tree and shoal on the eastern Georgian Bay coast. She had been counting on him to help her choose the perfect itinerary for her group of eager but utterly inexperienced adventurers.
The man in the speedboat was standing now as he guided the boat into one of the slips and killed the engine. Morning sunlight glinted off his windblown hair, burnishing it to honey gold as he leaped cat-like onto the dock and tied up the boat. On the phone, George had the gravelly bass of an older man, and an Internet check of his credentials had turned up a man with a steel-grey buzz cut.
Not George Gifford, then. Amanda felt a twinge of disappointment, which quickly changed to frustration. The man was nearly an hour late for their very first meeting, which didn’t bode well for his reliability during the intricate coordination of the six-day kayak trip to the offshore islands.
She sneaked a peek at her phone. No messages either. And where was Chris? Even if he was late leaving Newfoundland, he should have texted his arrival details by now. Unless he’d got cold feet. Not that she would blame him. He’d expressed excitement about coming on this scouting expedition, and there’d been a palpable thrum of electricity between them, but what did she really know about him? No matter how much he was in her dreams, they’d spent barely two weeks together in the past eight months, most of it dealing with crises.
The stranger stood on the dock, shielding his eyes from the sun as he scanned the parking lot. He too glanced at his phone and frowned. Kaylee, delighted at the possibility of a new playmate and oblivious to his dark mood, snatched up her ball and bounded down onto the dock to drop it at his feet.
Amanda was about to call her back when the man’s frown dissolved into a smile. “Well, what do you want?” he asked, bending to pick up the ball. Kaylee danced expectantly, and the man looked up at Amanda. “Can I throw it?”
“She’d love it!” Amanda exclaimed. The man curled back his arm and shot a beautiful, high ball far up onto the road behind the parking lot. The little red dog was off like a shot, and the man laughed as he strolled up the dock.
“Beautiful dog,” he said. “It’s a Nova Scotia something, isn’t it?”
“Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Don’t worry, no one ever remembers the whole name.”
Kaylee came bouncing back to drop the ball in front of him. “Look at that focus!” he said. “Does she like the water?”
“Part mermaid! They’re bred for it. I warn you, though, she’ll retrieve until your arm falls off.”
“This is my kind of dog,” he said, bending to pick up the ball. “We just got a Lab puppy, but I think they left the brains out of the package.”
Amanda laughed. “All puppies are like that.” She tried to call Kaylee over so that she would not pester the man yet again, but the dog was too excited. “You have a beautiful boat. Is it an antique?”
“It is. It’s been in the family — well, my wife’s family — for sixty years. It’s temperamental, but it’s my favourite.” He tossed the ball again and then looked up to scan the road behind the parking lot. His frown returned. “You haven’t seen a woman and a baby anywhere around, have you?”
Amanda looked around. There was only one vehicle in the parking lot, an SUV from Michigan parked next to her lime-green motorcycle, and most of the traffic that had driven by in the past hour had been contractors in pickup trucks.
“There’s construction on the highway,” she said. She’d been giving herself the same excuse for George Gifford’s delay.
He grinned. “There’s always construction on the highway.” At that moment the roar of an engine and the squeal of tires heralded the arrival of a car. They both turned expectantly just as a silver Audi slewed into the parking lot and jerked to a stop. The door was flung open and a woman leaped out. Amanda noticed the skinny white jeans and the gold wedge sandals first before taking in the mass of platinum curls, the huge sunglasses, and the cherry-red lips. Not exactly a country look.
In that instant, Amanda felt every inch of her frayed jeans, baggy t-shirt, and flip-flops. In anticipation of Chris Tymko’s arrival, she had washed her long, light-brown hair and stuffed it into what she hoped was an attractive ponytail, but she’d clearly fallen well short of the mark.
“Her usual grand entrance,” the man muttered before heading up toward the car.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Cherry Lips exclaimed. “The traffic out of Toronto was insane, and I had to stop four times because—” An outraged screech from inside the car stopped her short, and she clutched her head. “Omigod, Benson, he’s been like that the whole time! He just won’t settle! I tell you, you’re a lifesaver. If it weren’t for you, I’d be murdering the kid!”
Benson strode toward the car. “Well, let’s get the little guy out.” He opened the rear door and bent inside, crooning baby talk. The woman seemed to notice Amanda for the first time. Her gaze flicked over the baggy t-shirt, and a faint frown pinched her face. Amanda tried a sympathetic smile, which the woman ignored.
Benson emerged with a baby in his arms, now miraculously quiet. He tossed the little boy into the air and then buried his face in the boy’s belly, making him burst into giggles.
“Benson, I have to go. I’m so late!” The woman opened the trunk and began to dump suitcases, half a dozen bags, a car seat, and a stroller on the ground. “If he gets colicky, push him around in the stroller.”
“We’ll take you for a motorboat ride, won’t we, Tommy?”
“Thomas. It’s Thomas.”
Benson grinned at her, and Amanda suspected they’d played this game before. “Would you like to spend a few days with Uncle Ben? And all your cousins?” He tossed the boy again before tucking him comfortably in the crook of his arm.
“And if he won’t eat, all the instructions from the doctor are in this binder here. His whole routine. He needs his routine.”
“Candy, we’ll be fine. Danielle is a miracle worker with babies. Don’t worry, go!”
“I guess you can always get Kaitlyn to help out as well. If you can get her out of bed.”
A frown flickered across his face. “She’s only fourteen, Candace.”
Candace looked about to contradict him but checked herself. She stood on tiptoe to kiss her son and then paused, her head tilted to gaze up at Benson. Her eyes softened as she touched his arm. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
He bent his head to kiss her forehead. “Have fun. Get some rest.”
Then Candace was gone with a squeal of tires and a little wave of her red-tipped fingers out the window. Benson turned toward his boat and paused to eye the mountain of luggage on the ground.
“I’ll help you with that,” Amanda said.
“Would you? That would be a great help. Actually, what would be an even greater help is if you’d hold the baby while I load the boat.”
The baby began to scream the moment he left Benson’s magic arms. Amanda could feel his rigid posture and his back arching away from her. She tried to coo and play as Benson had, but the screeching only grew more frantic. Finally she went down to the dock, where he was loading bags into the boat. “He seems to be at the making strange stage,” she said. “Maybe you should—”
“Oh, he’s always like that. Anything new sets him off. I’ll just set up his carrier in the boat, and then he’ll settle.”
Amanda paced the dock, trying to soothe the baby and remembering how the village mothers in Africa carried their babies everywhere in soft slings of cloth that molded the baby to the mother’s warm body. The infants rarely fussed unless they were hungry. Sometimes nature really did know best.
True to his word, Benson had all the gear stowed in the boat and Thomas strapped into his seat with a life jacket in no time. He started the engine and straightened to hold out his hand. “Thank you! I’m Ben Humphries, by the way.”
He enveloped her hand in his gentle but confident grip, and she felt herself flushing like a fifteen-year old. “Amanda Doucette. Good luck!”
“Perhaps I’ll see you and your beautiful dog around some day. Do you live in the area?”
“No, just planning a kayak trip. With Gifford Outfitters. Do you know them?”
His face lit. “Everyone knows George. Great guy. You’re in good hands.”
“I hope so. He’s late.”
With practiced ease he dropped down behind the wheel. “That’s unusual. Maybe—” He broke off at the sound of a distant boat. They both turned to watch a small boat’s progress up the sparkling bay. “That’s probably him now,” Benson said.
As the boat drew closer, Amanda could make out a sturdy aluminum skiff painted red in places and black in others, as if the owner had used whatever colour was handy at the time. A man sat in the rear. Sunglasses obscured his face, and a ball cap was pulled low over his eyes, but she could distinguish faded jeans and a tan windbreaker.
George Gifford at last?
“Yes, that’s …” Benson scowled. “Oh.”
Benson shook his head and started the engine. “Nothing. My mistake. I’ve got to take off. Good luck with your trip!”
And with that he was gone, reversing away from the dock and then swinging the boat in a wide, graceful arc toward the open water. As the two boats passed, the man in the little skiff waved, but Benson made no response. Amanda had little time to puzzle over Benson’s abrupt change of mood before the skiff swooped in to the dock. The man threw his outboard into reverse and came to a perfect stop against the side of the dock. He picked up the painter and wrapped it quickly around the dock cleat before jumping out. Hair bleached the colour of ripe wheat peeked out from under the ball cap. There was a youthful grace to the jump and a slight swagger as he walked up the dock toward her.
“You must be Amanda Doucette.”
Doubts began to crowd in. The voice had none of the gravel she was expecting. When he pulled off his sunglasses, he revealed merry blue eyes, freckled cheeks, and a broken tooth that gave him a boyish, gap-toothed grin. The kid looked barely thirty.
Her heart sank. “I was expecting George Gifford.”
“Well, you got his son, Ronny.” He spread his arms teasingly. “Your lucky day.”
Excerpted from Prisoners of Hope by Barbara Fradkin. © 2018 by Dundurn Press. All rights reserved. Published throughout North America by Dundurn Press (dundurn.com).