A recently published book by Gibsons author Marion Crook, who writes her British Mysteries Book Tours series under the pseudonym Emma Dakin, gave Crook the opportunity to mine her Scottish heritage for cultural gems.
Danger in Edinburgh (published by Seattle’s Camel Press) is the fourth in Crook’s series. Each book features protagonist Claire Barclay, owner and tour guide of The British Mysteries Book Tours company. As Claire leads her proteges through legendary landscapes – previous stories have been set in Yorkshire, Cornwall and Hampshire – suspicious circumstances inevitably arise. She juggles her caring for charismatic tour members with her skill as the sharp-eyed detective.
For Crook, weaving an exuberant murder plot into the tapestry of Scottish literature and history was a unique challenge. “It’s a lot of work,” she says. “If the journey that Claire pursues [across Scotland] took over the book, so you don’t really have a mystery because you lose your rhythm. I have to balance this need for suspense and interest to maintain the mystery at the same time as Claire’s travels.
Following her discovery of the victim of a serial killer in Edinburgh, members of the Scottish police inform Claire of developments by telephone as she leads her tour from the Firth of Forth to the Western Isles. She consults with her partner Mark Evans, himself (conveniently) a detective inspector, while being comforted by the presence of her well-traveled canine companion, Gulliver.
“Tour guides are really multi-tasking,” Crook said. “I did a few tours and [given] the amount of challenges they face, I find them incredible. They have to adapt. So Claire is kind of typical, in that way, of a tour guide.
Crook herself has traveled through Scotland on several occasions. On his last trip, accompanied by his daughter and friends from Gibsons, they applied their experience as adult violin learners. “We have taken [our fiddles] everywhere,” she said. “When we played the violin, people talked to us. We played in pubs when we could, and people talked to us on trains, wanting to know where our gig was.
Crook traces his parentage to the McKinnon clan. His grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan in the 1880s and married a woman whose family had made the same trip. On a visit to the west coast of Scotland to collect research for his book, Crook discovered centuries-old links are still present in the Hebrides archipelago. Landing on a small island, a stranger asked her if she was from Canada. Once she shared the name of her grandfather and great-grandfather, the man pointed to a cottage. “[Your great-grandfather] Donald McKinnon lived right there,” he said.
The characters in Danger in Edinburgh traverse more than heather-strewn knolls and lowland lochs. Book Tour participants spread out at the Magpie Café, a venue invented by Crook to incorporate elements of his favorite Edinburgh restaurants. Amid speculation about the perpetrator of the murder, they lazily ponder the actual perpetrators who reside in Scotland’s capital, paying homage to crime genre giants like Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith. “The mention of the writers appears in every book in the series,” Crook said, “because that’s the point of the [Claire’s] round. And readers like it, giving them people to look up, another author to read.
Earlier this year, Crook received the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing for his memoir Always Pack a Candle. On December 3, she will read Danger in Edinburgh at a book launch event at Sechelt Library. Crook will be joined by fellow crime writer Winona Kent, author of the recently released novel Ticket to Ride.