Marl­bor­ough MYS­TERY

Smith Street ho­tel the set­ting for spec­tres and sus­pense

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Les­ley Hughes

THE list of ho­tels fa­mous enough to make their way into le­gend is a short one. There’s the Chelsea, a hippy re­treat in Man­hat­tan; the Na­cional, for­mer head­quar­ters to the U.S. Mafia in Ha­vana; and the Savoy in Lon­don, where a cup of tea will set you back $10. Add to that the creepy con­tenders in fic­tion: Stephen King’s Over­look Ho­tel in the Colorado Rock­ies, and Hitch­cock’s low-end Bates Mo­tel. Then there’s the Marl­bor­ough in Win­nipeg. The Marl­bor­ough? Set­ting aside the Fort Garry Ho­tel — a more likely con­tender with its fa­mously haunted suite of rooms — first-time Win­nipeg nov­el­ist Mau­reen Flynn has a go at im­mor­tal­iz­ing the el­e­gant cen­tury-old ho­tel as the su­per­nat­u­ral set­ting for her crime-cum-ro­mance novel Buckle My Shoe. Flynn has un­cov­ered a lot of lore not gen­er­ally known about the grand lady of Smith Street. Opened in 1914 and once favoured by Win­ston Churchill, the ho­tel was al­leged to be home to a mys­te­ri­ous woman who played a white pi­ano at mid­night. Among other ru­mours, the ho­tel’s base­ment was a place where departed souls gath­ered and hid from the liv­ing. The el­e­gant ed­i­fice serves as both sin­is­ter set­ting and charm­ing char­ac­ter for a story told in two eras, switch­ing back and forth be­tween the Win­nipeg of 1943 and that of 2013. We catch our first glimpse of room 503 in a city full of bbustling street­cars and loloi­ter­ing soldiers, and itit’s here that a be­guil­ing aand guile­less teenager was lured to her death. Chang­ing fo­cus to present-day Win­nipeg, room 503 is now home to a trou­bled for­mer homi­cide de­tec­tive, one Steve As­cot, who makes his liv­ing as the head of ho­tel se­cu­rity. Some­thing in­vades As­cot’s cAs­cot’s dreams, switches hhis ra­dio to the nos­tal­gia sta­tion and wakes him up in a cold sweat. Some­thing haunts the el­e­va­tor and fright­ens the staff. That some­thing is grad­u­ally re­vealed as Edith, the teenager bru­tally mur­dered in As­cot’s room. It seems her killer stole the brand new shoes she was wear­ing, and she wants them back — along with a lit­tle jus­tice. The am­bi­tious young woman who owns the ho­tel be­comes its se­cond mur­der vic­tim. As­cot re­fuses to be­lieve the woman — found dead in the el­e­va­tor, her throat pierced by a shard of glass from its mys­te­ri­ously shat­tered mir­rors — was killed by a venge­ful ghost. Af­ter a sat­is­fy­ing num­ber of twists and turns in the plot, plus the help of a well-mean­ing ho­tel clerk who can’t mind her own busi­ness, As­cot proves he has what it takes to re­sume a promis­ing ca­reer with the po­lice. Flynn, a free­lance writer and colum­nist pub­lished in the Find­ing Your Hap­pi­ness edi­tion of Chicken Soup for the Soul, tells a mighty good story. Buckle My Shoe is a straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive told in declar­a­tive sen­tences with no pre­tense of the rich, so­phis­ti­cated over­lay one finds in the best, most sea­soned de­tec­tive writ­ers, such as Amer­i­cans John San­ford or Sue Grafton or any of the Scan­di­na­vian noir writ­ers like Jo Nesbo or Stieg Lars­son. But as Walt Dis­ney fa­mously said, the writer’s job is al­ways the same: to res­tore or­der out of chaos. In Buckle My Shoe, Flynn had cre­ated en­gag­ing chaos and un­tan­gled it with con­sid­er­able flair. Les­ley Hughes is a Win­nipeg writer and

broad­caster.

WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Marl­bor­ough Ho­tel, as seen today (top left) and in 1962 (above).

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Buckle My Shoe

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