Gail Bowen’s Lat­est Could Be Ripped From Head­lines

We­in­stein echoes in new Bowen thriller, but book was planned a decade ago

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - JAMIE PORT­MAN

A Dark­ness of the Heart Gail Bowen Pen­guin Ran­dom House

Is Har­vey We­in­stein stalk­ing the pages of Gail Bowen’s lat­est mys­terynovel?

Well, not ex­actly. But in a sense, he’s there in the per­son of a preda­tory Hol­ly­wood power bro­ker with unusual sex­ual needs.

So the award-win­ning Regina writer wants to set the record straight. She didn’t have We­in­stein in mind when writ­ing A Dark­ness of the Heart. It was al­ready com­pleted by the time the scan­dal hit the head­lines.

“But it was quite shat­ter­ing to see the re­ports,” Bowen says now. She was even more thrown by the re­al­iza­tion that she had un­can­nily cre­ated a char­ac­ter whose un­pleas­ant sex­ual needs mir­rored some of those at­trib­uted to the no­to­ri­ous former boss of Mi­ra­max Pic­tures. “I had no way of know­ing,” she re­it­er­ates.

“When work­ing on the book, I was aware that this sort of thing went on — this ex­er­cise of power by pow­er­ful peo­ple de­ter­mined to sat­isfy their needs or de­sires or what­ever,” Bowen says by phone from her Regina home. “They’re mark­ing their ter­ri­tory.”

Her so­cial ac­tivism and her years teach­ing at First Na­tions Univer­sity of Canada of­ten brought her in con­tact with vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. “A lot of the kids I taught had been on the streets — so there’s not a lot that I haven’ t heard about .”

Fur­ther­more, the germ for the new novel—the 18 thin an enor­mous ly pop­u­lar se­ries fea­tur­ing her much-loved Regina sleuth, Joanne Kil­bourn — was ac­tu­ally planted a decade ago dur­ing a train jour­ney. She fell into con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low pas­sen­ger, a young hockey player who had much to tell her about the scan­dal in­volv­ing Swift Cur­rent ju­nior league coach Gra­ham James who went to prison for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing his young charges.

The con­ver­sa­tion stayed in her mind. “Par­ents es­sen­tially handed over parental rights to the coach and his team, so these chil­dren had no one to goto. The coach was their world.”

Now she’s fi­nally ex­am­in­ing these con­cerns in a novel that ex­plores the dark side of the movie in­dus­try. Again, the young are the vic­tims. “But I de­cided to use ac­tors be­cause I thought this was some­thing I could deal with more knowl­edge­ably,” says Bowen, a play­wright as well as a novelist.

In the novel, a Hol­ly­wood com­pany has ar­rived in Regina to shoot a new film — and dis­turb­ing un­der­cur­rents be­gin sur­fac­ing. Joanne and her fam­ily are drawn into what’s hap­pen­ing as a re­sult of the close friend­ship that de­vel­ops be­tween her bril­liant 18-year-old artist daugh­ter, Tay­lor, and the film’s vul­ner­a­ble 17-year-old star.

As with many of Bowen’s nov­els, a crime does not hap­pen im­me­di­ately: she owes her huge fol­low­ing as much to her at­ten­tion to char­ac­ter and place as it does to her in­ge­nious mys­ter­ies. So she’s con­fi­dent enough to al­low the dark­ness to creep up on the reader — in this case more than a hun­dred pages into the nar­ra­tive.

“I re­ally want read­ers to feel in­vested in what’s go­ing on,” the 75-year-old novelist says. “These are real peo­ple, and real things hap­pen to real peo­ple.”

She points to the al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein. “It’s shock­ing how power is used against the pow­er­less. So I wanted read­ers to care about the char­ac­ters so that when some­thing hap­pens to them, we do care.”

One un­set­tling chap­ter deals with the sex­ual as­sault of a young woman with — in Bowen’s words — “frac­tured in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties.” By the time the in­ci­dent hap­pens, the reader knows and likes this in­no­cent vic­tim. “I want peo­ple to see my char­ac­ters as di­men­sional — and then the crime comes,” Bowen says.

Ever since the pub­li­ca­tion of her first novel, Deadly Ap­pear­ances, in 1990, Bowen has been cre­at­ing her own fic­tional world — a world an­chored in the City of Regina, in the warmth of fam­ily and friends, in a chang­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal land­scape of­ten re­flec­tive of its au­thor’s left-of-cen­tre lean­ings, in an ever widen­ing com­mu­nity of be­liev­able but of­ten fal­li­ble hu­man be­ings, in the re­al­ity of tragedy and loss. Each book works as a stand­alone novel, but its in­ter­con­nec­tions with com­pan­ion vol­umes in the cy­cle are in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent.

Bowen’s read­ers are in­cred­i­bly loyal. “Most peo­ple who read the Joanna books read all of them and then will go back and start again,” she says. “This sur­prises and pleases me.”

Bowen isa def tsp in­ner of mys­ter­ies, but she also loves writ­ing about fam­ily get-to­geth­ers, the menu for a yule­tide meal, shop­ping ex­cur­sions to the Corn­wall Mall or Christ­mas com­mu­nion at the Angli­can cathe­dral of St. Ge­orge. That’s part of the at­trac­tion for her fan base.

Joanne has changed and grown older in the years since that first novel ap­peared. Through­out the canon of books, she has known both hap­pi­ness and tragic loss. With A Dark­ness of the Heart, she’s now 60, en­joy­ing a rich and ful­fill­ing mar­riage to para­plegic lawyer Zack Shreve — and con­tin­u­ing to stum­ble on to crimes.

“I think her take on life is pretty much the same as mine,” Bowen says. “I imag­ine she’s changed me and writ­ing about her has changed me. She’s a much bet­ter per­son than I am, but I get ag­i­tated when peo­ple say to me — oh she’s so per­fect. Be­cause she isn’t.”

A Dark­ness of the Heart isn’t the only new book Gail Bowen has out this year. In April, the Univer­sity of Regina Press pub­lished Sleuth, a guide on how to write mys­ter­ies. “I wanted to write some­thing that was very ac­ces­si­ble, fun to read and use­ful,” Bowen says.

MADELEINE BOWEN

The seed for Gail Bowen’s lat­est book was planted dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low train pas­sen­ger about 10 years ago.

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