Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can't ski? Another murderous press trip in Colorado provides other options

If you didn't read my previous book review about Cynthia Baxter's travel-writing sleuth Mallory Marlowe, you might think I've just returned from a horrible fam tour from the Rocky Mountain state.
Despite what the cover depicts,
this is not a
'Pooch of the Powderhorn' story

That's not the case, though, as you've probably surmised by now.

No, this is another mystery story revolving around the adventures of New York-based travel writer Mallory Marlowe, who just happens to have the ability to stumble into a murder-mystery on every assignment.

This time, in Too Rich and Too Dead, she's off to a Colorado ski resort to write an article about the kinds of activities and adventures that visitors can enjoy when they prefer not to ski down the mountains. (While that may sound far-fetched, it's not; I've sold paddling stories to Ski Canada magazine, and that sometimes surprises people.)

Oh, and by the way - this was published before pot became legal in the state, so if you read it, keep that in mind.

Part of Marlowe's assignment involves interviewing celebrity health-guru and spa owner Carly Cassidy Berman, a former high school classmate. Before she can complete her assignment though, the celeb turns up dead in a mud bath at the spa.

Then the fun begins.

Mallory is sucked into trying to solve the mystery while trying to still complete the research for her travel article. Along the way, she gets entangled in not one, but two potential romances - one with a suspect, and the other with Trevor Pierce, her boss and editor of The Good Life magazine.

He shows up worried about her when news of the murder reaches New York, and given her previous adventures in Florida, he wants to make sure nothing happens to her. Or that's his story.

There are plenty of red herrings, and Baxter does a good job of conveying what a travel writer on assignment often has to go through to get a story completed.

Again, the depiction of a travel writer's life is a bit idealized; personally, I'd love to have her gig, myself: one guaranteed week-long trip each month, a spot in the magazine guaranteed, all expenses paid, and a good chunk of coin when the story is published.

Travel writers' Heaven, in other words.

The protagonist does manage to solve it and gets her magazine piece completed, as well.

Like the previous novel, there is also a section at the back with "travel articles" that contain information about the destinations and activities mentioned in the story, a nice added extra.

Since writing and publishing this second book in the series (2009), Cynthia Baxter has not written any more. The last book published by Bantam Books in her other series, Reigning Cats and Dogs, hit the markets in 2010. Her Facebook page has not posted anything in a few years, so it looks like she's not writing any more.

It's a pity; I would loved to have read more Murder Packs a Suitcase stories from her.

See? There's plenty to do in Colorado besides ski.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ghostly tales, aquatic tails await paddlers on Grand Manan

Getting their "seal" of approval.
We were surrounded … heads popped up in a different spot every few seconds. It was their element. 

All we could do was watch.

Watch, we did. Trying to focus a camera for a good close-up of a seal was another matter, though. Just when you thought you were set, sploosh! it dove, resulting in another excellent picture of a waterspout.

Still, no one was complaining. For the first time in three days, there was no rain or fog. Two days earlier, eight kayaks had set out in pouring rain from Grand Manan Island's North Head, heading for our first night's campsite: Ross Island.

Ross Island was the site of the first permanent settlement (1784) in this Bay of Fundy archipelago. The island is uninhabited today, although the original settlement's stone foundations are still visible. When we first landed, the present concerned us much more than the past. We were wet, hungry, tired and grumpy.

Adventure High guides Derek and Jen lifted our soggy spirits with a hearty meal of fresh haddock, rice and veggies.

A ghost story from Derek lifted our spirits further. The ghost of a former slaver supposedly haunts the island, cursed by a slave he threw overboard in chains to avoid being caught by boarding authorities.

Jen, our guide, checks on the paddling pack.
A ghostless night gave way to another sunless day, while the rain gave way to thick fog. An ugly weather forecast dictated a day trip along Ross Island through Cheney Passage, returning to our first campsite rather than paddle to a new site.

Paddling south along the coast, we watched cormorants, gulls, bald eagles and terns flew along the wave crests and the coastline. Sometimes the fog would clear a little, but most times it hung thick in the air, limiting visibility to 100 metres or less.

A few hours into our journey, an abandoned lighthouse materialized almost from nowhere, looming over us spectrally in the fog. A short paddle past it brought us to a beach littered with more spectres: the flotsam and jetsam of several shipwrecks. A leisurely lunch followed, giving way to a leisurely paddle back to our campsite. A supper of scallops, pasta and cheesecake surpassed the previous night's repast.

This lighthouse is just a ghost of its former self.
The next day we paddled north under overcast skies, cruising between Great Duck and Nantucket Islands, the former known for its automated lighthouse, the latter for its resident bull, which the owner allows to run free on the island.

Passing around the north end of Low Duck Island, we spied seals on the shore. At our approach, they slid into the water. We spent an hour drifting, watching them swim around our kayaks, while they watched us. It is hard to say who was more interested, the seals or us …

After lunch we headed northwest, homeward bound. Two hour's paddling landed us back at North Head - just in time to see the clouds disperse and the sun shine for the first time in three days … just as our trip was ending.

Oh, well. It would have been too hot paddling under a blazing sun, anyway  …

(Not our trip, but a similar experience. Video: Paul Dinning.)

(This story was originally published in Ski Canada's Outdoor Guide).