Writing about murder in Port aux Basques

Published on March 31, 2014
Murder in Port aux Basques

A murder most foul has been committed in Port aux Basques.

To be specific, the deceased man is lying prone in the bathroom tub in Room 106 in Port aux Basques Hotel. To be graphic, his throat is slashed from ear to ear.

Before you dash to the phone and call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, I would encourage you to put your brakes on and allow me to explain something vitally important to this unsettling scenario.

The grisly scene described in the first paragraph above is drawn from "Murder in Port aux Basques," a self-published book written by Richard C. Thuss, who currently resides in Berryville, Virginia.

According to a publisher’s note on the copyright page, "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or specific locales, is entirely coincidental."

Phew! Don’t hyperventilate. Take a deep breath. To the best of my knowledge, a murderer is not on the loose in this town at the extreme southwestern tip of Newfoundland fronting on the western end of Cabot Strait.

As soon as I saw Thuss’ book in my local library, my interest was piqued, if for no other reason than that I was fortunate to spend four of my most impressionable years living in Channel-Port aux Basques in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I continue to hold in my mind fond memories of the time I spent there.

Back to the author of "Murder in Port aux Basques." Richard Thuss is no stranger to novel writing. His earlier books are "The Effect on the Soul" and "What Time Is It?" He is currently working on a sequel to the latter title. In another work-in-progress, "The Intersection Point," humans first encounter beings from other dimensions.

As "Murder in Port aux Basques" opens, it is mid-May and Richard Frederickson is in Newfoundland. He has arrived solo on his motorcycle from his Virginia home. He is intent on escaping his worst ever case of writer’s block in the wake of the third anniversary of his wife’s death. He is also in search of what he describes as "beautiful scenery, nice people, and sunny days." As an aside, fogbound Channel-Port aux Basques may not be the best place in the province to seek sunny days. A fiction writer himself, Frederickson uses the pseudonym of Fred Dicky.

Dicky is arrested by RCMP Staff Sergeant Jenna Mackesian and tossed in jail. Understandably, she wants to know what he’s doing in her town "and why it is that you decided to slit the throat of one of our residents."

The American explains: "I came across to the big island of Newfoundland two days ago, and I was planning to return on the ferry to Nova Scotia later this morning."

Dicky knows he is in trouble. He is faced with the daunting prospect of proving his innocence, "figuring out how to extricate myself from this mess." He has his work cut out for him.

One thing about working as a freelance editor is that I find it almost impossible to read for pleasure. I instinctively spend my time seeking out errors. With Thuss’ book, unfortunately, I don’t have to look far. As another reviewer observes, "there are errors which a compulsive editor would catch." Despite the many distracting errors, I felt compelled to continue reading.

I simply wanted to know "whodunit?" The author grants the reader the opportunity of engaging in the identical process of deduction as the protagonist throughout SSgt. Makesian’s investigation of the crime. Here and there, clues are dropped, from which the identity of the perpetrator may be deduced before the story provides the revelation at the climax of this suspense-filled murder mystery.

Is Fred Dicky himself the killer? Nagging doubts linger. Unexpected twists of plot crop up at the most unexpected moment. The impression is left that the mystery will be solved by the middle of the book, but such is not to be. "Murder in Port aux Basques" could even be dubbed a page turner.

Without giving away the resolution of this complex tale, Dicky learns that a woman’s death in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan holds the terrifying secret of why the nearly decapitated man was found in a hotel room in Port aux Basques in the first place. So, is it a terrorist plot? Inquiring minds will have to read the book in its entirety to discover the story’s denouement.

— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at burtonj@nfld.net