Keep on Trucking
Slow Curve on the Coquihalla: A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery. R. E. Donald. Proud Horse Publishing., 2012. ISBN: 978-0-9881118-0-6. Paper: $14.95 U.S.; $16.95 Canada. 341 pages.
Keep on Trucking
Despite my affection for those wise words that encourage persistence, “Keep on Trucking,” I can’t say I’m fond of the many eighteen-wheelers which zoom past my house on the road between Highway One and Pittsboro. I avoid interstates when possible partly because of reckless drivers in a hurry, and partly because of the big trucks. It makes me nervous when they’re behind me and want to pass, and I’m already going the speed limit.
When I read Canadian R.E. Donald’s first mystery novel, Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, I found my stereotypes about trucks and the people who drive them falling to the ground. I came to like and empathize with the truckers in the story, from the sleuth Hunter Rayne to his unruly, loud-mouthed helper, Sorry (nickname for Dan Sorenson). I also shared the lives of two women who managed trucking operations and decided who hauls what where and when and arrange it so that, after one load is delivered, say, to Edmonton, another can be picked up and trucked back to Vancouver or to Seattle or even Los Angeles. I learned about both the daily work lives of this community of trucking folks as well as their inner emotional lives, which were often stressful because, to make a living, truckers have to be on the road so much, often away from their families and missing birthdays and anniversaries.
As in any group some drivers followed all their rules conscientiously, took their required eight-hour breaks, while others pushed the boundaries and sometimes were tempted, by their desire for more money, to let their trucks be used in smuggling operations.
When Randy Danyluk, a driver-owner of a small trucking company, dies in an accident that immediately looks suspicious, Hunter Rayne, formerly a homicide detective with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) becomes involved. Randy was his good friend, and someone Hunter admired for his integrity and kindness.
Randy’s daughter Suzanne, who inherits his trucking business, agrees that Randy would never have fallen asleep at the wheel or been careless about his vehicle’s upkeep or had any trouble that that “slow curve” on the mountainous Coquihalla highway.
Hunter talks to the RCMP officers at the Kamloops station where he used to work, but they can’t give him much help without more evidence. Hunter persists in his hunt to solve the crime, which he’s convinced was murder. He talks to many truckers and the managers of businesses which use them and becomes suspicious of the people managing Randy’s biggest account, Waicom, based in Seattle, who often send shipments originating in the Orient north to Canadian cities.
I learned about the grapevine truckers have and how they help each other and understand each other’s difficulties and weaknesses.
Meantime I got an up close portrait of Suzanne’s struggle and commitment to keep her father’s business going when she is deep in grief over losing him, and her husband, Gary, is less than enthusiastic about her holding onto the trucking firm. He wants her to sell it and buy them a dude ranch.
Piece by piece Hunter solves the case and verifies what his gut instinct had told him from the beginning. Randy’s death was, in fact, murder in a situation where the stakes were high. I was especially struck by the eloquent depiction of grief here and by the articulation of the inner life of a man committed to doing his work well and living his life with integrity. The author worked for thirty years in the transportation business and knows it thoroughly. I’m not surprised that during her journey to publication, she attended one of Elizabeth George’s writing workshops.
Cover of the second R.E. Donald trucking mysteries.
Interview with R.E. (Ruth) Donald
JH: When did you begin writing? Why?
RED: I’ve always been an avid reader, and early on I was told I had an aptitude for writing. Like many writers, I’ve always felt a need to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Even though I write with a computer, I still feel compelled to keep a handwritten journal. I’ve experimented throughout my life with poetry, short fiction, song writing and journalism, and took creative writing courses at university.
JH: When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
RED: I began writing mystery novels about twenty years ago. I love to read traditional mysteries, especially those in a series with characters who struggle with the changing relationships in their lives, so it’s no surprise that the same type of series is what I write. Two of my favorite authors at the time I began writing were Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, but there are so many other mystery series I’ve enjoyed and been inspired by.
JH: Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.
RED: I began the Hunter Rayne Highway Mysteries series in the mid-nineties. My husband Jim was still alive at the time, and he and I had both spent most of our working lives in the transportation industry. As a young man, he had trained in ju jitsu and had been recruited to work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as an undercover operative. His cover was being a truck driver, and that was how he got his start in the trucking industry. Because a truck driver can be almost anywhere without arousing suspicion, I thought it was a great occupation for my “semi-professional” sleuth. My main character is a retired RCMP homicide investigator, so it’s reasonable that he should be drawn into murder investigations.
JH: Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
RED: The first novel in the series is Slow Curve on the Coquihalla. I completed the first version in 1995 and almost immediately received a request from Mysterious Press for the manuscript. They turned it down, but I received positive feedback from several New York agents. Unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer that December, and in an instant, my life was turned upside down. After his death, I resumed writing and completed a second novel. The loss of my husband, however, had been a wake-up call to get the most out of my life while I was able, so I bought a horse and a farm and was soon caught up in a whole new lifestyle that left little time for writing.
In addition, I was discouraged by the querying process, although I did try sending out my second novel and was pleased that one well-known New York agent who had read my first two novels asked me to send my third when it was completed. In 2011, I bought a Kindle and realized that new technology had made it possible to bypass both agent and publishing house to publish a novel. Reader response to the rewritten Kindle edition of Slow Curve on the Coquihalla was so encouraging, that I created an independent publishing company and now have three books in the series widely available in both digital and print editions.
JH: Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
RED: I wanted to write a traditional mystery with a North American setting but felt that bookshelves already had enough cop, lawyer and PI novels and I didn’t want to compete head-on with Michael Connelly, John Lescroart or Sue Grafton. I knew the transportation industry well and I wanted to write about the kind of people you meet every day, their troubles, tragedies and stories of survival. Ultimately, my stories are about the characters caught up in the crime story, their suffering, hope and healing, their love and redemption.
JH: How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.
RED: Writing is hard work. I labor over every word, every sentence, every description and every line of dialogue. Being published links me with my readers, and the comments I get from complete strangers thousands of miles away who love my characters and stories is what makes the work of writing worthwhile.
JH: Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
RED: Here are a few of my favorite (and most unusual) comments from readers:
“Never thought I would enjoy a truck driver based mystery, but I sure did.” Steve White, Cedar Bluff, AL
“The funny thing is, the whole time I was reading this book I thought R.E. Donald was male. For a guy, he did an excellent job of getting the female characters right. The introspectives and actions of all characters give readers a full understanding of their motives. That was unexpected from a male author in a mystery involving truck drivers. I'm sorry, Ruth E. Donald, for presuming you were a man. It's a compliment to you that I read the book with such interest that I didn't read "about the author" first.” Ginney Etherton, San Joaquin, CA.
“R. E. Donald draws the character of Hunter Rayne with such precision that he becomes a medical liability. Each time a blue 18-wheeler passes you on the highway you crane your neck to see up into the cab to discover if Hunter is driving.” Nash Black, Jamestown, KY
JH: What other books have you published and where, when?
RED: The second book in the series is Ice on the Grapevine (2012) set partly in Southern California and the third book is Sea to Sky (2013) set mostly in Whistler, BC (best known as site of the 2010 Winter Olympics).
Cover of Donald's third trucking mystery.
JH: Do you have a work in progress now?
RED: I’m working on the fourth novel in the Highway Mysteries series, which will be released later in 2014. Its title is Sundown on Top of the World and it’s set primarily in the Yukon and Alaska. (Note that each of my titles contains the name – or nickname – of a highway.)
JH: If you belong to Sisters in Crime, has that been helpful? How?
RED: I first joined Sisters in Crime back in 1995 and attended their conference in Houston that August. Meeting and learning from other female (mostly!) mystery writers has been extremely helpful. Kudos to Sara Paretsky and the other founding Sisters for creating such a great support group. I rejoined again last year and am enjoying the online discussions, as well as benefitting from the writing and marketing information other Sisters so generously provide.
JH: What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
RED: I haven’t had the pleasure of attending Malice Domestic, but I’ve been to Bouchercon in the past (imagine how excited I was to be sitting next to Tony Hillerman on the bus enroute to my first Bouchercon in Seattle!) and am looking forward to going to Long Beach this November. The networking and education at conferences is invaluable to a new author. I also found the Surrey International Writers Conference very informative and inspiring. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to talk to Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Donald Maass, John Lescroart and other well-known authors, editors and agents there. (See www.siwc.ca.)
JH: What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?
RED: I’m very excited about Sundown on Top of the World. I’ve been to Alaska and the Yukon several times over the years, but found I didn’t have the in-depth knowledge that my story required. The research is taking more time than I anticipated, but I want to make sure I get the setting and characters right. What better place than Alaska for my hero to investigate a cold case from his past?
Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to your readers, Judy. You have some great interview questions and I’ve enjoyed answering them.
Ruth Donald, who publishes as R.E. Donald, recently moved to a ranch in Lone Butte, British Columbia with a French-Canadian cowboy, two Canadian Horse mares and a palomino Quarter Horse named Rambler. She hopes to have a successful vegetable garden here, somewhere between the last frost of June and the first frost of September, if the deer and moose don’t harvest the crop before she does.
Ruth graduated from the University of British Columbia with an Arts degree, and worked in the transportation industry for twenty-five years before becoming a writer. The Highway Mysteries are available in digital and print editions through most online book retailers, or can be ordered through your local bookstore. Find more information on the Highway Mysteries series at proudhorsepublishing.com or redonald.com.