Merrilee Robson is the author of one traditional mystery (to date) and many short stories. Find out more about her and her writing at her website.
Why Vancouver is the Perfect Setting for a Mystery
On a sunny day, Vancouver is spectacular.
In winter the snow-capped mountains are the perfect back drop to the gleaming glass towers of the downtown peninsula. In spring the flowering plum and cherry trees on the boulevards turn the city pink, blanketing the sidewalks with confetti-like petals. Summer brings flowers to the many gardens and parks. And, in fall, the boulevard trees put on another show of reds and golds.
But there are hidden dangers.
The mountains, so tantalizingly close to the city, lull people into setting off on a hike unprepared. People in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers, thinking they might enjoy a short afternoon walk, routinely find themselves lost in the wilderness, cold and hungry, in a growing darkness and with no cell phone reception. Fortunately, most of them are found by the search and rescue teams and suffer nothing worse than the embarrassment of finding themselves on the evening news. But not always.
It sounds odd, but the other danger is the cost of housing.
Vancouver has always been fairly expensive. The city rests in a river valley with mountains to the north, the border with the United States to the south, and the ocean to the west. The main option for expansion is in the valley to the east, much of which is farmland. So land has always been scarce and expensive.
But over the past thirty years, the cost of housing has grown higher in leaps and bounds. Some people blame real estate speculators or offshore investors.
Whatever the reason, people think Vancouver is beautiful and want to live there.
Which means that many people can’t afford to.
Many people think the problem started with Expo 86, The 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication brought Vancouver to the world’s attention when it was officially opened by Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Owners of cheap hotels decided to evict their low-income tenants, many who had lived there for years, and renovate for the tourist market. Rents across the city went up as a result.
Today multi-million-dollar mansions and luxurious condominiums sit empty for much of the year while working people struggle to find a place they can afford. Others live in tiny basement rental apartments or single rooms in the Downtown Eastside. There’s a growing problem of homelessness, even among seniors and families with children. Business owners say they have trouble keeping employees because so many of the people who they might hire can’t afford to live in a city where the average rent is thousands of dollars a month. Housing was the issue that dominated the recent mayoral election.
It was the housing crisis that made me choose Vancouver as the setting for my first novel, Murder is Uncooperative. I used to work for a non-profit housing organization and people would regularly tell me how desperate they were to find a home.
It was those stories that prompted my first novel. Rebecca Butler is a single mom desperately searching for a home for her family, which includes her disabled father and her young son. When her father falls down the stairs in the townhouse they are renting, her search becomes even more desperate. Rebecca finds an apartment in a non-profit housing co-op that she is sure will be perfect.
But then she finds a body.
Vancouver is where I live. But the city is also perfect for the kind of tension necessary for a mystery.
I’m now working on a sequel.
Murder is Uncooperative
A Housing Co-op Mystery, Book 1
All Rebecca Butler wants is a good home for her young son and disabled father. At first, Waterview Housing Co-op seems perfect. But then she finds the body of the building’s manager.
When Rebecca learns that another murder took place in the building 20 years earlier, she suspects that the two deaths might be related. And that one of her new neighbors is hiding a secret that will put Rebecca and her family in danger.