Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Book Birthday: Spectral Evidence

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I love book birthdays!

My latest, written with my wonderful partner in crime, Jude Pittman, is Book 8 of the Canadian Historical Mysteries: Newfoundland, entitled Spectral Evidence.

Imagine learning about a specific historical setting in each of Canada's provinces and territories through a thought provoking mystery? What fun!!

Ours is set in 1692-93 Newfoundland, which had historic trading ties to New England, and specifically Salem, Massachusetts. Well, THAT got our creative juices flowing, because it was the time of the notorious Salem Witch Trials and their tragic aftermath.

Our sleuth and storyteller is 17 year-old Charlotte Jaddore, the daughter of a merchant ship captain and his Beothuk/Mi'kmaq wife. Both heroine and content make our novel appropriate for YA readers as well as adult mystery fans. 

Jude and I are most pleased to present this excerpt. We hope you'll enjoy Spectral Evidence, and the entire series of Canadian Historical Mysteries.

Chapter 1 

Home from the Sea

The first name given to me by my mother, Rising from the Wave came because I was born in Lampok, the water world’s swell, on board my father’s ship. He insists the gale becalmed to hear my coos and suckling sounds. He sometimes calls me ma petite onde, his little wave. I’m a good person to have around in a storm still, he says. 

But I am also deeply rooted here, on the island my father’s people call Newfoundland. They came from across the wide Atlantic in ships with great white wings. My mother’s peoples, the Mi’kmaq and the Beothuk, who call me many variations of my first name, were watching from shore. They were not surprised by the new people’s arrival. Long ago a holy woman had a vision of islands of trees floating towards us, So, we greeted the tall ships with joy, eager to trade. We even added their spirit world of Christianity within our own. 

My father sought refuge here, away from wars and kings. Newfoundland is a good place, full of the bounties of earth and sea and sky. But the wars followed. 

We were in one of those wars in that Spring of 1692 as I scanned the horizon on a cold and fog laced spring day before dawn.  My companions on our cliffs above St. John’s, were gulls, our colorful sea parrots, and rough-legged hawks. And soon came the sound of Randall Kelly’s step assisted by a walking stick.

“You are up before the sun,” I said quietly.

A gusting, like the one our island ponies make through their noses, came out of him. “I tread toes first in the moccasins you made for me, Charlotte Jaddore,” he complained, loud enough to turn the head of a curious gull.

I turned. “Aye, but you took a winding way, giving me more time to hear your approach.”

Randall Kelly grinned. “Straight paths make for dull stories. I hope you have reaped some stories for me over the winter with your grandmothers.”

“I have. How did you know I was returned from the inland?”

“The dust has been flying out your windows.”

“Ah. Spring cleaning.”

“And the praise of your hired helper, after you noticed her hurting arm and took to your concoctions for help. What kind of a crier would I be to not know the comings and goings of St. John’s and all of Avalon beyond? You cut me to the very quick, lady!”

My smile ran away from me as we sat together on a nearby outcrop of rock. I miss our past together when Randall called me “child” and “sprite.” The “lady” had begun after my return last year. It honors me and my growing into my womanhood, but it feels strange still. 

I have known Randall Kelly since I was not much more than a toddling child and he an orphaned immigrant of ten years. Because of the injury he suffered over his Atlantic crossing, he was judged unfit for his indenture-contracted seaman’s duties. But he was more than fit to nurse my family through the smallpox that descended soon after, killing my mother and her babe, driving my father near madness in his grief. We all bear the marks of that terrible time. Randall Kelly bears them the lightest, showing us the way, for he had already survived the loss of his own family in a place called Waterford, Ireland. 

My father bought out the terms of Randall’s indenture. In the years that followed, others saw him as our lame servant, doing the work of women, the cooking and cleaning and household management. But he became my brother as he sat beside me at my lessons. We gained our love of books and knowledge together. Soon, we’d formed a new family—Randall, my father, and I. His literacy, combined with his sanguine humor and curiosity made it natural for our small community of St. John’s to offer him the brass bell of Town Crier.

Randall had his own rooms now, in an old storage barn he acquired because it had a window that faced north. He carved more windows in that wall so that he could get that beautiful artist’s light, even on our many cloudy days. When my father brought paintings from Amsterdam to our shores, Randall was in their thrall. The portraits and landscapes became his teachers as his drawings acquired color and skill. His barn is his home now, and he sleeps below its rafters. 

The sign above our tavern-the Sea Parrot- bears Randall’s portrait of the nesting birds that live on our cliffs. Those seeking to decorate their dwellings with more than fishing tackle and clothes hooks are happy to keep our artist fed and clothed in exchange for the products of his craft. 

Randall leaned his dear face against the leaping dolphin he’d carved into his walking stick. He looked at me with his artist’s eye now, as if judging how well I fit into his mind’s new composition, along with land and sea, shrouded in morning fog. Suddenly, his brow quirked up, the way it used to when he suspected me of keeping a secret. “Are all shelves and storerooms made ready for this year’s new goods?”

“They are.”

“Aye, then. And now, Charlotte Jaddore, with your powers beyond mere mortal ken, might ye know when the winds will blow the Esperance in?”

“Do not you tread over that territory with me,” I admonished him. “George Wyatt already thinks I have dried up his cow.”

“Does he? And have you?”

“Pish. What do I want with her calf’s food? You are a strange people who steal eggs from the birds and milk meant for the young of others.”

He laughed. “Now you sound like your grandmothers. How did those fine women fare over the winter?”

“They are well. Their message for you is to study the weasel over our coming crowded months.”

Randall Kelly is one of the few my grandmothers have allowed close to the inland camps of the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq. He is a smallpox survivor. That is part of the reason they feel safe. The other lies inside our artist crier himself, who both my grandmothers consider a holy person. Holds Two Spirits is their Medicine name for him. They send me back to St. John’s every spring with another animal for Randall Kelly to study, to gather around him, to give him strength and protection. 

Randall’s laughing eyes, the color of seagrass in summer now stilled. “Tell the grandmothers that I will risk the weasel people’s bites of displeasure to follow their advice.” He looked at his hands then. “And thank them for me, will ye?”

“Of course,” I agreed.

“It’s glad I am that they see me as a scholar studying the world around.”

We had achieved twenty-five and seventeen years of life on Mother Earth, Randall and I. But I suspect we both missed our free childhoods, before I ran my father’s house and business. Before Randall took up his paints and the crier’s bell, back when we were welcomed like unruly puppies into all the communities of Avalon—the English and Dutch of St. John’s, the French at Plaisance, and the Irish dory fishermen of our many bays and coves. We were welcomed even into the high valleys of the mountains and barrens, where our trading partners, the Mi’kmaq and the reclusive earlier people of my great-grandmother, the Beothuk, abide.

The east wind picked up suddenly, blowing away the night’s fog. Randall reached into his pouch for his spyglass. He scanned the horizon, past the harbor bay, just as the sun was appearing over the eastern edge of the world the Mi’kmaq call Turtle Island.

“I knew it! I knew trudging up here after you would bear fruit!”

He handed me the glass, took up the shell horn that he used for long-distance summoning of the town’s attention, and blew. I stood beside my friend, letting my blue apron fly like a flag of welcome. For out there, among the last of the icebergs, was a ship we both knew well. The Esperance.  My father was home from the sea.

The gathered people at the dock parted upon my approach. I lifted my skirts and ran to the Esperance as the gangplank was set in place. Every mother’s child of them knew they would not get a first look at the wines, the lemons and oranges, the stockings, and French silks. Not until my father had given his heir and business partner a proper greeting. His arms, his salt tang smell mixed with clove, the quill and bead decoration that dangled from his ear- all were home to me. My world was not returned in balance until his quartermaster began a reel on his pipe and we’d danced a swinging circle in each other’s arms.

As the tune finished, we heard Randall Kelly’s bell, then his powerful voice.

“Hear ye! Hear ye! Be it known that by the grace of Divine Providence and the skill of her officers and crew, the good ship fashioned of fleet Bermuda cedar known as the Esperance, in their Majesties King William and Queen Anne’s port of St. John’s in the Colony of Avalon, has landed this eleventh day of April in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and ninety-two! As first of the season into port, Martin Jaddore is hereby declared Fleet Captain and Fishing Admiral!  Is this not a day to bring our poor wintering souls joy? A day altogether calling to mind the words of our own gracious late and lamented governor poet?

The air in Newfoundland is wholesome good,

The fire as sweet as any made of wood,

The water, very rich, both salt and fresh,

The earth more rich, you know it is no less

Where all are good, fire, water, earth and air,

What man made of these four would not live there?’”

Loud cheering followed his recitation of Robert Hayman’s verse. Amid the jubilation, my father growled before he whispered in my ear, “Poetry? More like royal sanctioned versifying lies out of that Devonshire pirate! Did we not have Randall Kelly recite enough Shakespeare in his youth to know the difference?”


  1. So very intriguing. Love the characters :)

  2. Feels so authentic. Wonderful start. Thans for sharing.

  3. A beginning with all kinds of hooks...magic and First Nation's People and history--at an exciting time and place.


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