In Search of Better Stories

The Dead of False Creek

This is not my genre! I’m into history, not time-bending fictional murder mysteries. Why then am I going to the trouble of reading and reviewing this book?

The answer starts on Vancouver’s False Creek Sea Wall. Each morning near Science world, I plant myself on a bench to read and write. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many whose morning rhythm takes them by. On one particular morning, a frequent runner slowed to a stop, paused her earbuds and asked me:

“Are you a writer?”

“Why yes, I am,” I said with a twinkle in my eye, “A writer who is a thoroughly undiscovered talent at the moment!”

“Me too!” She said with a grin, “but hopefully not for long!”

Sarah M. Stephen is no longer an undiscovered talent; her moment has come. The childhood dream of becoming a writer is a reality. The Dead of False Creek is the first in her series, A Journal Through Time Mystery.

Constable Charles Peck of the Vancouver Police with his bicycle in Stanley Park, 1899. City of Vancouver Archives

Jack is a constable in Vancouver in 1897, doing his best to stamp out crime. Riley is an archivist in 2017, doing her best to recover and promote the rich history of Vancouver. The two become intertwined when Riley uncovers a journal buried in the archives at the police museum. This journal allows her to see what Jack is writing in 1897 as he writes it. Additionally, Jack can also see what Riley writes in his journal.

Once the two overcome the shock of time-travelling words on a page, they get down to the business of solving a triple murder. Jack worries if he will be able to find the killer, while Riley worries about altering history if she gives him too many clues. She also worries about getting fired for swiping the magic journal from the museum. Riley helps Jack enough so that he can figure out who is committing the murders. However, the culprit manages to escape Jack’s clutches, thus preventing an altered history, but at the same time giving Jack a slight sense of closure. Though justice does fail to be served upon the perpetrator. The story ends so that the door is left wide open for more adventures with this crime-fighting duo separated by a century and yet connected.

Looking north across False Creek, Vancouver, showing the Granville Street Bridge and the CPR Kitsilano Trestle Bridge, ca. 1890. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives via Wikimedia Commons
Sarah M. Stephen. Photo by Kent Kallberg

If you like history… Built into the narrative are lots of little historical snippets of Vancouver’s early days. This is a tremendous value add for local history buffs like me.

If you like time travel without the time travel I’m personally not a fan of time travel stories. My brain rejects the complexity and consequence of it. But this book stops short of full-on time travel since only words do the travelling. The correspondence between Jack and Riley also helps to piece together the mystery in a fresh and creative way.

Some room for improvement… Writing compelling dialogue between characters is no easy task, and while Sarah has her moments in creating meaningful and believable conversations, there were other times when I winced a little in sympathy with my own fledgling efforts.

The book wraps up cleverly. The murderer and his motivation for taking life come as a bit of a surprise; however, the precise details of how these complicated and challenging murders were carried out are left to the reader’s imagination, which for me diminished the overall effectiveness of the book.

But these are trifles. Sarah, the smiling runner from the seawall who wishes me well on soggy Vancouver mornings, wrote a book — and a good one at that.

This review can also be found at

The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

City of Vancouver, 1898, looking south across False Creek before much of it was filled in. City of Vancouver Archives

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