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Confined Space

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Intrepid coroner Bern Fortin faces murder and secrets in small town British Columbia in a debut novel already recognized by the Crime Writers of Canada (CWC).

When respected ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin cuts short his military career to take a job as the coroner for a small mountain town in the heart of BC, he’s hoping to leave the past behind. Bern’s looking forward to a quiet life, but the memories of what he witnessed during his stints in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries haunt him still.

When the body of one of the workers is found floating in the huge bottle-washing tank at the local brewery, Bern is called in for a routine investigation. What first appears to be a tragic accident takes a menacing turn when the body of the worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a nearby field. Bern needs the help of brewery safety investigator Evie Chapelle, who, burdened by tragedies she might have prevented, is more determined than ever to keep her workers, and their tight-knit community, safe. Soon, Bern and Evie find themselves risking their jobs—and their lives—to uncover a killer hiding in a place where it is awfully hard to keep a secret.

Deryn Collier’s debut novel is a taut mystery full of suspense. Confined Space was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.

This reading group guide for Open Secret, by Deryn Collier, includes an introduction and discussion questions for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

After the abrupt end to his military career, Bern Fortin has settled into an uneasy peace in Kootenay Landing—a peace he knows can’t last.

Small-time drug dealer Seymour Melnychuk is found dead after being shot in the forehead. In a seemingly unrelated incident, Gary Dowd abandons his van while crossing the US border. Could the incidents be connected? As Bern and police constable Maddie Schilling close in on the killer, they soon find that secrets can’t remain buried forever – not even their own. 

Questions for discussion

1. The Kootenay Landing community is, to some degree, supported by the financial and health benefits of the marijuana industry. Discuss the importance and the detriments of individuals breaking the law for something they believe is their right. 

2. Early in the novel, we are introduced to Cindy Forsberg as a young girl in an abusive and poverty-stricken home. Why do you think the author chose to include this narrative of familial abuse within Indigenous communities? 

3. In what ways are women marginalized in the book? In what ways are they empowered?

4. What are Gary Dowd’s motivations for marrying Cindy’s adopted sister, Michelle? Do you feel compassion for Gary?

5. Bern Fortin takes on various roles throughout the book. He is a lover in Montreal and New York, a soldier in Rwanda, and a coroner in Kootenay Landing. How does he adapt to these roles? In what ways does he remain the same?

6. Nature acts as both a benevolent and malevolent force throughout the book. How does the book explore the concept of nature?

7. Both the growing and the sharing of food play significant roles in the book. What do you think food symbolizes in Open Secret?

8.“A soldier’s instinct is a terrible thing, as is a police officer’s. At a certain point, training takes over. It’s not a choice. Society depends on this fact (page 421).” How does the book explore the idea of instinct?

9. What is the significance of Aimee’s abduction?

10. Was Gia justified in her actions?
Photograph © Laura Wilby

Deryn Collier grew up in Ottawa and Montreal and is a graduate of McGill University. She now lives in Nelson, British Columbia, with her family and welcomes visitors to her blog at DerynCollier.com.

“Fans of Dana Stabenow and Deborah Crombie rejoice! Deryn Collier's maiden outing is superbly written, densely layered, and marvelously suspenseful. Confined Space is a tour-de-force heralding an explosive new series guaranteed to please the traditional mystery lover.”
-Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times-bestselling author of One Was a Soldier

"The kind of book to curl up with and savour...but maybe not with a beer. Bern Fortin is an enigmatic coroner with a deeply layered past. Believable characters and a multi-layered plot. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Deryn Collier's debut novel keeps you up late reading to find out more."
-Peggy Blair, Author

“A great debut novel. Confined Space perfectly captures the unique beauty of the Kootenay area of British Columbia as it introduces two conflicted, engaging, completely realistic characters."
-Vicki Delany, Author

More books from this author: Deryn Collier