Review of The Geranium Girls
“Name five murder mystery writers from western Canada. I have to admit I can't do it. I'm more inclined to read American authors like James Lee Burke, who bases his Dave Robieheaux series in the exotic locale of Louisiana or Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus tales set in Scotland.
But as I've just discovered, it can be very intriguing to read murder mysteries based on locales in Western Canada. I've just finished reading three books by Western Canadian authors who will be in Calgary Aug. 23 for what's been dubbed the Magical Mystery tour. The authors are Alison Preston from Winnipeg, Cherylyn Stacey (who goes by the pseudonym R.F Darion) from Edmonton, and local author D.A Barry.
Preston's The Geranium Girls takes place in Winnipeg, Stacey's book Beyond Spite is based in a town that sounds a lot like St. Albert and D.A Barry sets her book Polar Circus in a remote research camp north of Churchill, Manitoba.
These three books all turned out to be enjoyable reads. Beyond Spite is about an RCMP staff sergeant who has to stop a serial rapist from attacking his next victim. in Polar Circus, an animal rights activist wreaks havoc at the isolated camp where scientists are studying polar bears. And in The Geranium Girls, a young Winnipeg mail carrier unravels the true identity of a serial killer after stumbling across one of his victims in a park.
The book that really stood out for me was the latter. It has an unconvential main heroine, a mail carrier. I was dubious about how interesting a mail carrier could be, but Preston proved me wrong. Beryl Kyte turns out to be a compelling character.
Preston knows a great deal about being a mail carrier. It's been her career for the last 24 years. There are some really good laughs in The Geranium Girls about the job. One character storms out of a post office after learning that a senile old lady has wrongly accused him up dumping mail in the Assiniboine River.
There's also a scene where the main character, Beryl, is scolded by a customer for taking a coffee break.
"It seemed impossible to wite about a mail carrier without a little whining," says Preston. "Some people are so overly anxious for their mail and we can't control when it arrives.
The Geranium Girls has an intriguing cast of characters, a convincingly evil serial killer and some really strong dialogue. It's fresh and original. You don't have your sterotypical hard drinking, womanizing police detective as the main character (although such a character exists in a smaller role). Preston manages to disturb the reader, but she also makes you laugh.
One of Beryl's best friends is a hairdresser by the name of Hermione. She only cuts hair. She won't wash or blow-dry hair, but she's so talented she has a huge number of customers. Then there's Beryl's boyfriend Dhani, who has had all of his toes cut off due to rheumatoid arthritis. And when a wasp stings Beryl on the bottom of her foot, Dhani decides to suck the poison out. Beryl also has neighbours who trap squirrels and take them away from the neighbourhood because the wife is terrified of them.
Preston says these people are based on real life neighbours she used to have.
"They've been out of my life for quite a while," she says gently.
The missing toes due to rhematoid arthritis is also based on a woman Preston met while in hospital after a car accident. And she admits there's some of herself in Beryl.
"It's natural that some of me will come out in a female mail carrier, but she's quite a bit younger," says Preston.
Some of the dialogue in this book is truly hilarious. Here are a couple of examples.
"I kissed a guy I shouldn't have kissed," Beryl said, as she fluffed her hair about with a towel.
Hermione laughed. "What are you, in Grade 7? I fucked ninety-two guys I shouldn'ta fucked. But there's nothing either of us can do about it. Let's have a real drink."
"What the frick, Beryl?"
"Frick isn't a word," she said sadly. "Why can't you just say fuck, like other people."
The comic in the book alternates with the sinister.
Preston creates a truly disturbing serial killer by the name of Boyo. Boyo suffered unbelievable abuse at the hands of his aunt, whom he remembers with unrelenting hatred as Auntie Cunt. We learn about the abuse in flashbacks.
Boyo is an eerily believable character. He is the epitome of creepy. Boyo has a mannequin dressed up like his dead aunt in his bedroom and he takes tokens of his serial killings, like one of his victim's eyeballs, to her graveside.
Preston says she spent a lot of time researching serial killers in order to write a convincing depiction of one.
In The Geranium Girls, Preston goes all out with Winnipeg references. She says in her first two murder mysteries she didn't get so Winnipeg-specific, but she realized after doing readings that people "get a kick out of" reading about familiar places.
The Magical Mystery tour is Preston's first book tour. She says the goal of the event is to "plant seeds." Preston is hoping the tour will introduce her work to at least a few new readers. As with the majority of Canadian authors, Preston isn't getting rich being a writer. She's still supporting herself fully by working as a mail carrier.
But she says she would leave her job immediately if she had the money and she'd focus solely on writing.
"I would quit in aminute if I had the money. I hate getting up at 5:30 a.m. and I hate the way it interferes with my writing."”
More Reviews of this title
“With The Geranium Girls, Winnipeg writer Alison Preston has penned a deeply creepy book. It's creepier than the vicious serial killer stories now dominating the thriller genre, in part because it takes place in Winnipeg's happy familiar spots—Norwood flats, St. Vital Park and Taché Boulevard. That leaves local readers wondering if whacko characters might live down the street or frequent the same corner store.
The story begins when Beryl, a young letter carrier, stumbles over a body in St. Vital Park. The dead girl has mushrooms growing out of her gaping, dirt-filled mouth, an image that haunts Beryl and propels her to do her own sleuthing.
Soon, the killer is tormenting Beryl's somewhat mundane and hermit-like existence in distressingly subtle ways.”
“Alison Preston's first mystery, The Rain Barrel Baby, showed real promise. Her second proves it was no fluke. Winnipeg mail carrier Beryl Kyte, back from Baby, stumbles over a body, a young woman with mushrooms in her mouth. Two more murders follow and Beryl, like the rest of her Norwood Flats neighbours, is following the story in the papers. But she sees a connection the police have missed. And then strange things start happening. This is a solid, well-plotted mystery, with a lively setting and interesting characters.”
“Winnipeg-born Alison Preston's latest literary mystery—the follow-up to The Rain Barrel Baby—is the story of Beryl Kyte, a 29-year-old postal worker who lives in Winnipeg's Norwood Flats. While out for a walk in St. Vital Park, she literally stumbles over a dead body—a young woman with mushrooms growing out of her mouth. When another woman is slain and odd things begin to happen around her house, Beryl begins to suspect she may be more involved with the case than she'd like.
Preston makes Beryl's workaday world come to vivid life (probably helped along by the fact that the author herself is a postal worker who lives in Norwood Flats). Her dialogue is smart and genuine, her prose has real snap and she peppers the book with local detail that awakens our eyes to the quiet beauties of our city. And despite the fact that Preston probably hasn't stumbled across a corpse, her shudder-worthy description is a grisly treat. …It's a compelling read.”
“This book is for people like me who like the idea of a murder mystery but prefer for the bloody action to take place off stage. I'm not keen on being dragged into the lair of deranged murderers or having all the gory detail forced upon me in order to get on with the plot of a story. This book I was able to enjoy, it is perfect for "a day off", reading without fear that someone like Freddy Kruger is about to leap off the pages at me.
What keeps us on our toes in this mystery is the angle from which we view the unfolding story? Why does the story stay with the person who accidentally trips over the body? Is she an investigator? Is she the next victim? As an added bonus with every reading you get a great trip to Winnipeg.”