Finalist, 2018 Arthur Ellis Award for
Best First Crime Novel
Robin MacFarland is a somewhat eccentric and highly intelligent journalist for the Home and Garden section of a Toronto paper, who at age fifty-five looks aghast in the mirror and pronounces herself, “Old. Fat. Alcoholic. Alone. Failure.” She resolves to lose weight, quit drinking, and try online dating, although not, perhaps in quite that order. The intrigue begins when Robin chooses to cover a water cooling system conference where she thinks there will be a lot of men. By coincidence, her first online date is with the owner of the water company who is found dead after they have coffee. Dauntless, Robin wades into what is now a murder investigation, under the supervision of her new editor, and with the help of her best friend, Cindy, a crime reporter. The novel is framed around a plot to steal Canada’s fresh water, but it hinges on Robin’s hilarious journey through the middle portion of her life, a serious social issue, and a highly ironic murder weapon.
“Here is a Toronto mystery that should be on everyone’s must-read list. Meet fifty-five year old journalist Robin MacFarland: a widow, mother of four, socialist, feminist, and Unitarian Buddhist who drinks too much, weighs too much, and has a wicked sense of humour. When her first date in six years lands her in the middle of a murder inquiry, we learn how smart Robin is, how resourceful, and how humane. A truly wonderful and engaging character, the delicious scandals and politics of a newsroom, and a clever plot of environmental intrigue: the combination is as irresistible as red wine and chocolate.”
—Jan Rehner, previous winner of the Arthur Ellis award for Best New Mystery with Just Murder.
“Flush is an endearing, engaging, well-plotted, feel-good treat. I devoured it in one sitting! Robin MacFarland is a gutsy yet vulnerable heroine; she’s a mother, a daughter, a good friend, and a more successful career woman than she gives herself credit for. Her sexual musings are hilarious, as are her self-observations and honesty. This gripping whodunnit does justice to various Toronto neighbourhoods and is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I hope there will be many more MacFarland adventures to come!”
—Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Nearly Girl and No Fury Like That
“It is easy to relate to Robin MacFarland, the self-deprecating and funny middle-aged journalist as she engages in her own course of self improvement while wracking her brain to uncover a plot. Sky Curtis has deftly woven together a long-standing social justice issue with a recent environmental concern to create a fast paced and entertaining mystery novel. Hilarious and moving, this book is beautifully written and highly recommended.”
—Kate Greco BA Dip. C.S. Sr. Program Analyst, Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Government of Ontario (retired)
“Watching Robin come into her own was both heartwarming and hilarious as she solves the story of a lifetime. I really enjoyed this book.”
—Tania McCabe BscN Registered Nurse
“Sky Curtis has written an absorbing mystery that is achingly funny and poignant too. She seamlessly combines the intimate lives of her characters with socially relevant concerns and environmental destruction. One of the best mysteries I’ve read in many years and one of my top recommendations for this year.”
—Dr. Caroline Meyer ND, Faculty at Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
“You following me? Stalking me? That’s a pretty serious charge, you know. Get away from me.” I stabbed him again in the chest with my finger.
He jabbed me right back in the shoulder. “Tell me what you were doing with him.” He pushed me again.
I lost my balance and staggered backwards. Someone walked by on the sidewalk and I could see them looking in to the site, watching what was going on. “I’ll scream,” I warned.
Jack glanced over his shoulder, saw that we had company and took another step back. He held his hands up, palms up, surrendering. “Calm down. I’m sorry I frightened you. But what are you doing seeing that guy? I was following him, not you.”
“Why are you following him? I think I have a right to know, considering I was out on a date with him.”
“A date? You’re crazy. Don’t be fooled by that guy, Mac-Farland. He’s dangerous.”
“Yeah, right. In case you didn’t notice, he’s a Harvard-goodytwo-shoes-Ralph-Lauren-clone. Hardly dangerous.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Just a date, huh? How’d you hook up with him? I saw you at that ceremony. Then?”
I was secretly pleased. England had noticed me at the convention. “You were there too,” I said accusingly. “You’re a crime writer, what were you doing there in the first place?”
“Same thing your friend Cindy was doing.”
“Don’t be an ass, she covers environment too, not only crime. The lake is environment.”
“Maybe I do, too.”
“What are you? Six? C’mon, stop the parrot game, why were you following him?”
Jack abruptly turned on his heel and slithered away. When he reached the wire gate to the opening of the construction site he shouted over his shoulder, “Consider yourself warned, RO-BIN.” When he said “BIN” he kicked the side of the dumpster at the entrance to the site.
Nice, I thought, really nice. And mature as well. He really did act like he was six years old. Not to be outdone however, I shouted “Same to you, Jack-OFF” to his retreating back. Wasn’t I the clever one?
He turned around and grinned, as if to say, “Good one!” and then took off, bustling west along Bloor Street in the same direction as Todd.
With my heart pounding in my fingertips I walked as coolly as I could away from the scaffolding and piles of gravel. I stood in the street lights on Bloor, saw where I was, and headed east towards the parking garage where I’d left my car. I pulled my jacket tight across my chest and hunched over as I scurried along. A woman in a hurry. My car was right where I’d left it, inside the entrance on the first floor of the garage. I pressed the button on my key fob and the lights came on as the doors unlocked with a reassuring thunk. I dove into the driver’s seat and gripped the wheel, breathing hard. That England was a creep.
Good thing I didn’t marry him, ha ha.
With damp fingers I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the lot. The date wasn’t that bad, I thought, but then I corrected myself. That kid had warned me about Todd and now Jack had too. What did they sense that I didn’t? Is this why I had ended up in a bad, okay abusive, marriage with Trevor? I was blind to cruelty? To danger?
And ultimately, is this why I drank? To keep from seeing the truth? Or, to help me cope with it? And what was that pain in my chest? I placed a hand over my heart as I stopped at a red light. It was beginning to drizzle and the fine drops formed a translucent gauze over my windshield, bending the red light into rivulets of cherry blood. I looked at my hand, seeking an answer. Was it an emotional ache? Was it fear? Of what? I was fat enough for a heart attack. Maybe I was going to die.
My trip home was a blur interrupted by the steady staccato beat of my wipers. When I finally unlocked my front door, I stood in the hall and caught my breath. In the peaceful silence everything slowed down. I reassured myself that, yes, my world was normal. The thump of Lucky’s feet on the hardwood floor above me as he jumped off the bed was followed by the scratching of nails on the smooth surface as he raced down the stairs to the first floor. I absent-mindedly patted him behind the ears while tossing my keys in the tray beside the door. I was on auto-pilot, my mind drumming with the mystery of it all, my body churned up from Jack’s confrontation.
I poured myself a large glass of wine. Of course I did. Thank heavens that naturopath hadn’t called me back.
I sat down in the wing-back chair in the corner of the kitchen and mulled over the events of the evening. What was going on? Why was Jack following Todd? I glanced at my watch. Shortly after nine-thirty. I picked up the phone and dialed Cindy. When she answered I said without preamble, “Jack England is following Todd Radcliffe around.”
“Who?” mumbled Cindy. I’d woken her up.
“Todd Radcliffe, the guy from Everwave.”
“Oh him. How was your date?” She yawned.
“Sorry if I woke you up, but do you have any idea why this is going on?”
“What’s going on?”
I clenched my lips together. It had been a mistake to call Cindy. I’d forgotten that she went to bed early so she could go for a run before work. “Why England is following Radcliffe?”
“No idea. Why, what happened?” Cindy was slowly coming to, her journalistic instincts taking over.
But I was fed up with her. “Nothing.”
Silence ticked down the line. Cindy was hurt. I guessed it was justified. I had now snubbed her and she was the one who had been woken up. “Okay-y-y-y.”
I relented, but only an inch. “England grabbed me after I met with Todd and shoved me into that construction zone beside the hotel on Bloor, wanting to know what I was up to.”
Cindy was wide awake now. “He what?”
I enunciated my words as if I were talking to a child. Still ticked off. “Grabbed me, told me to stay away from Todd, that he was dangerous.”
More silence. But by now Cindy had been made aware of the error she made in her initial lack of interest. She gave me a peace offering. “That must have been frightening. Being dragged into that dark place.” Conciliatory now and trying to connect with me.
My bristles flattened. “Yeah, not fun. But what am I missing here?”
Cindy breathed a sigh of relief. The fight was over as soon as it had begun. “Leave it with me. I’ll find out what the buzz is and call you in the morning.”
“Thanks.” A sharp click as I hung up. Sure she would. She probably wouldn’t even remember the call.
I sat and drank some more wine in my so-called reading chair for a few hours, thinking about the situation, and periodically flicking through a mystery novel. Around midnight I began my nighttime routine of shutting down the house. Lucky was let out and in. I checked to see if the doors were locked. Cast a glance at the stove to make sure the burners were off. Turned out a few lights. And then, finally, lurched into the living room to shut down my computer.
Curiosity about Todd got the best of me, so although it was past midnight, I decided to check out his profile again. I got on MeetYourMatch, entered my password, and typed “Mr. Sail Away” into its advanced search bar. Immediately his profile came up. I read it twice through, trying to discover something sinister about him, something that had tweaked England’s interest, but as far as I was concerned, it looked pretty innocuous and I shut the computer down. I used the banister to pull myself up the stairs to my bedroom. I was sozzled.
Friday morning dawned clear and crisp; autumn was around the corner with only two more weeks to Labour Day weekend. I gobbled a couple of acetaminophen and waited for the day to look brighter before I left for work. Tonight I’d be having pizza and wine with Cindy and Diane. We’d hash this situation out. When I walked through the glass doors into the open concept editorial office floor, my cup of coffee sloshed over my hand. Great start to the day. Shirley’s door was closed and the blinds were drawn. Either she wasn’t in yet or she was and someone was with her. Doug?
But no, Cindy’s editor, Douglas Ascot, was bent over Cindy’s desk. So, Shirley wasn’t in yet. Cindy and Doug were in deep conversation and checking her iPad. I wondered what they were looking at. Cindy suddenly tapped quickly on her keys and the two of them became riveted to her computer monitor. They had started a search.