For Mark Whelan, Private Investigator, it all begins in a sombre but entirely unremarkable way: a visit to the morgue to provide moral support to a client as he formally identifies his brother. But Whelan’s interest is piqued by a link between the victim’s death and Whelan’s own youth and by signs that the death is the result of something darker than the “accident” being suggested by the police. The appearance of a mysterious message from the dead man, the discovery that his apartment had been burgled, and an attempt on Whelan’s life prove that something else, something very valuable, is in play. Then the bodies begin to pile up. Balsam Sirens tells the story of a private investigator who takes on a case that appears routine, but who is soon swept to the edge of a psychological abyss by the abduction of his wife. Whelan, a PI colleague, and an unlikely ally – a fearless bush pilot called Kate – drive the action forward to a gun battle and a surprising outcome.
Journalist and author Walter Stewart (1931-2004) was the prolific author of non-fiction; his only two fiction works, Right Church, Wrong Pew and Hole in One are small town murder mysteries set in Kawartha Lakes, published by HarperCollins.
Born in Toronto, Stewart attended high school in London, graduating in 1949. Stewart once described his hobbies as “reading, writing, and arguing.” In high school, he wrote for the London Echo. An honours student in history, he quit university early and went to work for the Toronto Telegram.
Stewart did not enjoy his time at the Telegram. “What I learned about journalism there, was that it was a suspect craft, dominated by hypocrisy, exaggeration, and fakery. At the Tely, we toadied to advertisers, eschewed investigative reporting, slanted our stories gleefully to fit the party line (Conservative) and to appeal to the one man who counted – the publisher, John F. Bassett.”
Stewart went on to work for Star Weekly (the magazine published by the Toronto Star), McLean’s Magazine, where he eventually became managing editor, and among many other journalism jobs, including teaching for universities, while also penning his books.
His most famous book, The Life and Times of Tommy Douglas, resulted in Douglas being named The Greatest Canadian, while his most controversial book, The Charity Game: Greed, Waste and Fraud in Canada’s $86-Billion-a-Year Compassion Industry ended up pulled from shelves.
From his youth, his family vacationed in Sturgeon Point, where eventually Stewart settled and wrote freelance. He wrote “gently humourous portrayals of his neighbours whom he represented as mildly ironic, but sympathetic, characters” and created the fictitious Kawartha Lakes town, Bosky Dell.
Walter Stewart died of cancer at his home in Sturgeon Point on September 15, 2004. He never learned to drive.