Laurie: Ruth, it’s great to have you with me for Mondays Are Murder. Let’s start with Hunter Rayne. An unusual twist on the typical protagonist, he’s a retired police detective turned truck driver. What kind of person is he? How does his personality make him unique?
Ruth: Given he had been a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for over twenty years, you could say Hunter “retired”, but in fact, he prematurely walked away from his chosen career as a homicide detective even though he was not only an excellent detective, he was also passionate about solving crimes. Why? He’s somewhat of a perfectionist, and bit by bit his life as a police officer, husband, and father of two teen girls, had started falling apart. His wife complained because he spent so much time away from home, both on the job, and in a bar reasoning with his long-time friend and fellow RCMP detective, Ken Marsh, who was struggling with alcoholism and severe depression. Within a short time span, Hunter’s wife filed for divorce and his best friend committed suicide. Deeply hurt, Hunter found he couldn’t focus on his job, and a chance meeting with a truck driver who told him that to be a long haul driver “you have to like being alone” made him decide to go on the road.
Hunter is a relatively serious guy, soft spoken, polite, intuitive and intelligent. He’s trying to keep his life simple, and feels that the solitude of his life on the road is helping to heal his emotional wounds, but he also remains driven by that passion for justice that made him a good detective. Although he tries to remain aloof, he is a compassionate man and so allows himself to be drawn into investigations where his friends are concerned. It’s mainly his boss, tough talking dispatcher Elspeth Watson, who persuades him to become involved in helping out people in trouble. His uniqueness stems from him not being your typical tough cop or smart ass detective. He’s polite, neat and almost stoic. He feels things deeply, but doesn’t like to show it.
The character of Hunter Rayne was actually inspired by my late husband, Jim Donald, who worked in the trucking industry for many years, including several as a driver. People who knew Jim will probably see some resemblance, although Hunter has taken on a life all his own in my imagination.
Laurie: As a woman, why did you choose to write from a male point of view? Do you ever find it difficult, getting into a man’s head?
Ruth: When I started writing my mystery series, it never occurred to me that it would be difficult to write from a male point of view. One of the maxims of a novelist, or any writer for that matter, is to write what you like to read. Two of my favorite mystery writers at the time were Martha Grimes with her Richard Jury series, and Elizabeth George with her Thomas Lynley series. (In fact, several years ago I did a workshop with Elizabeth George in California to improve my novel writing skills.) For some reason I prefer reading mysteries with male protagonists and strong female support characters, representing multiple points of view. To write effective characters, a writer has to understand what motivates people. I remember in my very first writers’ group, a male colleague remarked on how well I nailed the motivation of a male character in one of my short stories.
Laurie: Are you working on another Hunter Rayne mystery? Tell us about your works in progress.
Ruth: I’m currently working on the third Hunter Rayne highway mystery. As astute readers may have noticed, there’s the name of a highway in the title of each book. The new one is called Sea to Sky and is set in the winter resort of Whistler, British Columbia. It is set up in the second novel, Ice on the Grapevine, when Hunter meets an attractive female lawyer in Los Angeles, and she invites him to come skiing with her during her winter vacation in Whistler. (Can you say “sexual tension”?) I intend to have the novel ready to release this fall.
I have long term plans for Hunter Rayne. Characters who have not yet been fully introduced figure prominently in his future, including the widow of his late friend, Ken Marsh. There are many highways for him still to travel, including such intriguing names as the Top of the World, the Yellowhead, and the Beartooth highways, and even the Kamehameha Highway on Oahu.
My goal is to write one novel per year, and I’m delighted that some of my readers are already impatient for the next one. (You know who you are! Thanks for the encouragement!)
Laurie: I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next one, and I can’t wait to see what a Canadian truck driver is doing on Kamehameha Highway. Your books are true whodunits, classic mysteries. What authors inspire your writing?
Ruth: I love to read mysteries that keep me guessing who the murderer is, so I try to craft complex plots with multiple suspects and a surprise ending. I’ve read and enjoyed the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, not to mention Agatha Christie’s classic series about Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some more contemporary writers that I have admired at writers’ conferences; I sat beside the late Tony Hillerman on a bus to the Seattle Bouchercon, for example, and met Anne Perry and John Lescroart at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. And of course, I did that workshop with Elizabeth George at The Book Passage in Corte Madera.
Laurie: John Lescroart and his wife sat down beside me in a hotel lobby and struck up a conversation. After a few minutes, I realized who I was talking to (he never mentioned being a writer) and my jaw dropped mid-sentence. Nice man.
Being a horse person myself, I have to throw this in. What kind of horses do you have? What are their names? Do you breed and train them?
Ruth: Thanks for asking! We horse people like nothing better than to talk about our horses! I first read about the Canadian Horse breed in 1997, and like most other people, had never heard of them. They are descended from the first horses sent to the French colonies in Quebec by King Louis XIV in 1665. Bred in isolation and surviving in the harsh Quebec winters for well over a century, they became strong and hardy all-purpose horses resembling foundation Morgans. I was surprised to learn that at one time, the Canadian Horses were almost as well known in North America as the Quarter Horse is today. The Union Army bought and used many thousands of them during the Civil War, and consequently Canadian Horses are used by some of the Civil War cavalry re-enactors in the United States today, notably the North West Cavalry Association in Oregon, who did an excellent demonstration at the Northwest Horse Fair recently. In 2001, the Canadian Horse was officially recognized as the National Horse of Canada. Visit www.chhaps.org for more information on the breed. (Sorry, I can’t help it!)
We have three Canadian mares: Cherry Creek Danzon Gina (Gigi), her daughter Tickety Boo Prince Riella (Really), and Naro Haras Nisa (Nisa), but the herd “boss” is a palomino Quarter Horse gelding we call Rambler. My husband, Gilbert Roy, does train horses for a living, but our four horses are part of the family. We both trail ride, and Gilbert, a French Canadian cowboy, likes to do cutting and penning.
Laurie: That’s very interesting. I can’t say I’d heard of Canadian Horses before.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Ruth: My first two novels are currently only available as e-books, but I plan to have print editions of Slow Curve on the Coquihalla and Ice on the Grapevine available later this spring. I’ll be announcing it to the world via Facebook, Twitter and on my site at redonald.com as soon as they’re ready.
I’d like to say a big thank you to you, Laurie, for giving me the chance to talk about two of my favorite things: mysteries and horses, and to congratulate you on your own novels. I’ve been to Oahu many times, and envy you for being able to wake up to a tropical sunrise every morning. I’m looking forward to the day I can do some first-hand research for my Kamehameha novel in your part of the world!
Laurie: Mysteries and horses are two of my favorite things, too. It’s been a pleasure talking with you and maybe one day I’ll see you here on Oahu.