My good friend, Susan Toy, dedicates a large amount of time to promoting books and authors, and offering advice on “the business.” She also finds time to write and publishes her work and that of others under her own imprint, IslandCatEditions.
Susan is a splendid cook and an inspired one. A recipe she created for Cinnamon Buns and kindly shared with me has won me many compliments. When I told her I was serving Susan Toy’s Cinnamon Buns at a coffee gathering last week and that I would give her acknowledgement but not divulge the recipe, she laughed and said I was to make sure everyone there knew that the recipe, along with several other of her “island” recipes is in her latest published ebook, One Woman’s Island.
( Some I will try but I will pass on Goat Water Soup.)
After several years of being on the receiving end of Susan’s promotion, I’m delighted to be able to shine some light on her writing.
In 1989, Susan and partner, Dennis, visited Bequia Island, a small island and part of the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, and were so enchanted with this bit of “paradise” that they bought property, built a home and moved to Bequia in 1996. In the ensuing years, Susan has returned to Canada for several extended visits to Calgary, and more recently has bought a holiday home (she refers to it as “the trailer”) in Ontario.
As soon as I began reading One Woman’s Island, (and the same recognition occurred when I read Susan’s first mystery novel, Island in the Clouds), I could clearly hear Susan’s voice in the narrator, Mariana, who is looking for time to sort out her life. Six months on Bequia is a compelling choice.
The characters, the island setting which emerges as a character unto itself, and Mariana’s introduction to Caribbean culture have resonance for me because I have heard so much from Susan about this place. The resonance, I think, would be there for anyone who’s dreamed of living in paradise.
There is a community of ex-pats—mostly Canadian and American—to whom Mariana is initially drawn, but with whom she becomes quickly disenchanted. Susan pulls no punches when it comes to the hardened judgement most of the “visitors” express freely about the “locals” and island culture. She also skilfully gives glimpses of the shrouded feelings of the locals toward these visitors on whom their tourist industry relies, creating a livelihood for many in this struggling population.
Mariana’s overflowing compassion is entirely believable, and so too is the reaction of her fellow ex-pats and the local community. And so the story unfolds, with mysterious deaths and nefarious characters.
Just a tip: Should you ever have the good fortune of visiting Bequia and meeting Susan Toy, stay away from swimming pools. She enjoys disposing of bodies—only a literary predilection we will assume—in convenient pools.
If I have one quibble with the writing, it is a small one. I find reading dialect distracts me from story, even in this case where Susan’s many years on the island and finely tuned ear give her the skill for re-creating the voices of the local characters. There are places where a bit less, without entirely removing the beautiful song of the Caribbean voice, might make for smoother reading.
If you are seeking an escape, the island of Bequia, even enjoyed from your comfortable chair at home in your own personal paradise, would be a lovely bit of travel in any season.
If you have an interest in ethnography and sociology, there is plenty for pondering.
If you’re looking for a recipe for Rum Punch, you will want to try Dennis’s creation.
And of course, there is the recipe for the cinnamon buns which I brazenly now refer to “Betty Jane’s as told to her by Susan Toy.”
For availability, check IslandCatEditions website.
One Woman’s Island is available through the Calgary Public Library’s electronic resources and I am sure through other libraries as well.
Well done, Susan!