Today’s blog post comes from Janet Kellough, author of the forthcoming release 47 Sorrows. Janet is a professional storyteller and has written and appeared in numerous stage productions that feature a fusion of spoken word and music. Her two previous books in the Thaddeus Lewis series are On the Head of a Pin and Sowing Poison. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.
When the world is falling to pieces, who’s going to notice a few more dead bodies?
War, revolution, famine and plague can all be great starting points for a mystery. After all, it’s a lot easier to cover up a crime when everybody’s dying anyway.
Barrels of ink have been used to describe the calamitous failure of the Irish potato crop, the coffin ships and the terrible toll of disease.
Less has been written about the effect it had on Canada. We know about the horrific conditions at the quarantine station at Grosse Isle, we’ve heard about the thousands of emigrants who swamped Toronto. But few of us realize that every port city along the St. Lawrence River and the north shore of Lake Ontario had fever sheds. Irish emigrants with ship’s fever fetched up at every stop along the way.
I chose to set most of 47 Sorrows in the city of Kingston, where travelers switched from river boats to lake steamers for the long journey west. As at other ports in 1847, emigrants vastly outnumbered residents. And, as happens with any disaster, there are heroes and there are villains in the story. Many volunteers, in particular the Sisters of the newly-established Hotel Dieu Hospital risked their lives to tend to the sick and dying. Other Kingstonians fled the city in panic. The Mayor and the local Board of Health tried desperately to deal with the crisis. Steamer captains callously piled as many emigrants as they could onto their vessels.
In the midst of chaos, Thaddeus Lewis and his son Luke set out to unravel a murderous tale of revenge and superstition that began in Ireland and crossed the sea to Canada.
As many as fifty thousand emigrants reached Kingston. Over a thousand of them were buried there. So what’s a few more dead bodies in all this mess?
For Luke, it’s a quest for validation; for Thaddeus, a diversion from loss. For me, their search for a murderer illuminates and details an unbelievable tragedy. I wanted to find the truth about all those bodies.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.