A Real Somebody by Deryn Collier

My first encounter with author Deryn Collier was on a frosty evening, pre-COVID, at Calgary’s Wordfest Murder Mystery Tour Night. Deryn was there with fellow Canadian mystery writers Craig Davidson and Andrew Pyper. She spoke of her two mystery books, Confined Space and Open Secret, both of which I purchased and read. And, both books were thoroughly enjoyed: Deryn Collier can write a solid mystery story. Then, Deryn Collier disappeared. Until now.

“A Real Somebody is a wonderful roll-back in time.”

Deryn Collier is back with her latest book A Real Somebody. This new novel is certainly written in Collier’s sure hand, her distinctive style as a mystery writer shines through. The difference from her other stories is that this book is based on Collier’s real-life aunt, June Grant, and as she puts it, this is “a historical novel, and a very gentle mystery, set in Montreal in 1947”.

A Real Somebody is a wonderful roll-back in time. World War 2 had ended and life was restructuring itself. Women were in the workforce but were held tightly within very strict confines. Advertising companies were on the rise but they were headed and run by high-powered men. Women like Collier’s Aunt June were destined to live out their career in the steno pool, but just until their engagement. At that time there was a going-away gathering for the lucky young woman, and she was replaced in the pool so she could start her “real life”, her true vocation, as a wife. There were two options: marriage or a life of certain spinsterhood. This lifetime of wife-hood was of no interest to June Grant. Her dream was to become a writer not a “picture-perfect housewife” like her two sisters. And here’s where things start to unfold for June. Sister Daisy, always so beautiful and delicate, married to a handsome advertising executive, with kids to boot, may not be what she appears on the outside. The more June wrangles herself out of the steno pool and into the boardroom, the more she is determined to dare to follow her own dreams of becoming a real writer. Along the way, she must search out more about her sister and find out what it is that doesn’t sit right. What could Daisy possibly be hiding?

I love how this book puts a woman’s life at that time under the microscope. Collier’s smooth writing style coupled with her skilled mystery-writing ability had me on edge. Under her spell, I was tied to June’s raw feelings and “far-fetched” dreams that seemed to lay just beyond her fingertips, always out of grasp. The mystery elements involving June’s sister Daisy were woven into the story at perfect intervals making for a well-paced tale and widening the story’s berth. I was in June’s corner from the beginning, at one with her while she was being reminded by other women, including her boss, Miss Pomeroy, that she ought to remember her place. That place is not where June thought she ought to be. Collier’s inclusion of the early days of Eaton’s and Sears’ catalogue-making was such an interesting bonus to the story.

There’s so much in A Real Somebody from the historical perspective, the solid mystery surrounding Daisy, the setting in old Montreal, the single woman norm versus the married, the early days of the advertising agencies, and the dream for one woman to want more. But at what cost? It was easy to become close to Collier’s characters and to be swept into their lives. June Grant is a real person and the carefully crafted story-telling ability of the author made June’s story one I very much enjoyed. As a package, this book is well-researched, superbly written, and certainly a story for our times. The world has changed and it’s because of those before us. I’m happy to welcome back this wonderful writer. Don’t miss reading A Real Somebody by Deryn Collier, it’s an engrossing tale of what it means to hold onto a dream and at what cost it may be to do so.

Deryn Collier has dreamed of writing mystery novels since reading her first Nancy Drew in the second grade. She has written two previous novels: Confined Space, which was nominated for a Best First Novel Award by the Crime Writers of Canada, and Open Secret.

These days she lives in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia with her family, and though she has lived there for many years, she still considers Montreal to be home. Visit her website at www.deryncollier.com to subscribe.