The Trickster's Lullaby

An Amanda Doucette Mystery


The stranger who hammered on the door made no apologies or introduction. She stood in the doorway, braced against the cold, her breath swirling in the frosty air. 
“Amanda Doucette?” she demanded.
At her tone, Amanda stepped back warily. Dressed in a frayed navy parka with a red cloche hat and matching mittens, the woman looked harmless enough, but her tone held an edge of desperation. From her years in international aid work, Amanda knew desperation could make people dangerous. She was alone, and even in this quiet country cottage in the backwoods of Quebec, trouble could still find her. 
“Are you Amanda Doucette?” the woman repeated, even more sharply this time. A faint Québécois inflection was now audible in her speech.
Amanda glanced at the small Honda parked in the snowy drive. The car had once been white, but layers of salt and rust gave it a mottled look. One headlight was broken and the fender was dented. Like its owner, it looked battered by time. She softened.
“Yes,” she replied. “May I help you?” Kaylee had raced up to greet the visitor, and she held the dog back. She should have invited the woman in, but even after a year and a half, trust was still a fragile ally for her, fleeing at the first hint of threat. This cottage was her private sanctuary, hidden and unpublicized in order to keep curiosity-seekers at bay. Almost no one knew where it was.
“I want you to take my son on your trip.”
Amanda’s heart sank. This was a pressure she had not anticipated when Matthew Goderich persuaded her to launch her Fun for Families charity tour last September. The idea had been inspired: to take disadvantaged youth on adventure trips that provided a brief escape from the daily struggle of their lives. And Matthew, the consummate salesman, had promised her, “You plan the fun, I’ll find the families.” But the demand for the adventures had been huge and the selection of participants agonizing. So many needy children, so few spaces on her trips. 
“Is he on the list?” she asked, hearing the echo of a thousand bureaucrats in her words.
“He should have been, but the college said he was unsuitable because of his past. An eighteen-year-old isn’t allowed to make mistakes? To take a bad path?” Her fingers dug into Amanda’s arm. “He’s a good boy, but he needs encouragement to find his way. Please.” 
Amanda wrapped her baggy fleece tighter against the cold air blowing through the open doorway. She had two choices: either to turn the woman away with that dreaded bureaucratic sleight of hand — I don’t make the lists — or to invite her in to tell her side of the story. Amanda had fought arbitrary bureaucratic obfuscation in the international aid world for too many years to have any stomach for it herself.
A smile of gratitude brightened the woman’s face when Amanda invited her in. As she tugged off her boots, she apologized for the snow on the pine floorboards. “Merci mille fois,” she said. “Just to have someone listen and not reject my son as a bad apple.”
“What’s his name?”
She looked up, her blonde curls falling across her eyes. The blonde was out of a bottle, and an inch of grey showed at the roots, but she’d done her best to style it. “I’m so sorry. I’m Ghyslaine Prevost, and he’s Luc Prevost. Well, technically he’s Luc Prevost-MacLean, but he doesn’t like the MacLean part. Ever since his father left us. I don’t like to upset him by insisting.”
Amanda had seen the list of twelve youths who were enrolled in her Laurentian Extreme Adventure, and the son’s name had not been on it. Nor had it been on the longer list of thirty submitted for consideration to Matthew Goderich by the youth counsellor working on the project. 
International aid had been Amanda’s life passion for more than ten years, and she had never planned to give it up, but Boko Haram’s murderous rampage in the Nigerian village where she worked had changed all that. Nearly two hundred school children abducted or killed, their parents slaughtered, and their village torched. Two years later, the memories of that night and her own terrifying escape were still so vivid that she doubted she could ever go back overseas. 
When, while in search of a new way forward last fall, she had conceived of Fun for Families, the premise had been simple: a charity fundraising tour centred around adventures in iconic settings across Canada. The adventures would nurture joy, a sense of belonging, but most of all hope for the future, for her as well as the families and youth involved. 
However, the logistics of the projects were proving a whole lot more complicated than she’d imagined. Choosing the venues and the adventures had been easy — this one was six days of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter camping near the world-renowned Mont Tremblant National Park north of Montreal — but selecting the participants had not been. Ever since her fundraising idea had hit the news, partly because of Matthew’s hyperactive talent for galvanizing social media, she had been flooded with suggestions for needy groups and pleas from parents to include their own children.
It had been Matthew’s idea to insulate her from the crush — and the resulting resentments — by assuming that job. Although he claimed it allowed her to face the groups unencumbered by a history, she suspected he also saw her mental strength wavering. Matthew knew her better than anyone; since he was an overseas journalist, their paths had often crossed in remote trouble spots in the world. He had been in West Africa covering Boko Haram; he had seen her in the aftermath of the massacre, and again after her terrifying ordeal in the Newfoundland wilderness last fall. He knew her stress points, perhaps even better than she did.
When she ushered Ghyslaine into the main room, the woman perched on the edge of the sofa near the door like a bird poised for flight. Kaylee jumped up to nestle next to her, instinctively responding to the woman’s distress. Amanda was about to call the dog away when the woman sank her fingers into Kaylee’s silky red fur and smiled as if the dog had already performed her magic.
“What a cute little Golden Retriever,” she said. “What’s his name?”
“Kaylee,” Amanda replied, warming immediately to the woman. At the mention of her name, the dog perked up. “It means party. She’s actually a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. They’re sometimes called little Goldens with attitude.”
The woman looked around the spartan cabin, furnished by Amanda’s aunt from yard sales and flea markets. Aunt Jean had the good sense to spend the winter in Florida, which left her cottage and her car free for Amanda’s use. The woman had no aesthetic sense, so the only criterion had been comfort, which suited Amanda just fine. It was to this simple, remote Laurentian refuge that she came to recover from Nigeria and later from Newfoundland. The only nods to modernity were the phone and the laptop open on the desk by the front window. From there, Amanda could see the road and always knew who was coming. A small measure of reassurance.
Her guest seemed to register the lack of opulence, for she lowered her head. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I know you are busy preparing for the trip, but Monsieur Zidane is not returning my calls. He says the decision is made. A violent criminal record, he said. That wasn’t Luc, I told him, that was the drugs. Yes, Luc was angry and confused, but it was the drugs that made him desperate.”
Drugs and violence, Amanda thought with dismay. “Has he done jail time?”
Perhaps the woman saw the door swinging shut, for her eyes hardened. “Yes, but—” 
“How many times?”
“Only once—”
“How many convictions?”
“Why do you people only pay attention to the bad? Why did Luc take drugs? To feel happier, to forget his father’s rejection. That’s what’s important. Luc needs some hope, some light to shine on his world.”
“But the drugs, Madame Prevost—”
“Please. Ghyslaine. He’s clean now. It is Monsieur Zidane himself who counselled him and said he’s better. Then suddenly he turns his back on him, just when Luc was finally beginning to trust him. What kind of counsellor does that? It was like a rejection all over again!”
“How long has he been clean?”
“This time, three months.”
This time. Not a promising sign. Amanda’s heart felt heavy as she steeled herself to face the woman. “You understand that we cannot have any risk of drug use or violence on the trip? We will be five days in the wilderness, living together in tents, without Internet and out of touch with help. That’s part of the experience.”
“There are satellite phones,” Ghyslaine said.
“Only for extreme emergencies. The group is fragile, Ghyslaine. I have to protect all of them, some recently arrived from violent homelands. There are other groups more suited to teens with your son’s problems.”
“Sure. Throw him in with a bunch of druggies and gangsters. That will help him find the path!”
At the woman’s sharp tone, Kaylee raised her head and edged away. Amanda couldn’t argue with the mother’s logic, so she searched for a more positive answer. The woman, and her son, needed help, and Amanda hated to turn her back. Had always hated to turn her back on need.
Ghyslaine took her silence as refusal, for she stood up and reached for her parka. “Monsieur Zidane only cares about the Muslims. That’s his loyalty. Luc is a spoiled little Canadian brat who doesn’t know what real suffering is.”
Amanda mentally reviewed the list of the twelve candidates. A small niggle of doubt took hold. Had Zidane deliberately turned his back on a needy young man, simply because the boy was Canadian? Amanda had found the counsellor guarded and inscrutable, but the college had been effusive in its praise of his work. It was true there were several Middle Eastern and North African names, but then the college Zidane worked at was in a largely immigrant area. That was one of the reasons she’d chosen it. Immigrant children struggled to feel at home in Canada and often had no chance to experience the rugged charms of their chosen land, which was so removed from the hot, crowded countries they had left behind.

La description

A winter camping trip turns deadly as two missing teenagers, a twisted love triangle, and the spectre of radicalism create turmoil in the remote Laurentian wilderness.

Amanda Doucette’s cross-Canada charity tour is in for a cold snap when she organizes a winter camping trip for inner-city young people in the stunning setting of the Laurentian Mountains. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.

As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.


An action-packed story set against a beautiful backdrop.

- Crime Watch

A master of the genre

- Midwest Book Review, on Fire in the Stars (book 1)

When the violence begins, there's less interest in who killed whom than in whether the heroine and her friends can foil a diabolical bombing plot.

- Kirkus Reviews

The landscape means that everything you read is focused and tightly plotted so that the characters have to do everything they can to survive. What do people do when pushed to the limits?

- The Book Trail

Doucette's tendency to rush into action thinking she can solve the problems that arise is at the heart of these novels.

- Reviewing the Evidence

★ Fradkin, a retired psychologist, creates well-drawn, complex characters, and she knows how to build tension and drama that hold readers to the end.

- Publishers Weekly, starred review for book 1

★ A high-adrenaline plunge into the dangerous and murky waters of homegrown terrorism.

- Publishers Weekly (starred review)