In bestselling, prize-winning novels such as The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Custodian of Paradise, Wayne Johnston has consistently surprised, delighted and riveted his readers. His new book, First Snow, Last Light, is an epic family mystery with a powerful twist of an ending that also marks the return of Sheilagh Fielding, one of the most memorable characters in fiction.
Fourteen-year-old Ned Vatcher walks home from school in the chill hush that precedes the first winter storm of 1936 to find the house locked, the family car missing, and his parents gone. What happened to the Vanished Vatchers? His father, Edgar, born to a poor family of fishermen, had risen to become the right-hand man to the colony’s prime minister, then suffered an unexpected fall from grace. His mother, Megan, had spiralled into despair. Was it murder? Was it suicide? Had they run away, leaving their only child behind?
The abandoned Ned is soon swallowed up by his missing father’s family and the poverty Edgar had escaped. His paternal grandparents, Nan and Reg, his Uncle Cyril and others, are themselves haunted by the inexplicable disappearance of a third Vatcher, a young man who was lost at sea on a calm and sunny day years earlier. Two other people loom large as Ned grows up to become Newfoundland’s first media mogul, building an empire to insulate him from loss: a Jesuit priest named Father Duggan and Sheilagh Fielding, the boozy giantess who wanders the streets at night, composing satiric columns that scandalize the rich and powerful. In Ned, Fielding sees a surrogate for her two lost children, the secret that dogs her life, while in the enigmatic Fielding Ned finds a startling and rare comfort.
The resolution of the mystery of all the Vanished Vatchers is spectacular. Only Wayne Johnston can create such larger-than-life, mythic characters and then embroil them in events that leave us speech¬less—contemplating not only their tragedies and triumphs, but the forces that compel us all to act in ways that surprise and sometimes terrify us.
STAR TALKS: The eh List: Wayne Johnston | Toronto Public Library