New crime novel explores Vancouver — beaches, warts and all

Sam Wiebe is the author of crime novels set in Vancouver, the most recent being Sunset and Jericho. (Mel Yap/Penguin Random House Canada - image credit)
Sam Wiebe is the author of crime novels set in Vancouver, the most recent being Sunset and Jericho. (Mel Yap/Penguin Random House Canada - image credit)

Sam Wiebe has always known he wanted to write about a private detective who lives and works in Vancouver, someone who can put two sides of the city into the same sphere.

The author, whose previous work has granted him accolades including the Crime Writers of Canada Award and the Kobo Emerging Writers Award, says his main character, private investigator Dave Wakeland, is the perfect face for that. Just like Vancouver, Wakeland is complex, multi-faceted, and has grown beyond his original beginnings.

Two sides to the city

"[Vancouver] is the perfect example of a city that has a public and a private face. And I think that with Expo [86], with the Olympics, Vancouver is kind of on the national stage. It's Hollywood North, every single super-hero show is or was shot here," Wiebe told North by Northwest host Margaret Gallagher.

"But then there's the darker side to that. There's the issues around gentrification — housing, fentanyl — all of these horrific things that are going on and that are just bubbling under the surface. So if you can put those things in conversation with each other, you really have something that's compelling."

Sunset and Jericho, the fourth and latest instalment in the Wakeland series, follows the detective as he walks the line between Vancouver's dual identities. The mayor's brother has gone missing, a transit cop has been viciously beaten at a busy SkyTrain station, and there have been grisly discoveries at some of Vancouver's famous beaches.

The mayor's brother isn't the only person to have vanished. Also missing is a younger man who has become radicalized, upset by the state of the city, and has gone looking for a weapon.

Wiebe said a private detective is the perfect character to parse a city's social strata, traversing between mansions and single-room occupancy (SRO) housing in search of the truth.

"The fact that the two of them end up missing and murdered puts Wakeland right in between them so he has to figure out how these two cases are connected. So it's really about the state of Vancouver and the state of those two forces – the rich and the increasingly upset rest of us," Wiebe said.

Wiebe said the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on Vancouver, bringing out a nasty side of the city with racialized violence, intolerance, and "compassion fatigue."

"Creating characters that were motivated by that, who do bad things, and having Wakeland as a character who agrees with where they're coming from but not their methods – I thought that was a fascinating place to focus on for a crime novel."

Vancouver, warts and all

Along with Vancouver's multifaceted identities, the city's physical locations also feature prominently in Sunset and Jericho.

Wiebe said he wanted to showcase picturesque sites that draw tourists to Vancouver — like Stanley Park and the city's many beaches — but he also wanted to write about the city as locals see it, "warts and all."

"I never want to be exploitative," he said. "I just want to be honest about what I see with the city. Some of its failings and the social issues that I think shape our lives. It's a fine line to walk but I always want to start with honesty."

Wakeland fans will soon have a new way to follow the detective's adventures through Vancouver. Last year, Cineflix Productions said it is developing Wiebe's "rain-and-blood soaked mysteries" for television.