Local author John Dacombe has released his second book in a planned trilogy about a young RCMP officer fighting crime in a gritty, fictionalized version of Nanaimo.
In Unidentified Male: A Constable Amber Virtanen Mystery, the eponymous cop is tasked with tracking down a serial killer targeting society’s most vulnerable while coming to terms with her own trauma.
“She’s trying to resolve the personal crises that arose out of the first book psychologically, emotionally, at the same time as dealing with a serial killer in current-day fictional Nanaimo,” Dacombe said. “So she’s got her internal demons, her personal demons, and she’s dealing with what is essentially a real-world demon.”
Dacombe has a military background and said he witnessed many of his colleagues experiencing mental health consequences related to their work. He said it’s a common issue for all uniformed and emergency services personnel and one he wanted to explore in his writing.
“I had experience working with individuals like that so I realized that’s a significant part of somebody’s makeup,” he said. “When you are dealing with stress, it’s not a separate part of your identity. It’s part of everything.”
Dacombe said he’s “not a big fan of escapist fiction” and prefers to write about issues that are relevant to Nanaimo, including crime and mental health. Dacombe is an avid follower of municipal politics and his first Virtanen mystery, Aurora Borealis, actually started as a political thriller inspired by Nanaimo’s previous city council before going “a bit off script” and turning into a murder mystery.
“As the book developed, I realized that while the political side of it was interesting … I found [Virtanen] more interesting than the politics,” he said. “And so when I came up with a second book, the new council is many things but it’s not dramatic, so I decided to just get rid of the political side and just focus on the policing and the crime side.”
Dacombe said his next book is already mapped out and while it will touch on different issues than the first two, it will once again be topical to Nanaimo. He said telling these stories is something he’s always wanted to do.
“My bucket list was always to write a novel,” he said. “So if I write three I’ve done pretty well for myself.”
Unidentified Male: A Constable Amber Virtanen Mystery is available online here.