Scare the Light Away

Scare the Light Away by Vicki Delany

Scare the Light Away by Vicki Delany

Scare The Light Away – Poisoned Pen Press – March 2005. Reissued April 2012

After thirty years of attempting to escape her past Rebecca McKenzie comes back to the little town in Northern Ontario where she was raised, to attend her mother’s funeral.  But the past will not be forgotten.


Thomas Wolfe said that you can’t go home again, but when you must, there is a price. Rebecca McKenzie left her dysfunctional family in small-town Ontario and made an investment career for herself on the West Coast. Then her fairy-tale marriage turned to dust after her husband’s fatal accident. Now with her mother dead and her father failing, she finds herself returning after thirty years to the hardscrabble farming area, on the edge of cottage country and in an economic revival. Encounters with her brother and sister reveal a bitter history, and she’s tempted to abandon any attempt at reconciliation. Cleaning up, she discovers her mother’s diaries, begun in wartime England and continuing in her new home in Canada. Instead of a dream, Janet McKenzie found a nightmare under the hand of a tyrannical patriarch who abused his wife and drove his son to alcohol. Unable to stop despite her growing disgust and pity, Rebecca reads on, learning why her mother turned over her small inheritance to help her daughter escape the same horror. Meanwhile the disappearance of a young girl plunges the town of Hope River into chaos and sets neighbour against neighbour. Could it be connected with Rebecca’s only brother, the black sheep of the family? Or has he mended his ways with his new marriage?

Delany pulls back the bedcovers in this knife-edged portrayal of a family taking arms against itself. Her descriptions of the scenic but deadly bush parallel the danger that lies under the surface of a community. Characters alive with sins and sensibility advance the plot while pages turn in the diary. Rebecca, hardened in her own ways, holds the key to redemption. With her faithful dog Sampson by her side, she battles personal doubts and inadequacies. Delaney’s fresh, lyrical prose illuminates each paragraph. The evocative title comes from a scene in a dark basement. “I leaned up against the freezer and shone the flashlight into Sampson’s eyes. She didn’t like it and snapped her jaws to scare the light away.”

Delany is as deft at animal psychology as she is with human behaviour. With mature themes, a matchless historical vision, and a window on the soul, this debut novel establishes her as a force in Canadian fiction. – Lou Allin –

Vicki Delany has a great narrative voice, fine, well-developed characters and a real eye for the small details that keep a novel in place. Her solid debut is set in the small farming community of Hope River, in northern Ontario. Rebecca McKenzie is a recently widowed financial whiz, who’s come from Vancouver for her mother’s funeral. This is her first visit to Hope River since she left for university 30 years before. She has no good memories of the place, other than her mother, and she’s prepared to believe the worst of everyone. Including, possibly, that her brother might be a rapist and a murderer. Rebecca’s self-discoveries are the best part of the book, and ultimately, the murder is less a whodunit than a story about coming to terms with loss. This is Faye Kellerman territory. – Margaret Cannon – Globe and Mail 2 April, 2005

Well-crafted storytelling and an evocative setting make for a rewarding debut from Canadian newcomer Delany. Prodigal daughter Rebecca McKenzie, a widow and thriving Vancouver executive, returns to Hope River, her suffocating Ontario hometown, for the first time in 30 years, to attend the funeral of her mother, the only family member from whom she’s not estranged. While she stays tethered via the phone lines to her office, she struggles to resolve old grudges with her older siblings, further complicated by her brother’s possible involvement with a young woman’s disappearance. The extra time at home with her seemingly forlorn father reacquaints her with her family in the present; 60 years of her mother’s diaries give her a chance to see that things in Hope River aren’t how she remembers them and possibly were never really what she thought they were. The diary narrative, presented in alternating chapters, is especially poignant, chronicling the hard life of a young English war bride trapped in the isolation of Canada, where her new father-in-law is as cold and vicious as the winters. The only drawback is the secondary characters-cartoonish villains and too-good-to-be-true allies-who detract from Delany’s otherwise skillful and layered depictions. (Mar. 28) – Publishers Weekly

A dysfunctional Canadian family struggles toward redemption. Janet McKenzie’s funeral brings Becky, her youngest daughter, home to tiny Hope River for the first time in 30 years. A posh Vancouver banker coping with widowhood by lavishing all her love on her husband’s dog (Sampson), Becky, who now prefers to be called Rebecca, must face a plethora of demons: Shirley, her embittered sister; Jimmy, her ex-con brother; Bob, the alcoholic dad whose grief sends him sliding in and out of dementia; and memories of the tyrannical, abusive grandfather who terrorized the whole family. In sorting through her mother’s things, Rebecca finds a series of journals recounting every loathsome deed that befell her since coming to Hope River as an English war bride back in 1946. Appalling as some of them were, they pale beside Rebecca’s own horror while she’s out walking Sampson-finding first the scarf, then the body of missing teenager Jennifer Taylor. When the townsfolk are quick to blame Jimmy, Rebecca, intent on helping him and his wife Aileen, is harassed, brutalized and ultimately forced to violence herself. Not so much reveling in family secrets as insisting that families can overcome them, debut novelist Delany is adept at ratcheting up the emotional tension but less proficient at making the mystery elements of her story convincing. – Kirkus Reviews

When a mother dies, even the disenchanted child is apt to come home. Despite bitter memories of life decades before in the small Ontario town, of a despised grandfather, hated brother, indifferent sister and strangely apathetic father, Rebecca McKenzie returns, intending only to attend the funeral and then return to her bank position in Vancouver. But her plans swiftly go awry. Though the town is much as she remembered it, the people have changed—some for the better, some for the worse . . . much worse. Two events will leave an indelible mark on her. One is a missing girl, whose fate has dire consequences for Rebecca and her family. The other is her mother’s voluminous diary describing her encounter with Rebecca’s father in England during World War II, the subsequent trip to Canada, and the misery of life in a seriously dysfunctional family. SCARE THE LIGHT AWAY gives penetrating descriptions of its characters, including Rebecca’s dog, who has been her consolation following the death of her much-loved husband.Without question, this novel is a gem. Yet it is not, by any means, a page-turner. Just the opposite. It deserves careful reading and a putting aside to ponder this bizarre world Rebecca finds herself in during a wet and rainy spring in rural Ontario.HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. – I Love a Mystery Newsletter. Reviewer: John A. Broussard

Shirley Wetzel’s comments about Sampson, the hero dog of Delany’s SCARE THE LIGHT AWAY caught her canine spirit–an unobtrusive, likeable, supportive creature who contributes her quiet share to a superb mystery novel.

May we have more dogs like Sampson and more books like STLA. – John Broussard also writes on DorothyL

Rebecca McKenzie, a successful Vancouver businesswoman, returns to her small hometown after 30 yrs for her mother’s funeral. She had left behind an abusive grandfather & a brutal childhood. While there, she discovers the diaries her mother kept as a young British war bride, who found herself in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Meanwhile a girl is missing & Rebecca’s estranged brother is the suspect. This is an excellent debut novel – chilling descriptions & well-drawn characters & relationships make the book a fascinating read, as do the details of life in rural post-war Canada. – Murder by the Book (mystery bookstore in Denver, Colorado)

When I read Canadian Delany’s manuscript, I was immediately captured by her depiction of Hope River, a small town in Ontario, a province with which I am slightly acquainted. Equally stunning is the way Vicki weaves the story of a British war bride into the mystery. Rebecca McKenzie’s mother, a very young and sheltered woman as World War II was fought, met and married a young Canadian soldier. Her diary recounts the romance, the marriage, her fears and excitement as she became pregnant, a young mother, and at war’s end, after her husband was demobilized back in Toronto, an immigrant. It’s hard for us today to imagine the isolation, the slow communications, the sense of stepping off the edge of the familiar into a vast unknown—with no backup! The story of what she felt and what she actually encountered and how she lived with it flows underneath the modern tale where her family come together to bury her and in the process dig up their—and her—past while coping with the suspicions that rain down around town in the murder of a young girl. Rebecca’s brother, Jimmy, is the standout suspect—even in Rebecca’s heart. The success of books like Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs ($14) reflect our admiration and curiosity for the Greatest Generation and its courage in adversity and for authors who can portray it so admirably. – Poisoned Pen Press

It is a complete surprise to find that a more experienced author did not write this debut novel. The characters are well-drawn, the writing smooth, descriptions detailed and the plot extremely well-constructed. We couldn’t put the book down until it reached an unexpected-but rewarding-conclusion.Rebecca McKenzie, a recently widowed and successful investment banker, returns to a little town in northern Ontario from which she departed 30 years earlier to attend her mother’s funeral. She is shown three tea chests of diaries her mother wrote over the years, from which additional entries are interspersed through the novel’s progress-more by way of background to current events, but also delving into the character of her parents and grandparents. It is the absorbing tale of a British war bride transplanted in Canada to a miserable and relatively unrewarding life.During Rebecca’s short stay, a young girl goes missing and is later found murdered. Rebecca’s brother is accused of the murder. Rebecca meanwhile has to confront long-held grievances against her grandfather, father and brother and find “peace” with her family.While doing so, her family has to come to terms with their own prejudices against her for leaving and not remaining a ‘good daughter’. In the midst of these developments, of course, there is the real murderer to be found. It is not often this reviewer states the following: Read this book-you’ll love it. Theodore Feit, Mystery Morgue