Bay of Blood: Tom Thomson Redux

Kudos for Bay of Blood: “A vivid page-turner” ~ Steven Heighton, Governor General’s Award Winner | “Quintessential Canadian mystery” ~ Lesley Choyce, Dartmouth Book Award Winner

Tom Thomson is a Canadian myth, a national icon. The famous painter died mysteriously in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario on July 8, 1917. The famous Canadian painter in Bay of Blood dies on July 8, 2017. Like Thomson, he often paints from out on the water, in his case from a sailboat, not a canoe. He’s part of an artist’s collective called the Gang of Eight, not the Group of Seven. His small skiff is named ‘West Wind,’ after Thomson’s most famous painting. So, there are references to Tom Thomson, but the famous painter in Bay of Blood is not Thomson.

Given Thomson’s iconic status, I didn’t want to meddle with his memory. Also, and this was very important to me, I didn’t want to offend his family in any way. I want him to rest in peace at Leith United Cemetery, or perhaps Canoe Lake. To this date, there’s no consensus as to where he’s buried.

Incidentally, when Thomson painted from his canoe, he used an easel-like device attached near the bow that held an 8×10-inch wood panel. He’d paint the panels very quickly, with minimal brushstrokes. It was his way of capturing scenes that would later be turned into full-size canvases in his winter studio. In essence, it was like today’s painter photographing a scene prior to painting it.

Leaving all that aside, I borrowed from the Tom Thomson myth. I didn’t fictionalize the man. I fictionalized the myth. I took elements from the myth and reshaped them. For example, Thomson is considered the Father of Canadian Painting. The famous painter in Bay of Blood leads a 21st century art movement that presents Canada to the world.

However, for the most part, I created new elements. I wrote a murder mystery about a painter called Thom Tyler, a TT, yes, TT Number 2, who, admittedly, is a Thomson Redux. But he’s soon dead.

Bay of Blood is narrated by an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) detective based in Wiarton, midway up the Bruce Peninsula. Detective Sergeant Eva Naslund is half Swedish and half Scottish-Canadian. Her father is from Sweden; her mother, from the Bruce.

Eva Naslund operates in a largely male domain, the jurisdiction of homicide. She goes to work with a homicide team who arrive in Wiarton from OPP Central in Orillia. They find no useful blood or DNA evidence, and no prints – no footprints, bootprints, or fingerprints. Nothing.

They turn to financial forensics. Tyler’s paintings are worth millions, yet he’s deeply in debt to banks and his art agent. As with many artists, he doesn’t get much when his work is sold. His agent gets the lion’s share.

Here’s a peep into the novel from Doctor Sherrill Grace, a UBC Professor and a Thomson scholar: “There are many clever details in Potter’s version of events with close parallels to Tom Thomson’s life and death. However, Potter takes his readers on a fascinating 21st-century chase, with bells and whistles never dreamt of one hundred years ago: cell phones, female detectives, Russian operatives, and shady Toronto art dealers. Whether or not you follow the Thomson saga, you’ll relish Bay of Blood’s new take on events.”

Thank you, Doctor Grace.

For Eva Naslund, working in the male homicide domain is tricky. The old-boy network throws a few spanners her way. But she rolls with the punches, giving back as good as she gets. She’s quick on her feet, she’s feisty. However, bottom line, she toes the line. For the good of the investigation and the good of her community – the Bruce Peninsula – she’s a team player. That’s not a spoiler alert. But this may be. Thom Tyler is not the only dead body in the novel.

Okay. No More. You know the saying. If I tell you any more, I’ll have to kill you. Well, in a book.

I’ve included a short excerpt from Bay of Blood, from an article about Tyler’s death:

Mr. Tyler, one of Canada’s most celebrated painters, was especially fond of nature. He traversed the Great Lakes for months at a time in a sailboat outfitted with an artist’s studio, in search of what he called the lost soul of Canada ….

Bay of Blood selected for submission to the ITW 2020 Thriller Award Contest

Bay of Blood was selected by Black Opal Books for submission to the 2020 ITW (International Thriller Writers) Thriller Award Contest [Best Paperback Original Novel Category]

Bay of Blood

Bay of Blood, the first novel in the North Noir Canada Series, featuring Detective Eva Naslund. Release date: March 23, 2019. Published by Black Opal Books. Click here for sales.

Bay of Blood. World-renowned painter Thom Tyler is murdered in Georgian Bay, Canada. The consensus is that Tyler had no enemies. Why would anyone murder him?

Detective Eva Naslund goes to work with a homicide team from OPP Central. They find no useful blood, print, or DNA evidence. They turn to financial forensics and criminal psychology. Tyler’s paintings are worth millions, yet he’s deeply in debt to banks and his art agent. Just as the investigation opens a new lead, courtesy of Tyler’s friend, J.J. MacKenzie, MacKenzie is murdered. The team is back to ground zero — with two murders to solve ….

North Noir - Colpoys Bay

View of Colpoys Bay, setting of Bay of Blood

Chapter 1

Colpoys Bay, Georgian Bay, Ontario, July 8th:

Predawn stars salted the sky. Thom Tyler pushed his skiff off the dock, paddled hard to point her nose into the wind, and immediately raised the sail. Off he tore, skimming across the water toward White Cloud Island.

To the east, the sky shed its blackness. A pale red flush crept across the bay. He settled in the cockpit. A few moments later, his neck-hairs bristled. He sensed hostile eyes burning into his head. Shifting nonchalantly, he leaned portside to inspect the shore. All quiet. Just the inky outline of Mallory Beach. Still, he was sure someone was there.

A car engine started. Very strange, he thought. There were never any cars about at this hour. He saw no lights. The slowly revving engine headed north. Was someone tracking him?

Forget it, he told himself and faced forward.

He turned his mind to sailing, easing out the mainsheet to spill some speed. Still, he flew over the water. He could smell the north: the clean sharpness of boreal forests. However, in the back of his mind, he felt uneasy. He sensed something out there waiting for him. His neck twitched. The strange car fueled his anxiety. Something was waiting for him.

Chapter 2

Wiarton, Bruce Peninsula. Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Station, July 8th:

“Got a little run for you, Naslund.”

Detective Eva Naslund looked up to see the detachment chief standing at her desk. Ted Bickell’s pants were perfectly pressed. The creases looked like they could slice someone’s throat. “A boat just washed up near Cape Commodore,” Bickell said. “Caller reported blood. Lots of it.” He paused. “But I’m sure you can handle it.”

Naslund nodded. Fair point. She’d had nothing but B&Es for the past two months.

Bickell handed her a slip of paper. Donnie Rathbone. HW 1, 100220.

“Not an emergency,” he said. “No speeding.”

She shrugged. On a day like today, she’d drive anywhere in the Bruce, fast or slow, the farther from Staff Sergeant Bickell, the better. As she drove east, the morning sun tinted Colpoy’s Bay a deep golden red. The limestone cliffs above Mallory Beach not only reflected the sun, they shimmered like suns themselves. A convoy of high white clouds raced across the sky.

Fifteen minutes later, she pulled off Highway One at a weathered blue bungalow with an unobstructed view of Georgian Bay. A run-down barn flanked the house. Across the highway, parched-looking Christmas trees stretched inland as far as she could see. It’d been a hot, dry summer. As she stepped out of her unmarked car, the wind whipped her pants around her legs. Georgian Bay was running high, churned by a powerful northwesterly. The Georgian was usually restless. It was essentially an inland sea. On calm days there was often a sea roll, even if only long and slow. Today there was a wave train. Line after line of breakers roared ashore.

She knocked on the front door. The man who answered was tall and fit, bearded, about fifty years old.

“Donnie Rathbone?” she asked.

The man nodded.

“Detective Sergeant Naslund, OPP.”

“Detective Sergeant, eh? Sent out a top dog, did they?”

She chuckled and covertly pressed the recording button on her duty phone. “No, sir. They had no choice. I’m the only detective in Wiarton.”

“Come on in then. Place is a bit of a mess. Wife’s away.”

“When the cat’s away,” Naslund said.

Rathbone grinned and led her to the kitchen. Passing the stove, she noticed a pan of congealed bacon. It was almost full. He pointed out the window. “There it is.”

She followed his finger and saw a boat seemingly hauled up on the shore. “When did you spot her?”

“About seven. I got up a bit late, at six, went right to the barn, fed my pigs, and came back for breakfast. I noticed it then. So I walked down.” Rathbone paused. “That’s when I saw the blood. A helluva lot of blood. I came right back and called nine-one-one.”

“Did you touch the boat?”


“Did you touch anything aboard it?”

“No. I watch them CSI programs, you know.”

“All right. So, you noticed the boat about seven?”

“Right. Like I said, I was running late. Got up and went straight to my pigs.”

Rathbone sounded a bit nervous. In any case, the boat could have been there well before 0700 hours. “Did you happen to look out to your shore last night?”

“Nothing there last night, not when I went to bed. At ten-thirty that was.”

“Did you see or hear anyone on your property this morning?”


“Notice anyone in the bay? Boats? Swimmers?”

“Didn’t see any.”

“Did you see anything strange on the highway?”


“No one walking or running? No unusual vehicles?”


“Thank you.”


Given the apparently large amount of blood, Naslund drew a hooded clean-suit from her trunk and stepped into it. Instantly she felt constricted, yet twice as big. She pulled on shoe covers and gloves and walked carefully down the path to the shore, examining the ground. One set of boot prints going, one coming back. Rathbone, if the man was telling the truth. She’d impound his boots on the way out.

As she reached the fine-graveled shore, she eyed the boat. A skiff, about six meters long. The bow faced southeast. The stern was still in the water, but the boat wasn’t moving. She’d settled into the gravel, as if she’d been there for days. Naslund figured the wind had driven her hard into shore. The mast and boom were intact, the sail torn to shreds. The hull was wooden, dove-gray with white trim.

That dove-gray hull. It looked like her friend Thom Tyler’s skiff. She stepped to the side and read the boat’s name: West Wind. Christ, it was Thom’s skiff. Had he been forced to abandon ship?

Digging inside her clean-suit, she fished out her duty phone and called Thom’s cottage. His other half answered. “Morning, Carrie. Eva here. Is Thom there?”

“No. He’s out fishing.”

“When did he leave?”

“About five.”

Naslund glanced at the time — 0738. “Did he go out alone?”

“As far as I know. I was in bed when he left. Anything wrong?”

Naslund ducked the question. “Are you sure he went out this morning?”


“Okay. Call me when he gets home.” Naslund gave Carrie her OPP cell number, telling herself Thom would show. He’d abandoned ship and swam to shore, or a passing boat took him aboard.

Knowing that Thom always wore a blue lifevest, Naslund pulled a pair of binoculars from her CS kitbag. Focusing the binoculars, she turned her head slowly, scanning the bay in sweeps.

No sign of a blue lifevest, no floating bodies.

Follow the wind, she told herself. The northwesterly will drive anyone southeast. She stepped to the edge of the bay and scanned again and again.


Let it ride, she thought. Thom would show. He was the strongest swimmer she knew.

She walked up to the skiff and immediately saw a lot of blood, most of it inside the hull. She knew there’d been even more. The wave train would have washed some away. She paced the starboard side. At midship, two large splatter patterns spread from the gunwale down to the bilge, both about half-a-meter in width and a meter in length. She leaned closer. The main pattern presented wide-angle spray consistent with blows from a blunt force weapon. A lead pipe, she thought, maybe a crowbar. The other pattern resembled the spurting caused by a stab wound. Near them were two lines of fat circular drops, indicating blood falling at a fast rate, exiting large wounds. From the vector of the lines, she knew the source fell forward, toward the gunwale. Or was pushed.

She started down the port side. Halfway along it, she found the centerboard keel sticking out from the hull, almost completely detached, like a broken limb. No surprise. The skiff had grounded. She kept walking, finding no blood on the port side and none on the mast, sail, or mainsheet. However, there was blood on the starboard side of the boom. Had it hit Thom and knocked him overboard? Maybe. She re-evaluated the scene. No sharp protrusions on the boom. Two splatter patterns. If the boom had hit Thom, there would likely only be one — consistent with blunt force blood, not spurting blood. She filed the thought away.

Returning to the stains, she bent down on one knee. Her clean-suit felt even more constricting. She sniffed. The stains didn’t smell fishy or gamey. She looked for scales or animal hair. Nothing. She stood and surveyed the blood again. It couldn’t be from a small animal, like a dog or cat — there was too much of it. Could be from a deer, she reasoned, or a cow. Or a pig. Rathbone? Could be. But there were no other signs of animals present. The blood was likely human.

Seeing no signs of activity near the skiff — no prints or scuffs, no evidence of a struggle — she assumed the shore wasn’t a crime scene. But the blood splatter suggested the skiff was. She had a blood kit in her car, but decided to call the white coats. Pulling out her duty phone, she called Central.

“Serology. Gerard LaFlamme.”

Hot Doc, she thought, not that LaFlamme appreciated the nickname. He’d filed a complaint against two female detectives. They’d admitted wrongdoing then relabeled him THD, Très Hot Doc. “Morning, LaFlamme. Detective Naslund, Bruce Peninsula.”

“Naslund, what gives?”

“Got some blood on a wooden boat. Suspicion of assault. I’d run it myself but I need a foolproof ID.”

“Okay. Where are you?”

She gave him the location and hung up. Starting at the bow, she paced twenty steps inland, away from the skiff. Head down, eyes focused on the ground, she searched a grid about 200 meters square. No boot or foot indentations in the loose gravel, no prints on harder ground, no wheel or tire tracks leading away from the skiff. No butts, bottles, or cans. No wrappers. Nothing.

She walked back to the skiff and deliberately paced the starboard side from the waterline to the bow, this time with a magnifying glass. No hairs or fibers. Four partial fingerprints, wet and faint. Difficult to lift. Best left to a white coat. She paced down the port side to the waterline, but found nothing. Yet she sensed something was wrong.

She stood still and surveyed the whole boat, her eyes finally returning to the bow. That was it. No anchor rode-line tied to the bow. And no anchor. Why would Thom go out without an anchor? He’d just added a new rode-line. She’d watched him do it at the marina three mornings ago…


“Good afternoon,” Naslund had said, as she always did first thing in the morning. She gauged a person’s mood by how they responded.

“Good evening,” Thom replied.

Naslund grinned. As usual, Thom liked to be kidded. He wore old shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. His tanned arms had the appearance of weathered leather. With his outdoorsman’s face and long black hair, he looked like a Great Lakes voyageur. He moored his bigger sailboat at the marina, but was working on the skiff from his cottage boathouse.

She surveyed the skiff, a Mackinaw whose boom was raised so that a six-footer could easily slide under it.

“Want a muffin?” he asked and pointed to a paper bag. “Go on, have one. You need to eat more.”

She did, but didn’t want to show it. Since she’d split up with her husband Pete, she wasn’t eating much. Although life had returned to normal, her appetite hadn’t.

“You’re always on the go,” Thom said.

“Me?” she deadpanned.

“Yep, you.” He chuckled. “Curiosity killed the cop.”

“But luck brought her back.” She reached for a muffin. As she ate it, Thom tied a new anchor rode to the bow with a solid knot, a tight bowline.


Now, eying the scene, Naslund took two steps back and dropped to her haunches. The clean-suit protested, slowing her movement. From hip-level, she studied the skiff. Something about it told her that Thom was dead. In her sixteen years on the force, she’d seen plenty of dead bodies. They’d all seemed vacant, abandoned by life. The skiff looked like them. Abandoned forever.

Naslund grimaced. Hoping for the best, she called in a Search & Rescue and then notified Bickell by radiophone. Although she normally used her duty cell, old-boy Bickell preferred radio-comm. He’d order his daily fish & chips by radio if he could. Afterward, she stood and faced the bay, trying to muster her optimism. Maybe they’d find Thom alive. Maybe he’d show up.

Turning her back to the wind, she called Carrie, who answered immediately.

“Eva here. I found Thom’s boat, but not him. I called the Coast Guard for a search.”

“What? A search? Why?”

“No need to worry. Thom probably swam into shore. He’ll show up soon.” Naslund stopped. She didn’t feel like lying. Besides, Carrie had one of the sharpest minds she knew.

“Then why search for him?”

She had no good answer. She held back the information about the blood. “His skiff came ashore near Cape Commodore. Now we need to find him.”

“Find him then. Find him!”

“We will.”

“I want to help. Where are you?”

“You can’t come here.” Naslund knew the Coast Guard would call in the OPP Marine Unit from Wiarton. “Phone the station,” she told her. “They’ll be organizing search teams.”

“Okay.” Carrie hung up.

Naslund sighed. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t join the search. She had an investigation to run. Worse still, she felt sure Thom was dead. Her friend wouldn’t simply walk out of the bay, laughing off the northwesterly.

She inhaled deeply, held her breath for three seconds, exhaled slowly, and repeated the cycle five times — a trick she’d learned from Pete, a sports-therapist. It stilled her mind.

She eyed the skiff again. If the blood was human, they’d need a full forensic team. In the meantime, she needed one constable to secure the site and another to canvass the neighborhood to the east. After they arrived she’d revisit Rathbone then take the west. She glanced up at Rathbone’s kitchen window. The man was watching her. She called the station. The dispatcher answered.

Naslund identified herself and gave the address. “Got a CS. Send two PCs.”