Lisa Doucet Reviews Footsteps in Bay de Verde

Meticulous pacing, a richly atmospheric ambiance, details that perfectly capture time and place

Footsteps in Bay de Verde
Charis Cotter, Illustrated by Jenny Dwyer
Running the Goat

Three children sit wide-eyed and wriggling on the daybed in the kitchen, trying desperately not to call attention to themselves. It is past their bedtime but all three wait with bated breath for the adults to begin trading stories that send shivers up the spines of Bridie and her older brother and younger sister: “wonderful stories about people who lived in Bay de Verde long ago – and shipwrecks, and pirates, and murder, and fairies and ghosts.”

Just as Mr. Fleming begins to tell how Billy Cotter went stark raving mad one night, a loud crash causes Bridie to jump and Mr. Fleming to pause. When they hear the familiar and unmistakeable shuffling footsteps of Poor Keye, Bridie’s mother’s cousin, they relax and wait for him to join them.

Poor Keye was sent to the hospital in St. John’s several weeks earlier but now here he is, back to savour the old stories that he loves. But his footsteps keep shuffling past and slowly fade away into the night, leaving his friends and neighbours baffled. Until the next morning, when Bridie’s mother receives a telegram from St. John’s…

Beloved Newfoundland storyteller and award-winning author Charis Cotter’s penchant for ghost stories is well-known and is on full display in this spine-tingling saga. Carefully and deliberately, she spins her tale, deftly weaving in the sorts of details that help to create a vivid picture of a cosy kitchen scene with neighbours gathered round the woodstove as the stories flow.

She evokes a brooding, sinister feel that quietly builds, until the three children are bustled off to bed in their room, which is “darker than dark, blacker than black.”  With meticulous pacing, a richly atmospheric ambiance and details that perfectly capture the time and place, Cotter has crafted a chilling story.

First-time illustrator Jenny Dwyer depicts the foreboding atmosphere in her haunting black and white illustrations featuring occasional pops of vibrant red. Her photo-realistic images are evocative and highly expressive, and thick, black and white outlines create a ghostly, surreal effect. The smoke forms sketchy white background images (like the claw that hovers over the bed on the book’s cover) and the book is filled with dark, eerie shadows that help to create a deliciously ominous tale.

Written By

Lisa Doucet is the co-manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax. She shares her passion for children’s and young adult books as our young readers editor and book reviewer.

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