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October 18, 2019

#YEG: Marty Chan

When Marty Chan was a mystery writer his partner in crime was the Stanley A. Milner Library.

Illustration Michael Byers

When murder is on your mind, the best place to go in Edmonton is the library.

Years ago, I wrote murder-mystery plays for a local restaurant, Teddy’s. My job was to kill someone every week. But arsenic and cyanide can only take a guy so far, and soon the restaurant owner wanted me to devise new, bloodless ways to off my victims. He argued that blood – even the fake stuff – would make it difficult for him to push his spaghetti marinara specials.

With a script deadline looming (and Google yet to be invented) I called the reference desk at the Stanley A. Milner Library for help. As soon as the librarian on shift answered, I asked, “Do you know of a good way to kill someone?”

Dead silence. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best way to phrase my question.

I imagined the librarian waving at her colleagues to call the police and I quickly explained that I was a mystery writer in a bind. She eventually relaxed and agreed to help me find an exotic poison. We opted for digitalis, a drug extracted from a dried plant that overexcites the heart, and the result was a hit. The audience loved the mystery and the restaurant ran out of spaghetti marinara. My literary accomplice had helped me get away with murder.

The library has always been a comfort in my life. When I was a lonely kid, I hid among the stacks and found friends named the Hardy Boys. When I was a poor university student, I raided the library’s catalogue of movie soundtracks so I could build a mixed tape of workout music. There was nothing more inspirational than doing bicep curls and dreaming of taking down the Cobra Kai, while my Sony Walkman cranked out “You’re the Best” at full volume.

And today, when information about poisons and recordings of cheesy music are a few keystrokes away, I still find myself visiting the library. I like sitting among the books and pretending this is my personal reading room. That’s what I enjoy most about the downtown library. It’s where I can feel at home, whether I want to listen to bad music or need to commit literary murder.

Marty Chan, the 2011 Edmonton Public Library writer in residence, is the author of a new novel, Barnabas Bigfoot: A Close Shave.

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