When Stephen Maher was living in Halifax in 2003, he was perhaps best known to the public as an editor at the Chronicle Herald. But outside of work, Maher had another passion—sailing. In 2003, he bought his second sailboat: a battered fibreglass 1982 Tanzer, which briefly lived in Chester on the South Shore, and eventually in Halifax Harbour, at Purcell’s Cove. Maher relocated to Ottawa to work as a national political columnist at Postmedia years later, and would think often of sailing on the rough coastline of the South Shore: of the “clapboard houses, the wharves and fish sheds, the traditional wooden boats, and especially of the people,” he writes. It was a scene he couldn’t get out of his head.
“Something about it really stuck with me. It’s a really special part of the world,” says Maher. This nostalgia, yearning and attachment inspired Maher’s second novel, a thriller called Salvage. And this weekend, Maher will be launching the book Saturday afternoon in Chester, and again on Sunday at the Economy Shoe Shop in Halifax—fitting with the settings of the novel.
The book tells the story of Phillip Scarnum, who is sailing along the South Shore when he notices an empty lobster boat crushed up against the rocks. While he risks his life to get a hold of it in the hopes of financial compensation, a fisherman’s body ripe with bullet holes washes up on a beach nearby. When the police show up, questioning Scranum and snatching his prize, he decides he needs to find out what exactly happened on the boat. A run-in with heavily armed Mexican gangsters halts his investigation, presenting Scranum with an additional challenge. He must stay alive and out of prison, while on a quest to gain his salvage fee.
Maher is an award-winning journalist many times over. He was part of Postmedia’s real-life detective team that won the 2012 Michener Award for uncovering the robocall scandal, and he spent the past year studying at Harvard as a Nieman Research Fellow. And throughout much of his impressive career, the idea for Salvage was always at the back of his mind.
He wrote the first draft in just two weeks, while sailing down the Ottawa River. “I kept typing, spending 14 hours a day hunched over my laptop,” he writes in a forward to the reader. “It was really like a creative fever just came over me, and that was an exciting feeling,” he adds, over the phone before the book launch parties. Though a draft came quickly, much editing and rewriting followed, some of which was done back on the South Shore in Chester. Maher thought it was important to test his sense of the place—he wanted to get it right.