Daniel St. Croix, the protagonist of local author Christopher Bowron’s next novel, Almost Immortal, dies in chapter two. Normally that would be the end of the story, but the book’s title should tell you all you need to know about that particular plot twist coming so soon.
Bowron just signed a deal with his publisher, Kehler Books out of Virginia, to publish the book, his fourth, and his first to dive into historical fiction and fantasy. He hasn’t totally abandoned the crime thriller genre of his previous novels, Devil in the Grass, The Palm Reader, and The Body Thieves, though.
Almost Immortal begins much like Bowron’s earlier works, with St. Croix involved in some shady dealings before his untimely demise. Once back to life, Daniel discovers the journals of his father, Pierre, whom he previously thought was his grandfather. Through those journals, the reader is taken back to Versailles in the time of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, just as the French Revolution is about to take place.
It turns out that Pierre was a thief, who stole some jewelry from the last King of France. A secret society that has been in existence for over a thousand years wants that jewelry, in particular a certain gold ring that provides immortality, and they chase Pierre through the centuries to get their hands on it.
“There’s lots of cool twists,” explains Bowron. “Pierre ends up going to Egypt to find the source of where the gold came from. It was a gift to an Egyptian pharaoh from the gods who walked on the Earth, which you can surmise might have been aliens.”
Where does Daniel fit in? When the story of his return from the dead hits the news in 2020, that same secret society begins trailing him, with the aim of ending his life once again so they can take the ring. Daniel, himself a modern-day thief in the tradition of his father/grandfather, leads them on a wild chase through Ontario and Quebec.
Local readers will recognize a number of the sites where the first part of Daniel’s journey occurs. Drinks are shared at the Angel Inn, and a chase through the St. Mark’s Church cemetery provides a bit of suspense. There are also stops at the gazebo at Queen’s Royal Park, a mention of Fort Niagara across the river and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, and a tense situation where Daniel, his mother and new friend Devi are almost taken down at a home on Wyckliffe Avenue in the Chautauqua neighbourhood, where Bowron bought his first house.
Fitting the old town into Almost Immortal came naturally to Bowron. His previous three novels were set in his other home of Southwest Florida, where he loves salt-water fishing. “Writing is a bit of an escape to me,” he points out. “So when I was writing here, I was escaping to there.”
This one was also mostly written here, but Bowron credits one of his local boosters for convincing him it was time to include the town in one of his books.
“Laura McFadden of the Old Niagara Bookshop, she told me, ‘just write something with a little bit of Niagara-on-the-Lake in it,’” he laughs, “and I’ll sell hundreds of them. And I thought, it’s an interesting town, so why not? When you have a familiarity with something, it comes easy to you.”
Bowron says he has always wanted to move into the realm of fantasy and adventure with his work. He cites J.R.R. Tolkein as one of his all-time favourite authors, and includes American author Steve Berry’s historical fiction as a huge influence. Bowron holds a BA in history from Brock University, and knew he wanted to eventually draw more on that degree in his writing.
Almost Immortal was finished in 2019, and Bowron sent it to his agent about this time last year. His goal to find a place amongst one of the big publishing houses of New York City was almost realized.
“I’ve had a lot of people read it and they tell me this is my best book ever,” Bowron says. “My agent sent it to the big publishers, and Harper Collins held onto it for six months. I think if my name had been James Patterson, I would have been published instantly. But it’s a pretty tough time in publishing right now, and no one’s taking gambles.”
When the pandemic began, Bowron was looking forward to using the downtime to continue writing his sequel to The Body Thieves, featuring disgraced military surgeon Major Domenic Travano, known as “Doc Dom”. But he instead found it difficult to get his creative juices flowing, while some life issues also got in the way.
Once lockdown conditions were lifted, he was surprised to experience a boom in his real estate business (Bowron is the owner and broker of record for Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty), leaving him with little time for wordsmithing. “Coming out of the pandemic, real estate got really busy,” he explains. “I’ve not been this busy before, in 32 years.”
So the timing of the deal with independent publisher Kehler comes at exactly the right time. Over the years, he has racked up sales of about 20,000 copies of his three books via the independent publisher.
Bowron says the editing process for Almost Immortal still has some way to go, and a release date has not yet been announced. In the meantime, if you haven’t read his first three novels, maybe now’s the time to catch up on Jackson Walker and Doc Dom.
And when his new release is available, visit the Old Niagara Bookshop, or the Steele Gallery on Mississauga Street, to follow the adventures of Daniel St. Croix and his father Pierre through their brushes with immortality.