The year is 1908, and 16-year-old Charlotte O’Dell is working in the dining room of the St. Alice Hotel.
Living among a cast of quirky characters, Charlotte soon makes herself at home with the staff and guests. But the hotel is not as genial as it seems, as a murder leaves guests reeling and Charlotte a suspect.
This is the plot for Becky Citra’s latest book Murder at the St. Alice, published in October 2018 by Coteau Books. The book is her seventh historical fiction novel and her second book set in Harrison Hot Springs.
“I found the hotel, the St. Alice Hotel, quite fascinating,” Citra said.
She had first come across it while doing research for her book Finding Grace, based in Harrison Hot Springs during the 1950s and ’60s.
As a child growing up in Vancouver, Citra had often visited Harrison Hot Springs with her family.
“It just kind of intrigued me to … go back on my memories of Harrison Hot Springs and build it into a novel.”
During her research for Finding Grace, Citra was introduced to Bev Kennedy, local historian and volunteer at the Agassiz Harrison Museum. Together, they researched the hot springs during the mid-20th century, and planted the seeds for Citra’s next book.
“Bev Kennedy found an original letter, written by a guest in 1908,” Citra said.
“In the letter, the guest kind of alluded to a mysterious illness, so from there I got the idea of doing a murder mystery at the St. Alice Hotel.”
Citra doesn’t often write historical fiction — the majority of her 20 published books are contemporary,. But all are written for children and teens, thanks to her many years of experience as an elementary school teacher.
“I’ve never been interested in writing adult fiction,” Citra, 64, explained. “I like writing for children.”
Citra has won numerous awards for her books — Finding Grace won no less than five awards — but that’s not the best part of her career, she said.
“The best part I think is when I meet the kids,” she said.
That’s what Citra will be doing in Agassiz on Saturday, March 16, during her book launch for Murder at the St. Alice at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum.
The book launch will go from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on March 16. Readers will get a chance to ask Citra some questions about her work, as well as get signed copies of her books and hear a selection from Murder at the St. Alice.
“I think it’s such an exciting thing when kids love to read,” she said. “So I like to be part of that.”