Timothy Johnston does the legwork needed to deliver an authentic story.
The London-based high school teacher, who graduated from Western in 1994 with a degree in Geography, publishes his latest book, The Void, on March 30. The book, published electronically by Carina Press, is the final installment in Johnston’s Tanner Sequence trilogy. Set in outer space, in the year 2043, it blends mystery, thriller and science fiction genres.
“They’re murder-mysteries, inspired by Agatha Christie,” Johnston said of the trilogy. “They’re those classic murder mysteries – confined location, claustrophobic, hostile environment, if you leave you die. There’s one killer, one investigator, the body count increases as the book progresses. There are storms, power outages.”
The trilogy has one investigator, Kyle Tanner, a military investigator in a futuristic world where civilization is under military dictatorship. He’s a ‘good guy,’ trying to help families of murder victims, feeling the friction between society, and the military that’s suppressing human rights.
“In The Void mystery, he’s not a doctor and he’s got this body, he’s trapped on a spaceship, and everyone around him is saying it’s a natural death. The victim is a woman in her 30s and it’s not normal for a woman in her 30s to just drop dead with no signs of illness,” Johnston said. “He’s struck with this dilemma; he’s stranded, has no medical help and he can’t communicate with anyone outside. He has to figure out what killed her, or he’s going to die. So, he keeps going back to this body, doing post mortems again and again.”
This is what brought Johnston back to Western, specifically to the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
In need of some help and guidance, he contacted Kem Rogers, chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, asking for some lessons in anatomy. Rogers connected him with Marjorie Johnson, who teaches in the department.
“I reached out and said, ‘I’ve got this story, the investigator has a dead body and can’t figure out the cause of death. Do you think you might be willing to help out with anatomy?’ They opened their arms to me, said they have an open policy with the community, and gave me a guided tour of the human body, basically,” Johnston said.
“Marjorie brought me in and it was a surreal experience,” he said of walking into a room full of zipped cadavers for an anatomy lesson.
“I hit them with a dilemma and they hit me with one thing after another. It was just a remarkable experience,” Johnston went on, adding he also met with a forensic pathologist at University Hospital, Dr. Elena Tugaleva.
“It’s essential to do this, for accuracy. I wanted people to read this book, and think, ‘This guy did his research.’”
Johnston’s Tanner Sequence trilogy is meant to read like a contemporary thriller, just set in a different time and in a unique location. You could read each book as a standalone, or read them together. There are no supernatural or exceptionally strange elements, Johnston said.
“I wanted to hit mainstream readers. I didn’t want to alienate them with aliens – it’s just a different time and place. The first (book) is on a station around the sun, the second on a station on a moon of Jupiter – the opposite extreme – and this one is in deep space, stranded on a spaceship – no aliens, no weird concepts,” he said.
“The reason I did that is a lot of people in science fiction are looking at aliens and what’s dangerous in space, but I think, the most dangerous life form we know is us. When we go out there, eventually, we’re going to be taking all these things with us – hostility, rage, anger jealousy, greed, ambition. All these crimes will follow us. Why spend so much time looking at aliens being hostile when we’re the ones who are the most dangerous?”