Books·Canadian

Agnes, Murderess

A graphic novel by Sarah Leavitt.

Sarah Leavitt

Agnes, Murderess is a graphic novel inspired by the bloody legend of Agnes McVee, a roadhouse owner, madam and serial killer in the Cariboo region of British Columbia in the late 19th-century. Fascinated by this legend — which originated in a 1970s guide to buried treasure in B.C., and has never been verified — Sarah Leavitt has imagined an entirely new story for the mysterious Agnes: her immigration to Canada from an isolated Scottish Island; her complex entanglement with shiny things; and her terrifying grandmother, Gormul, who haunts Agnes's dreams and waking life.

Leavitt puts a decidedly queer twist on the story, moving from women's passionate friendships in the gardens of St John's Wood to female relationships in the Canadian wild. At the same time, the book grapples with the dangerous pre-conceived notions held by settlers that the country was a "new world," free of ghosts and history. Agnes, Murderess presents a tortured, complicated woman struggling to escape her past. It is a spine-chilling tale of ghosts and murder, friendship and betrayal, love and greed, fate and choice. (From Freehand Books)

Why Sarah Leavitt wrote Agnes, Murderess

"We were visiting friends in the Cariboo. There is a historical site near there called 108 Mile House. They reconstructed a bunch of buildings that used to be on that site. One of the buildings was a roadhouse. During the gold rush, there used to be roadhouses on various stops along the gold rush trail. I was there looking at all the touristy information and there was a little photocopied piece of double-sided paper. It's called The Murder Mystery at 108 Mile Hotel and it's this grisly violent story. 

What originally captivated me about it was just the sheer violence and the horror of it.- Sarah Leavitt

"What originally captivated me about it was just the sheer violence and the horror of it. I got interested in that time in history and what was happening in Scotland where Agnes first lived, what was happening in London with the invention of photography and passionate women's friendships in the 1800s — all of the different stories of people who came to B.C. I was also looking into what relationships were like between white people and Indigenous people and the different things people did to get to the gold fields. These different characters came into my world as I was reading and writing. There are so many layers to British Columbia's history that I did not know about."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

From the book

From the graphic novel Agnes Murderess by Sarah Leavitt. (Freehand Books)

Author interviews

A panel discussion on mental health with Alicia Elliott, David Alexander Robertson and Sarah Leavitt, recorded at Calgary's Imaginarium at Wordfest in October. 24:35

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