Sarah Leavitt is launching her second book at Lost and Found Cafe on Thursday, September 26—and for both the author and the enigmatic subject of her graphic novel, it's been a long time coming. Agnes, Murderess has been in the works for nine years, but the murderess herself has been a part of B.C. folklore for nearly 200.
Inspiration for the graphic novel came during a summer trip to 108 Mile Ranch, a historical site in B.C.'s South Cariboo region. Leavitt stumbled across a pamphlet outlining the chilling life of "Agnus McVee," a woman who was said to have murdered up to 50 people in the 1860s. 108 Mile was a popular pit stop during the gold rush, and rumour had it that Agnus ran a hotel that operated a bit more like a slaughterhouse, killing miners and stealing their gold. "I thought, I'm going to write about this real person, but fictionalize it," says Leavitt, who in the past had only published memoir and other works of nonfiction.
Almost a decade after finding that mysterious pamphlet, Leavitt is pretty certain that the legend is fake—probably fabricated in order to increase tourism to 108 Mile, which is a significantly less busy area post-gold-rush. "It's probably not real," she reflects. "There would be court records or something in the B.C. Archives about her, and there's nothing." Indeed, a Google search of "Agnus McVee" yields more doubt than proof of her existence.
Fiction or not, Agnus' story struck a chord with Leavitt. She began writing Agnes, Murderess nine years ago, shortly after her first book, Tangles, was published. The author says she's excited and nervous for the Vancouver launch, at which she will read from the novel in public for the first time. She considers the book historical fiction with a definite horror twist, different than anything she has done before.
Author Annabel Lyon (The Golden Mean, The Sweet Girl) described the graphic novel as a "Gothic horror meets feminist history," that will haunt readers, while author Brian Fies (A Fire Story) says it "achieves the difficult goal of making historical fiction relatable, relevant, and alive." It's a herstory book for the ages—whether or not it actually happened.