McKernan, Victoria 1957–
McKernan, Victoria 1957–
Born November 19, 1957, in Washington, DC; daughter of John V. (an army security agent) and Helen (Krzykowski) McKernan. Education: George Washington University, B.A., 1982.
Writer. Has held more than fifty occupations. Certified SCUBA diving instructor.
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award nomination, 2007, for Shackleton's Stowaway.
Osprey Reef (mystery), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1990.
Point Deception (mystery), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1992.
Crooked Island, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1994.
Shackleton's Stowaway (for children), Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including Newsweek and Washington Post.
Victoria McKernan is a mystery writer who made her literary debut in 1990 with Osprey Reef. She has gone on to pen several more adult mysteries as well as the young-adult historical novel Shackleton's Stowaway, all of which reflect her interest in adventure sports and the out of doors.
Osprey Reef introduces crime-solving heroine Chicago Nordejoong, whom Candy Sagon described in a Washington Post review of the novel as "a sharp-tongued, SCUBA-diving young woman with a pet boa who eats lima bean sandwiches and cream of mushroom soup out of a can." Nordejoong is a notoriously poor cook: In Point Deception, McKernan's second mystery, the sleuth is described by her boyfriend, Alex, as a culinary incompetent who would fail to prepare toast properly even if instructions were printed on the bread slices. Nordejoong is also the heroine of Crooked Island, which features what a Publishers Weekly contributor described as an "ingeniously conceived" plot that finds Chicago and Alex on the hunt for the true heir of the British crown while Florida is threatened by both a hurricane and a malaria epidemic.
Based on detailed research, Shackleton's Stowaway brings to life the historic expedition undertaken by British Captain Ernest Shackleton as he and the crew of his ship the Endurance undertook their ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914, just as World War I was breaking out in Europe. In the novel, McKernan recounts the South Pole adventure through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Welsh seaman Perce Blackborow, who hides aboard ship and, discovered after the ship has left port, takes his place as a steward and shares the crew's hardships. Trapped in an ice floe for many months, he and his fellow crew members sail in leaking boats to a grim sanctuary at Elephant Island, where frostbite takes its toll on the young man, although the teen is ultimately rescued with the rest of his crew. Noting McKernan's careful portrayal of historical events, Paula Rohrlick noted in Kliatt that Shackleton's Stowaway "is a gripping and convincing tale of unimaginable misery and courage," while in School Library Journal Vicki Reutter applauded the author's decision to include Perce's fictional diary entries, writing that they "add dimension to the character and blend imagination with historical accuracy." Booklist reviewer Linda Perkins deemed Shackleton's Stowaway a "gritty survival story" that provides young readers with "an excellent supplement" to the many books available on the Shackleton expedition, while in Publishers Weekly a critic wrote that McKer-nan's "gripping" novel "offers the lure of adventure and also probes the harsh realities" confronting the book's "compelling characters."
McKernan once commented: "After many years of vagabond bliss and at least fifty different jobs, from manual labor to dancing in an opera, I am currently almost making enough from various writings to live on. I wrote my first mystery as something of an exercise and a way to get my foot in the publishing door, but soon discovered I really liked the genre and was good at it. After many years of working on my 'real literature' I was always coming up against the same criticism: exciting stuff, but too 'all over the place.' Then one summer while crewing on a yacht and desperate for reading material, I picked up my first mystery and realized here was a genre that demanded good narrative structure, plot development, and prosaic restraint. Of course, I also had a good idea for a protagonist and story, based on my SCUBA-diving adventures.
"I base my books around SCUBA diving because the underwater world is a place I love and know well, and it is a place unknown and intriguing to most people. I also wanted to write a really good underwater fight scene, shark attack, escape from a sunken cave, and daring nighttime rescue, all of which wound up in the first two books.
"The adventure and suspense are important elements of my books, but I still believe characters are paramount. What you have essentially, in a mystery or any other novel, is a story about people dealing with, and resolving, a certain conflict. As a reader, I will follow an interesting character anywhere and abandon the most artful plot if the character is one-dimensional or clichéd."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 15, 2005, Linda Perkins, review of Shackleton's Stowaway, p. 1974.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Shackleton's Stowaway, p. 55.
Kliatt, January, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Shackleton's Stowaway, p. 8.
Mystery Scene, September-October, 1992.
Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1992, review of Point Deception, p. 55; March 14, 1994, review of Crooked Island, p. 66; March 14, 2005, review of Shackleton's Stowaway, p. 68.
School Library Journal, February, 2005, Vicki Reutter, review of Shackleton's Stowaway, p. 138.
Washington Post, December 20, 1990, p. E1; September 30, 1992.