A crime writer I am also a crime reader and probably about 80% of my reading is crime novels. I also like to read books set in Canada whenever possible, and sometimes that makes for a difficult search. Canadian crime writers still have the impression that they have to set their books in the U.S. and pretend to be Americans. There are noticeable exceptions, but despite the success of many Canadian - set mystery books on the world stage, setting a crime book in Canada, with Canadian characters and Canadian issues, is seen as taking a risk.
Fortunately there are a number of excellent Canadian writers prepared to take that risk. One of my favourites of the last couple of years is The Weight of Stones (Dundurn Press) by Ottawa's C.B. Forrest. Weight of Stones is a crime novel in that that protagonist is a Toronto police officer and he is on the trail of some 'bad guys' but (like the very best crime novels) it is so much more. The main character, Charlie McKelvey, is consumed by grief and guilt. Grief over the death of his son, and guilt in what he sees as his part in the death because he threw the troubled young man out of the house. Forrest's portrait of McKelvey's anguish, which has destroyed his marriage and is well on the way to destroying his career, is so heart-rending I was surprised when I met Forrest to find, not a drunk ex-cop with a grudge against the world, but a happy young man in a happy marriage. Excellent writing does that.
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Mystery novels, or as I prefer to call them, crime novels, are often disparaged as not being important or literary. Particularly in Canada the very idea of a crime novel being short-listed for an important award would have people rolling in the aisles in laughter, and grants are almost never awarded to a crime writer. It's been said that in Canada crime writers are expected to sit at the children's table at the literary banquet.
It seems a strange mind-set to me. Crime novels take (usually) normal people and put them through a heck of a lot. Some survive, some do not. Physically as well as mentally or morally.
Crime novels allow the reader to ask him or herself: what would I do in this situation? What would I do if this happened to me? How far would I go to save my child/defeat my enemy/get revenge/save myself? What would I do for money/for love?
Would I do the right thing, or would I fail?
Good crime novels have a psychological edge and one of the best at that is another Ottawa resident, Barbara Fradkin. Fradkin's career was as a psychologist and she has said that in her books she reveals her fascination for how we turn bad.
Note the use of the word we in that sentence.
Fradkin has won two Arthur Ellis awards for her Inspector Green series, the most recent, Beautiful Lie the Dead (Dundurn Press), has a place on my night table.
Another favourite Canadian crime writer is the popular Gail Bowen from Regina. Gail's novels are so family-oriented, so gentle, yet pack a powerful emotional and psychological punch at the impact of the effects of crime on what we might call normal people. Gail is perhaps the most truly Canadian in style of today's mystery writers. Her newest Joanne Kilbourn novel is The Nesting Dolls (McClelland & Stewart).
Perhaps my favourite mystery novel of all is Iain Pear's An Instance of the Fingerpost (Random House UK). A complex novel set in England in the 1660s An Instance of the Fingerpost is about truth and how events and facts can be perceived differently by different people, about the beginnings of the modern mind, and about nothing less than the nature of the divine. This is a book I read every couple of years, just for the pleasure of finding little clues I had not previously noticed and paths that appear minor but turn out to be of vital importance to the understanding of Pears' themes.
Because I write the Klondike Gold Rush books published by Dundurn, I always have a stack of historical books on my night table in case I need to check a detail in the middle of the night. My go-to source is Pierre Burton's Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush (Doubleday Canada). The accompanying book of photographs: The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay 1897-1899 is absolutely invaluable for a writer. A newer book I'm enjoying having ready access to is Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) by Charlotte Gray.
When it comes to non-fiction, since I've moved to Prince Edward County and now live in the country, I've become interested in food security, the nature of the food industry and the locovore movement. Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (Random House UK) by Evan D. G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas is something I keep close at hand and in my mind when I need to remember that we shouldn't be counting on having a readily-available supply of high-quality affordable food at all times.
"It's a crime not to read Delany," says the London Free Press. Winnipeg-born Vicki Delany is one of Canada's most prolific and varied crime writers. She writes everything from standalone novels of gothic suspense (Burden of Memory) to the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the British Columbia Interior (In the Shadow of the Glacier etc.), to a light-hearted historical series set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush (Gold Digger, Gold Fever). Vicki visited the Winnipeg and Saskatoon stores in the spring as part of a cross-Canada tour for Among the Departed, the fifth in the Constable Molly Smith series. Gold Mountain, the third Klondike Gold Rush book, will be released by Dundurn in May 2012. Visit Vicki online here.
|Categories: Reviews, Authors, Mystery & Crime, Night Table Recommendations|
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