Saturday, July 08, 2006

Type M for Murder

Type M for Murder

Is there Murder on Parliament Hill?

As a mystery author based in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, I thought I’d take my first blog-op to look at the reading habits of our federal politicians – MPs or members of Parliament as we refer to them here in maple-leaf land. So, what exactly do our MPs chose for their cottage reading? And what does it say about the future of crime writing north of the 49th?

On Saturday June 24th Ottawa Citizen journalist Deirdre McMurdy revealed the secrets of our MPs dockside reading in her column titled Summer Reading Outside the House, and according to McMurdy, crime is alive and well on Parliament Hill (as if we didn’t know that already). But a further analysis leaves me concerned.

Let’s start with Conservative MP Bev Oda, the Minister of All-that-is-dear-to-our-hearts (that would be Culture and Heritage) and ‘she-that-holds-the-purse-strings-to-our-future’. Oda tells McMurdy that her cottage fiction reading includes Madame Perfecta by Antoine Maillet as well as A Complicated Kindness, the award-winning novel by Miriam Toews, both wonderful examples of Canadian literary fiction. Our Minister of Culture, though, doesn’t seem to be into crime, and that’s a shame. As Canadian crime writers, we could certainly give her a few pointers on how to even-up the odds in that pesky House of Commons. Taking too much flak from the Opposition? We have ways. [Note to Ms. Toews: Since Ms. Oda will undoubtedly be a fan after reading your wonderful book, please consider including more dead bodies in your next novel. Exhuming a corpse from beneath the chicken factory would work for me.]

Sticking with Conservatives, what about Jay Hill, the Conservative Party Whip? With a job title like that it already sounds promising, but when asked to name names, the only title he would admit to, for his summer reading, was Unquiet Diplomacy by Paul Celucci, a non-fiction account of Celucci’s time as US ambassador to Canada. He did confess, though, (in hushed tones?) to a penchant for thriller and spy novels. We can only hope that he chooses a few with a little Canadian content. Given our history with various super-powers, it’s not like we’re lacking in subject matter for spy and conspiracy novels.

And what about the Liberals, for example Belinda Stronach? She’s the critic for competitiveness and the new economy, issues that weigh heavily on Canada’s writing and publishing sector. According to McMurdy, Stronach’s Muskoka reading consists of several weighty non-fiction titles by US authors (I hope she doesn’t fall off that dock. Jettison the books if you do, Ms. Stronach.) No Canadian authors are listed and no fiction whatsoever. Canadian writers, however, will be happy to know that Ms. Stronach plans to read Jeffery Sachs, The End of Poverty. Let’s hope it has an impact. “Somehow the lighter stuff falls to the bottom of the pile,” Stronach is quoted as saying. [Memo to self: Add more intellectual weight to next novel. Astrophysics and Cold War history just don’t cut it.]

As Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken could probably use a few good police procedurals, what with having to keep all those delinquent MPs in line. While he doesn’t score well on Canadian content, at least he’s not afraid to admit he actually reads mysteries and thrillers. On his summer TBR (To-Be-Read) list? The Da Vinci Code and The Constant Gardener. Way to go, Mr. Milliken. Next year check out your local mystery bookstore. There’s a great one right there in downtown Kingston, and you’ve got several excellent mystery writers right in your own constituency. Please, support your local authors. I hear that both Le Carré and Brown are already doing quite well.

So how does the NDP (New Democratic Party) come off on Canadian crime? MP Peggy Nash gives McMurdy several non-fiction titles on her vacation TBR list, all Canadian. Way to go, girl. I particularly like the title Our Culture: What’s Left of It. If you like it, Ms. Nash, please recommend it to all those folks on Parliament Hill. But, sadly, while Nash is good on theory, her practice needs work. According to McMurdy, Ms. Nash plans to “indulge in some murder mysteries as well.” Indulge? So that makes us, what? The Cheesios of CanLit? But maybe we in Canada we don’t need to worry. According to the article, Nash only indulges in foreign junk foods: P.D. James and Sara Paretsky. Boy, do I ever feel relieved.

Another NDP MP, northerner Charlie Angus, tells McMurdy that his reading tastes have gone “more down market” over the past years, with Elmore Leonard at the top of the list. Ouch! And just like his NDP colleague he plans to “indulge”, but like Ms. Nash, no Timbits or Beaver Tails for this boy. With a name like Angus, he goes for the crisps and pickled eggs, with Ian Rankin at the top of his list. [Memo to self: Change name to McBrett for the next book.]

Finally, McMurdy interviews Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro. Now, I figure if anyone on the Hill should have an interest in Canadian crime it would be this guy. I mean, really, that’s what he deals with day-in, day-out. The difference is, in crime fiction we usually see a resolution. Justice is served. You’d think that would be relief for someone who deals with the real world of politics and crime.

So how is he on Canadian crime? Like so many of his colleagues, dismal. Although he reads detective novels while traveling, McMurty says he tends to Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. [Memo to self: Take out British citizenship for next book.]

So what’s the final word? McMurdy says that she’s unsettled by the preponderance of murder mysteries amongst MPs summer reading. Personally, I don’t think she needs to worry. With not a single Canadian crime novel on our MPs summer reading list, our federal politicians obviously prefer out-of-country crime. As long as we stay in Canada, we should be okay. Unless, of course, you’re a Canadian fiction writer writing about Canadian crime.

5 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm not sure we can consider the reading habits of our politicians to accurately reflect the tastes of the average intelligent Canadian, though.

(Yes, I'm ducking and running far far away.)

Pat Brown said...

Not only what Sandra said, but I doubt you can even trust what the boys and girls on the Hill even admit to. They probably weigh their responses and want to be taken seriously, so they reveal all those heavy non-fiction tomes.

SceneoftheCrimeBooks said...

Hello Alex,
Honestly it is very sad. Stick a mike into a politans face and why wouldn't he/she take the opportunity to say "I plan on spending the whole summer reading "the John Cardinal" series or something "Canadian." Please remember Walter Mosley was doing alright until President Clinton stepped off Air Force One held up his copy of Devil in a Blue Dress and said. "I really enjoy this author." Bang. Overnight success.
Would it kill Stephen Harper "or Steve as Bush calls him" to come out of his limo and hold up Linwood Barclay's novel "Bad Move" and say "Funnest novel I read in a long time."
Maybe just maybe Linwood would go easy on him in his next column.

Linda L. Richards said...

I agree with Pat: it's like the super model who, when asked by Vanity Fair, says she's reading the latest novels by Milan Kundera and Kazuo Ishiguro: and she probably only picked those because they're hard to spell and her publicist told her it'll make her sound brainy.

That's really mean of me. Supermodels can be brainy. And politicians can read. I think that's the brightest note I took away from the piece under discussion: They're reading books. They may not be the books we would have chosen for them, but they're actual books and they're talking about it in public. It coulda been worse.

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