Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tracking the Elusive Canadian

Barbara here. Happy New Year, everyone. Like Rick yesterday, I too am going to pick up where Vicki left off.

Three days ago, my Facebook news feed erupted in a frenzy of emails about the lack of attention paid by the Canadian media to Canadian artists, musicians and authors. It began because the Ottawa Citizen published a list of “the best mysteries of 2010” that had been compiled by a Florida reviewer and reprinted from an American newspaper. Not surprisingly, there were few Canadians on the list (nor British or European either).

The Canadian crime writing community began to howl. Apparently we’re a feisty bunch tired of being invisible and underappreciated. In Ottawa alone, the home of the offending newspaper, there have been at least seven crime novels published this year, many from established writers like Mary Jane Maffini, Rick Mofina, R.J. Harlick…and me, who have won national awards and critical acclaim. In fact, Ottawa is such a hotbed of crime fiction that the Globe & Mail once speculated there must be something in the water up here.

Outside of Ottawa, other Canadians from coast to coast are beavering away in relative obscurity, creating books that reflect our culture, our issues, and our history. Books that tell our stories. Books that deserve to be better known and more widely read. Books that deserve to be mentioned on “best of” lists, and not just reported in local community newspapers. If we don’t know about them, and don’t buy them, the authors can’t continue to write them, nor the publishers to publish them. There are about two hundred crime writers in Canada, yet most people are hard pressed to name one.

Crime writers don’t get nominated for major Canadian literary awards, with their attendant media hype. As a rule, they don’t get invited to literary festivals and celebrated on the CBC. Generally they can’t afford a sky-writer or a big-media splash that creates instant name recognition and followers. They have had to wage a quiet, “Trojan-horse” guerrilla war, winning over territory one blog and book club at a time.

Luckily, there are reviewers, internet sites and newspapers that struggle valiantly against British and American dominance to bring us news of the Canadian scene. Unfortunately I only have room to highlight a few. Linda Wiken’s blog, Mystery Maven Canada, is one of them. Linda is an author and former mystery bookstore owner who continues to share her experience and insight through her blog. Canadian crime writers owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the unwavering support she has offered over the years. Linda reviews books, hosts other writers, and generally keeps us up to date on all things writerly.

Deadly Diversions website is another. It is hosted by Jim Napier, reviewer for the Sherbrooke Record, Quebec’s largest English-language newspaper outside Montreal. Jim is a passionate supporter of good crime writing, especially when it’s Canadian, and he provides a constantly changing mix of interviews, reviews, writer resources and news. Bookmark his site at and check it often.

Jim’s reviews also appear in the Sherbrooke Record. To my knowledge there are only three other Canadian newspapers still publishing regular mystery reviews. Margaret Cannon of the Globe & Mail remains the key opinion-maker of what’s new and hot in mystery fiction. She reviews all nationalities, but gives special attention to Canadians. Author Joan Barfoot provides thoughtful, in-depth reviews of select Canadian books in the London Free Press. But perhaps most important from the viewpoint of Canadian crime writers is Don Graves, whose column in the Hamilton Spectator focuses exclusively on Canadian crime fiction. Here, Giles Blunt does not have to jockey for column inches with Michael Connolly or Denis Lehane. Promising newcomers like C.B. Forrest stand a chance of being read and reviewed.

These are the experts to whom our newspaper editors should be turning when they are looking for a “best of” or “top ten” list. It’s not that our books are better. Great stories are universal, and we don’t want to deny readers the chance to read all the wonderful writers from around the world. We just want to give our own writers a fighting chance to compete. Because if we don’t do it here at home, who will?


Linda Wiken said...

Thanks for the mention, Barbara. I think Canadian crime writers are among the best in the world & readers should also be jumping into the fray in appreciation for all the good reads.

sylviam said...

Dead on, as usual, Barbara.

Vicki Delany said...

Joan Barfoot does a nice job in the London Free Press as well.

Hannah Dennison said...

Good post Barbara! I'm married to a Canadian and he said "Bravo!"

Rick Blechta said...

He didn't say, "Bravo, eh?"

I'm shocked!