Monday, November 21, 2011

Thomas Rendell Curran – An Introduction

I am very pleased to post my first contribution to Type M For Murder. I write from Ottawa, in Ontario, but my writing, and the inspiration for same, comes from Newfoundland, where I was born, so many long years ago, in 1939. Newfoundland, for those who do not know the history, or who have not visited my website – – to read about the island, was an independent country back then. Well, sort of independent. The place has an odd history. Newfoundland was one of Britain’s oldest colonies, in what was euphemistically called the New World. Of course, it was not the New World to the people who already lived there, and had lived there for millennia.

The country’s history is long and complicated, with various imperial powers fighting over it, notably the English and the French. After much turmoil, an independent legislature was created in 1907. Newfoundland then had dominion status within the British Empire, similar to that of Canada, Australia and South Africa. Far smaller than those dominions, of course, but a dominion nonetheless. But it didn’t last very long. The toll that the First World War took on Newfoundland, in manpower and treasure, compounded by the Great Depression, eventually led to the island’s bankruptcy, and the independent status of the country disappeared in 1933 when the legislature voted itself out of existence. After that, until Confederation with Canada came about in 1949, Newfoundland was governed by a six-member Commission of Government; three senior Commissioners from Whitehall in London and three junior Commissioners from the island.

While the First World War had profound effects on Newfoundland, and is still almost a century later an important part of the province’s collective memory, it was the Second World War that had the more significant material and social effects. During the war, Newfoundland became a kind of “Gibraltar of the North Atlantic” as thousands of foreign troops flooded into the island, notably Canadians and Americans. Newfoundland was physically and geographically so close to the war with Nazi Germany that a military posting there counted as overseas service.

It’s in this context that my Inspector Stride Mysteries are rooted. The first three novels are set in 1947, two years after the end of the war, and two years before Confederation with Canada. While it is not accurate to state that the island was in turmoil at the time, there was indeed “a lot going on”. The Confederation debate was underway, and the island still had a large number of American and Canadian troops in residence. All the ingredients were there for “interesting” things to take place; “interesting” in the context of the ancient curse, reputed to be of Chinese origin: May you live in interesting times.

The first Inspector Stride novel was Undertow (2002).

In a sense, the book is a memoir of growing up in St. John’s in the 1940s, and I drew on the very clear memories I had of that period, a time when the husband and father was the sole breadwinner in the family, separation and divorce were almost unheard of, the Catholic and Protestant churches were a powerful influence in society, and the various amenities of the postwar modernizing world were just starting to make an appearance. Most people did not own cars, a large part of commerce depended on transport by horse-drawn vehicles, men walked to and from work – and the police did the same. Squad cars were unheard of, but everyone knew about the Black Maria, the constabulary’s paddy wagon.

Undertow is more than a memoir, of course. It’s also a murder mystery, but is it based on life as it was at the time; the murders and the mystery are not superimposed. They are of the time and the place. Happily, Undertow was well-received and was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

A word or two about Inspector Eric Stride. Stride is a native Newfoundlander, but he is not from the capital, St. John’s. He was born in an outport community on the south coast. His place of birth, not too far from the French islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, were to have a profound influence on his life as a young man, an influence that carries through to his career as an policeman. In his youth and young adulthood, during Prohibition, Stride was a rumrunner, working in partnership with a French national, Jean-Louis Marchand. The large amount of money he made in that period – which he kept and invested wisely – underwrites an affluent lifestyle in St. John’s. He owns a large house in an upscale part of the city. He drives a 1938 MGTA. Also, in contravention of Constabulary regulations – the police in Newfoundland at the time, like their cousins in England, were not armed – Stride often carries with him a snub-nosed Colt Detective Special.

          There are now three books in the Stride series. The Rossiter File was released in 2005.

The latest book, Death Of A Lesser Man, finally appeared in May of this year. The long delay between books two and three was occasioned in large part by a change in publishers.

Death of a Lesser Man Cover picture

I am currently at work on the fourth novel in the series, Birthright, which – hopefully – will appear next year, just in time to catch the Christmas market.  

And that is my first posting. I will be back in two weeks, assuming nothing untoward takes place in my small corner of the universe.

Cheers, all!!


Aline Templeton said...

Welcome! good to have you doing alternate Mondays.
The series sounds really interesting. Newfoundland must be an extraordinary place.

Rick Blechta said...

It is, Aline, and I think you'd feel right at home there. I can heartily recommend Tom's books. They are excellent. Welcome to our newest member!

Linda Wiken said...

Love the series, Tom. Looking forward to your posts.