Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I have a Little Canadian List.

Two weeks ago on this blog I talked about the unique voices and unexpected delights that the midlist author brings to the world. Today, as promised, I want to talk about that most obscure of midlist authors, the Canadian. And since I write crime fiction, I will confine my remarks to Canadian crime writers. Canada has a rich tradition in many genres including literary fiction, which regularly finds itself on the short lists of international awards, and fantasy, of which my friend Violette Malan is a master.

I defy you to find a group of crime writers more talented, funny, scary, moving and powerful than Canadians. They can and do hold their own against the very best in the world. However, because the pool of readers and hence the promotional dollars available to publishers and authors of Canadian works is smaller, they can rarely compete for advertising space, promotional tours and bookstore placement with the bigger names from Britain and the US.

I have done hundreds of mall signings across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Often people say they love mysteries and they name Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, PD James, and the other superstars. When asked, however, they often can’t name a single Canadian. Yet about a hundred Canadian mystery novels are published every year. Some writers, like Peter Robinson and Phyllis Smallman, set their stories in Britain or the US, while others, like Dorothy McIntosh who wrote the antiquities thriller The Witch of Babylon, set their work overseas, which means they are marketed and promoted without overt reference to their Canadian connection. There are many reasons a writer might chooses to set his books somewhere other than Canada, including the lure of interesting stories and places, but a desire to make a living is also one of them.

But increasingly, Canadian crime writers are choosing to defy the financial odds and write for and about Canada. They want to tell our stories, deal with our issues and bring our settings to life. They want to write about Canadians. I’m one of them. I want to write about the world I know and the people who surround me. I don’t feel I could create unique, real people if I didn’t know them well. And no place is as vivid and textured to me as Ottawa. It turns out that despite the doomsayers – who wants to read about Canada? Good grief, who wants to read about Ottawa! – Canadians are delighted to read stories about their own city or country, about people they can almost see in the mirror. And non-Canadians thoroughly enjoy visiting a place and a culture different from their own.

So whether you’re Canadian, British, American or something else, consider buying Canadian for that mystery lover on your gift list. It’s impossible to name all the good books that came out this year, so I will take a quick trip across Canada to give you a sample of books and styles along the way. We’ll start on The Rock, with Thomas Rendell Curran’s latest Inspector Stride novel, Death of a Lesser Man, a classic whodunit set in post World War II Newfoundland. If you love hard-hitting legal thrillers with heart, hop across to Halifax with Indefensible by Pamela Callow. In Quebec, Louise Penny continues to bring the village of Three Pines to vivid life in her latest Inspector Gamache novel, A Trick of the Light.

Ontario, like British Columbia, has so many excellent writers in so many genres that it’s hard to pick one. The Guilty Plea by Toronto lawyer Robert Rotenberg? Tampered by Hamilton doctor Ross Pennie? How about Orchestrated Murder, by Rick Blechta, a compelling tale for the reluctant reader. Cross the prairies, where Saskatchewan legend Gail Bowen has just produced her third haunting tale for reluctant readers, The Shadow Killer. Heading farther west, Calgarian Garry Ryan brings heart and grit to his latest Detective Lane novel, Malabarista.

We finish up in British Columbia, another hotbed of crime. Vicki Delany has combined the cozy feel of the village mystery with the gritty realism of the police procedural to create the Constable Molly Smith series, set in the stunning Rocky mountains of BC. Among the Departed is the latest in this series.

This is but a small sample, and many other fine books deserve to be mentioned. Much more information about Canadian crime writers can be found at Some areas of the country are missing from my quick tour, because I did not know a recent release that had been set there. If you know one, please comment! Meanwhile there are only twelve more days till Christmas, and eight till Hanukah. Time is passing.


Linda Wiken said...

You're so right, Barbara. Canadian crime writing means a great read. I hope they'll be on every readers' lists. A few more titles to throw into the mix:
Sitting Lady Sutra by Kay Stewart
Hang Down Your Head by Janice MacDonald
Reluctant Dead by John Moss

Pamela Callow said...

What a nicely comprehensive listing of Canadian crime novels by geography, Barbara. Thanks for putting it together -- I love reading about other areas of Canada. And thanks for the mention!

Happy holidays,

Pam Callow

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hear, hear! And count me among your American fans. Don't forget the mind-boggling Anne-Marie MacDonald. And Barbara, I loved your Once Upon a Time.

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