Friday, February 22, 2008

Five for Charles

Five for Charles

Vicki here, guest blogging for Charles while he and his wife are away for a, shock!, non book-related weekend.

For my guest-blog stint I have been given an assignment. Charles wants me to recommend five Canadian books for him to read. The problem in preparing a list is rarely what to include but rather what to exclude. Choosing five books is rather like walking into a meadow full of spring flowers and being asked to pick your favourite single one.

However, I accept the challenge. First I will lay down a couple of guidelines for myself. I will only pick fiction, which helps to narrow the field considerably. Secondly, I will pick what I think CHARLES will like, not necessarily everyone and their dog. Thirdly, I will have to exclude anyone who blogs on this page. Fourthly, I won’t recommend anything that has great Canadian significance, unless it is first of all a GOOD book.

The Stone Carvers. By Jane Urquhart. Canada has been said to have come of age in the Battle of Vimy during World War I. It bothers me somewhat that wars are always seen, in retrospect, to have been necessary for nation-building. I think that populating the Prairies, building cities and hacking farms out of the wilderness had a lot more to do with it – but what do I know. Anyway that is an aside. The Stone Carvers weaves the story of a turn of the last century farm family around great historical events cumulating with the building of the monument at Vimy. It’s a beautiful novel. I could count on the fingers of one hand, and have a few fingers left over, the number of books that made me cry. This one did.

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. McDonald also wrote Fall on your Knees, which is great as well. When the Crow Flies takes place in the ‘60s and is largely a memoir of a girl growing up in a Canadian Air Force family during the cold war years. But it is more than that, it touches on issues of vital importance as the girl’s father becomes involved in a bit of cold-war subterfuge that touches his own family and community and he begins to realize that perhaps doing his duty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This novel is not a mystery by any means, but a crime features prominently in the plot. The crime is very closely based on the true story of Steven Truscott. If you want to know why there isn’t capital punishment in Canada, the name “Truscott” goes a long way towards explaining it.

The Russell Quant Series by Anthony Bidulka. This stuff should be right up Charles’ alley. There are five or six books in the series, so far, featuring the adventures of Russell Quant, a gay private eye in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And they are very funny. Somehow our hapless hero always ends up in some exotic foreign land. The bumbling, but well-meaning, Canadian traveller is a nice comparison to Charles’s own (fictional) bumbling, but well-meaning American traveller. Where the Stone Carvers made me cry, Bidulka always makes me laugh out loud. The latest book is Sundowner Ubuntu which I finished recently.

Joanne Kilborn Series by Gale Bowen. There is something amazing about the way that Bowen is able to take the family life of a widowed teacher living (again) in Saskatchewan, and create a believable well-drawn series of mystery novels. These are not cosies by any means. It seems to me that U.S. mysteries veer wildly between hard-boiled and cozy with very little in between. Gale Bowen, in what might be a mild-mannered Canadian way, manages to do just that. These books are not new. The first book came out back in the ‘80s when Canadian mystery novels were mighty thin on the ground.

My last choice is also a mystery series. The John Cardinal series by Giles Blunt. Just because I think Blunt proves, if it needs proving, that a series set in Canada, written by a Canadian, can be as good a police procedural as anything written or set in the U.S. or the U.K. By the Time You Read This is not only a good police procedural, but a moving story of dealing with love and death.

That should give Charles some reading to do on his next vacation. Any one else have any suggestions?


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Vicki, I just finished BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, and loved it. I loved FORTY WORDS FOR SORROW, too. Never doubted that a Canadian could write as good a crime procedural as an American, either--in fact, I like to know what procedures police in other countries follow. Now I'm going to check out your four other recommendations.

Anthony Bidulka said...

Hey Vicki - A fan of yours told me about your kind recommendation of the Quant books here on Type M - thank you! - I see you too will be in Denver for LCC - I'll have to buy you a shooter! :) Anthony

Rick Blechta said...

That's a pretty good list. I might also be tempted to put on one of William Deverill's books, too. His have a really great "Canadian" feel to them, especially April Fool.

But for a pick of 5, you done well.

Vicki Delany said...

You're right Rick. April Fool definately should have been there. I loved, loved that book.

Charles benoit said...

I'm back - and now I have 5 titles to add to my never-shrinking list of "Books I Gotta Read". Thanks Vicki! Your blurbs, however, move them up the list.