It's not just the frozen north: Canada is home to an embarrassingly rich roster of crime and mystery writers of whom Barbara Fradkin numbers among theIt's not just the frozen north: Canada is home to an embarrassingly rich roster of crime and mystery writers of whom Barbara Fradkin numbers among the very best (and sadly less well known than her talent demonstrates). Born and educated in Montreal, after spending some time in Toronto she settled in Ottawa where she raised a family and spent 25 years as a child psychologist. Her Inspector Michael Green of the Ottawa Police, has been solving homicides for a decade; this latest outing, the eighth, is Beautiful Lie the Dead, published in 2010. Two previous titles won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.
Winter has descended on Ottawa by the time Meredith Kennedy, fiancé of wealthy Brandon Longstreet, is reported missing. Ottawa Homicide Inspector Michael Green is charged with solving the case when a young woman is found in snow bank ... but when the corpse turns out to be someone else, the case leads to Montreal and a suicide of a prominent lawyer that occurred decades earlier ... the lawyer none other than Brandon's father. As hunches uncover further "coincidences", other long buried secrets seep to the surface in a race to ensure no further corpses are created.
This was a cracking good tale, offering psychological insight into the main and secondary characters. While the writing itself is not "clever" in the sense of memorable turns of phrase, it is brilliantly plotted and paced, offering character development and a great mix of quasi eccentrics mixed in with folks just doing playing their roles. Green is a marvelous individual creation offering charm, intelligence, personal misgivings, dedication and genuine warmth toward family, colleagues and flawed players he encounters while unravelling the case. I'll be reading more of these in 2012 for sure! ...more
When he retired from a career as a hard-nosed undercover cop, Don Easton took up a career writing crime fiction and invented the character of Jack TagWhen he retired from a career as a hard-nosed undercover cop, Don Easton took up a career writing crime fiction and invented the character of Jack Taggart, a hard-nosed undercover cop. Loose Ends was published in 2005, after several years of gestation; since then, nearly one new title has arrived annually, supported by the fine Canadian mystery publisher, Dundurn Press; the latest -- Birds of a Feather -- is slated for release in Sep 2012.
Jack Taggart is something of a bad-ass rogue undercover cop whose anger at the system -- which too often allows the guilty to roam free -- leads him to cut corners. His superiors hand him a new partner, Danny O'Reilly, whose job is also to "keep an eye" on Jack and report any unseemly activities. But before he can play stooge, Danny is wrapped up in Jack's latest vendetta -- tracking down the biker killers of his niece and nephew. In too deep, there is no place to go but unravel the puzzle and try to stay alive while through the roller-coaster of drug deals, murder and abuse.
Easton may have refined his writing skills in later books but this one is decidedly clunky in places, with rather crudely drawn secondary characters and dialogue that does not always ring true. (There's more gritty, real life violence than I care for as well.) Part of the challenge is telescoping what, in real life, might have been months of investigation into a few days in the story telling. Lastly, the resolution of several threads are rather too predictable and pat to leave this reader feeling satisfied. If you are seeking a cold shower dose of reality into the seamier side of Vancouver's drug scene, you won't be disappointed. ...more
Getting an unpublished first novel noticed is challenging but in Phyllis Smallman's case, mystery solved. Margarita Nights, about amateur detective (oGetting an unpublished first novel noticed is challenging but in Phyllis Smallman's case, mystery solved. Margarita Nights, about amateur detective (ok, she serves drinks in a Florida bar for a living) Sherri Travis came to the notice of Louise Penny, and other members of the Crime Writers of Canada. In 2007, it instituted a new prize, the "Unhanged Arthur" to recognise best unpublished first crime novel; Smallman was the inaugural recipient. The CWC's main Arthur Ellis award is granted annually in mid-Spring; it is named after Canada's 18th century executioner known by the pseudonym Arthur Ellis over several generations. Smallman has since gone on to write (and have published) four Sherri Travis mysteries.
Jimmy Travis, only son of a wealthy Florida couple, leads a frenetic, adventurous life, almost always in some trouble or other. Sherri, his high school sweetheart and wife, has tired of his drinking, cheating and scattered career moves. Handsome, devilish, and currently local golf pro will soon be single again -- Sherri has had enough and moved out a year ago. But then, his boat explodes with Jimmy on it and Sherri is the prime murder suspect. When it turns out she has more to gain than getting even, the cops are on her tail and only she can clear her name. As she digs further into Jimmy's recent business deals, the situation gets murkier and more dangerous ... and the local cops are lying in wait gathering the necessary evidence against her. With the help of her friends, and Sunset Bar regulars, things go quickly from bad to worse. Which of those friends is truly a friend?
Comfortably residing within the cozy realm, this adventure had more than enough twists and exotic local colour to keep up the interest in what is, admittedly, a somewhat long read. Sherri is the best drawn of all the characters, with a healthy libido and sufficient paranoia to keep her alive at the more dangerous moments. The closeted gay journalist, local minister, her best friend, another high school chum down on his luck and suffering schizophrenia, land development king-pins and the cops ... all make up Sherri's local landscape and keep the reader engaged and chuckling. ...more
Winner of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, arguably Canada's highest literary award, Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists made headlines, not justWinner of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, arguably Canada's highest literary award, Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists made headlines, not just as a first novel but for having been effectively out of print when it won. Produced by a small literary press in Nova Scotia (Gaspereau), the only extant copies were printed letterpress and hand bound; only days before the award was announced, Kobo stepped in to facilitate distribution as an ebook. Skibsrud had previously had two volumes of poetry published.
The memories of Napoleon Haskell and his daughter intersect, merge and submerge in a discursive narrative that flips between the final summer of Napoleon's life, her years growing up, and his experiences in Vietnam and later adulthood. The family -- consisting of the daughter, her sister Helen and her mother -- lived a strained existence in upper New York State, and Napoleon left and settled in Fargo when the girls were teenagers. Napoleon's childhood friend, Henry, lives across the St Lawrence near Morrisburg and it is to his home Napoleon retreats in his final days. The area consists of the "Lost Villages of the St Lawrence", where whole towns were flooded for the making of the seaway; the metaphor of submerged memories looms large throughout the story. When Napoleon finally talks to his daughter about the horrendous events, and a specific event in his tour of duty, he is speaking of this for the first time in decades, and the first time to his family. Who was this man she calls father and how much of him is buried inside her?
Though celebrated as a literary achievement, the prose left me frequently befuddled. Fragmentary, discursive, repetitive and obtuse, the moments of dazzle were for me drowned in plodding; other parts felt self-consciously clever and, if many threads remained dangling, it wasn't in order to more fully bring to the surface the main characters. Napoleon, yes, and his daughter to some extent are revealed; but others, such as her mother, wheel-chair bound Henry and his self-inflicted condition, Helen ... all left pretty much on the sidelines. Would it have been too much to actually give a name to the daughter as narrator?...more
Shortlisted for both the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize and 2011 Commonwealth Prize, Alexander MacLeod's collection of short stories, Light Lifting, comShortlisted for both the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize and 2011 Commonwealth Prize, Alexander MacLeod's collection of short stories, Light Lifting, comes by its praises honestly. It is the author’s debut collection (although the stories had already appeared in various literary magazines). One newspaper reviewer called MacLeod "an unexpectedly physical writer" and "an explorer of gritty masculinity and adrenalin-fuelled anger ... he can also be surpassingly delicate".
The seven stories include: "Miracle Mile" in which two young men compete with and encourage each other in cross-country track tour; "Wonder About Parents" featuring a sick child at Christmas visiting grandparents; The title tale, "Light Lifting", about a young man joining a work crew one summer to lay bricks; "Adult Beginner I" in which college kids dare each other and dive from a hotel rooftop into the river; "The Loop", about a twelve year old who delivers prescriptions and other goods from a local pharmacy, meeting an odd collection of regular customers in their homes; "Good Kids", a family of four boys and the integration of a new neighbour into their closed clique; "The Number Three", following an autoworker dealing with a tragic accident that changes his life.
It has to be said there was heavy weather encountered completing this collection. It's not just that the stories are often downbeat; they often end mid-note, crying out for some sort of resolution. Nor is the language gratifying; it is more plodding, scattered even and frequently obtuse for no particularly clear reason. In reflecting on the collection, I asked myself which story sat with me, that I internalised, and perhaps it was "The Loop" that came closest. But for most of them, I barely connected with these lives portrayed that were so grim, so unnecessary, so frankly little engaging. Once back on the shelf, I doubt if this one is coming down again. ...more
Fraser Nixon's first novel, The Man Who Killed, is set in 1926 Montreal relating the journey into hell of the protagonist and narrator, Mick, a 20-somFraser Nixon's first novel, The Man Who Killed, is set in 1926 Montreal relating the journey into hell of the protagonist and narrator, Mick, a 20-something ex-soldier late of the Great War, and more lately thrown out of medical school for unsavoury behaviour and morphine addiction using stolen McGill's supplies. Sliced any way you wish, Mick is not a nice fellow; his companion, Jack, less so and by a goodly measure. Though Mick is the son of a west coast preacher man, Mick and Jack were raised together like brothers, and it was Jack who was the favoured one though no son of the man.
Disgraced and out of luck, Mick has not yet quite quit Montreal and falls back in with Jack after a period of some years apart. In the opening pages, Mick is suddenly thrust into an illegal booze run, from Montreal to New York state, under the cover of darkness, riding shotgun in the third truck of a convoy. It ends badly, in a shoot-out, and Mick barely escapes with his life, managing to find his way back to Montreal the next morning. The descent into hell, already begun, quickens: the remainder of the tale plots in agonizing detail one failure of this man's life after another and the unpleasant impact he has on those around him as he turns from addict and petty thief to drug addled thug and killer.
This is a very dark book, and a smart book, with a relentless march to fatal destiny; but it is not without humour, both macabre and situational, usually wry. Without the stylist's craft, this corpse would be all skeleton and no meat. And wonder of wonders: there is even charm found here in the language, the evocation of Old Montreal, the detailing of the corruption of officials, both petty and high up in government, and in little honour found among the thieves. Indeed, the words conjure life into these depressingly decrepit characters, making real these lives that could not possibly be so grim. It's practically a miracle, all said and done, that the thing's such a cracking good entertainment and surprisingly satisfying when the last page is turned....more
This mad cap murder mystery and court room drama is another star turn for Arthur Ramsgate Beauchamp, a "retired" criminal attorney who can't seem to sThis mad cap murder mystery and court room drama is another star turn for Arthur Ramsgate Beauchamp, a "retired" criminal attorney who can't seem to stay retired or away from dead bodies. William Deverell's Kill All the Judges is the third novel in the series.
Cud Brown, a foul mouthed ex-steel worker turned ribald poet, lives on Garibaldi Island, Arthur's chosen retirement home. Cud's got a problem: he's been charged with the murder of a judge, His Honour Whynet-Moir, who disappeared over the balcony of his fabulous estate home. Cud was there but drunk enough that he doesn't remember a thing ... other than getting up to mischief with the late judge's trophy wife, Florenza. With the whole island urging Arthur to take the case, he demures, and plonks the case in the lap of Brian Pomeroy. But Pomeroy's got a problem, too: he's stewing over a divorce, getting deeper into substance abuse and, while he happens to be writing a novel, he's also going just a little bit nuts.
Should Arthur pick up the slack when Pomeroy disappears? Arthur's got a problem too: his wife Margaret has just been nominated as the Green Party candidate in a by-election and Arthur is expected to pull his weight to get her elected. He can hardly do that and take the case as well. But takes the case he does and, with an maleable prosecutor, Abigail Hitchens, a judge with an agenda who doesn't like Arthur and likes his sidekick, Wentworth Chance, even less, the story unfolds with sly humour and pacing which draws the reader deeply into the tale.
John Moss has written a cracker of a police procedural mystery, Grave Doubts. This is one of several "Castle Street Mystery" titles from Canadian publJohn Moss has written a cracker of a police procedural mystery, Grave Doubts. This is one of several "Castle Street Mystery" titles from Canadian publisher Dundurn Press.
Late on a wintry night, Toronto homicide detectives Miranda Quin and David Morgan are called to a Hoggs Hollow home in a ritzy suburb, with pioneer roots, where two decapitated mummified bodies have been found dressed in 1850s period clothing. Greeted by fellow police officer Rachel Naismith already on the scene, they are quickly joined by Royal Ontario Museum expert Shelagh Hubbard who, with a colleague, examine the remains for authenticity. In short order, the heads themselves are retrieved from a laundry chute. The bodies were found in a lovers embrace; the heads apparently kissing in the other "room". But all is not as it appears to be: the murders are, in fact, recent and the whole grisly scene has been staged. Enter Alexander Pope, an Ontario pioneer era reconstruction expert, and, as the scene changes to a small community north of Toronto, local turban wearing constabularly Peter Singh enters the drama as well.
Author Moss knows his art history, and displays a fine love of Toronto and local cottage country -- Georgian Bay and environs -- where a good deal of the action takes place. He creates strong characters and delivers motivation, and empathy, for the good guys and the villains, as well as delivering some fine twists and terrific episodes of suspense. This is the second of two Quin and Morgan tales; the first is Still Waters. Plus: Moss has three more titles in the pipe including the just released Reluctant Dead.
Highly recommended and happily available as an ebook from Kobo and Kindle. ...more
I have lived in Toronto almost my entire life, and vaguely in downtown Toronto my entire adult life. I love this city, warts and all ... so I am suckeI have lived in Toronto almost my entire life, and vaguely in downtown Toronto my entire adult life. I love this city, warts and all ... so I am sucker for new writers setting their tales in my front yard. And back yard. If "The Streets of Toronto" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as if that ended in "San Francisco", my heart skips a beat, nonetheless, every time. So what a joy to discover the work of Robin Spano and her first novel Dead Politician Society starts out with murder of the mayor and an undercover rookie cop is sent in to sort out the possible involvement of a secret student-faculty society on the campus of University of Toronto. This well plotted mystery has great pacing, entertaining characters and a satisfying resolution.
Clare Vengel, rookie cop, is being given a one-way chance to advance her career: infiltrate Dr Mathew Easton's "Political Utopia for the Real World" class and, more specifically, the shadowy SPU that may be behind the sudden poisoning of Toronto's mayor. Clare's boss is irascible, unsupportive and close-lipped as the investigation proceeds along parallel paths, leaving Clare to sort out what clues she stumbles across. Clare's classmates are a mix of idealists, with their own issues trying to make it through school, and there are several of them ... but who could be involved in the murder ... make that murders ... as the tale progresses? There are other key characters, too: like the mayor's ex (as in divorced) wife, currently enjoying a lesbian fling with one of Easton's students; and a couple of reporters at the local newspaper ... and the killer, who sends taunting tweets, and promises a book deal to an aspiring writer. It's not long before it's clear there is a list of victims to be poisoned (causing the caterer who seems to be a common link no end of consternation) ... but who is next and can the carnage be ended?
Although I'd sorted out the killer a bit earlier than I would have liked, the details and secondary plots and involvements were a pleasant surprise. There are a lot of characters here, and not enough time to flesh them all out (including our heroine), and folks are all just a little bit too nice (hello, this is Toronto the Good), and I did find the constant ping pong among the different layers of the tale jarring ... but it's so well plotted, and the pacing so strong, these flaws are forgivable. A second book in the series is already announced for a fall release....more
I would give Forty Words for Sorrow a resounding five stars, if by the highest rating I also meant, most satisfied. It is a brilliant book: the tale dI would give Forty Words for Sorrow a resounding five stars, if by the highest rating I also meant, most satisfied. It is a brilliant book: the tale drags the reader along, mercilessly, into the warm hearts of the flawed good guys, the chilling heartlessness of the efficient bad guys, their brutality lashing out, page after page. A brilliant book? A deeply disturbing book ... I need a cleanser after this.
Giles Blunt's hero is Detective Inspector John Cardinal, 10 years already on the Algonquin Bay police force somewhere near Huntsville, Ontario. He's a dedicated cop, always struggling to be the best he can, weighed down by an action in his past, and by a wife whose mental illness does collateral damage on his soul, while he tries every day to be the best father to his Yale attending daughter. He's a cop with issues and he's a very, very good cop.
Stir into this mix: Toronto drug mafia infesting his home town of Algonquin Bay; a serial killer on the loose who targets teenagers; a frozen body found in a mine-shaft, a 13 year old whose case Cardinal worked on; and a new female partner who has one foot in Special Investigations and the target is John Cardinal ... the inside snitch who is feeding the local mafia guy "helpful" information for a fee. It's a police procedural with forensics and lead tracking; and a thriller, with a relentlessly suspenseful playing out as another teenage victim runs out of time and Cardinal and his team inch closer ... and closer.
Recommended with the caveat: it's a hard tale to put aside; it's a hard tale not to. And another half dozen books beckon when you're done....more
There's a "Canadian" author, born in Hamilton, Ontario -- but who lived most of his life in New York and later Chesapeake Beach, Maryland -- named HulThere's a "Canadian" author, born in Hamilton, Ontario -- but who lived most of his life in New York and later Chesapeake Beach, Maryland -- named Hulbert Footner who wrote at least three dozen novels and many short stories -- most of those based in New York. Like Agatha Christie, his mystery output consists of a number of "one offs" but coalesces around two characters: a series about Madame Rosika Storey and another about Amos Lee Mappin, both private detectives.
The Under Dogs, published in 1925, is the first novel about Rosika Storey, told by her trusty secretary, Bella Brickley. Rosika receives a plea from a young woman on the wrong side of the law who is mixed up with "The Organisation". In a spectacular escape arranged by her cronies, she breaks out of jail ... only to be taken prisoner by her mafia "friends". It's Rosika to the rescue! and in due course she lands in prison (under cover), and makes an escape with the help of the mafia and tracks down the poor young woman. But to break up the organisation Rosika herself must commit a dazzling robbery. It's fun stuff, with lots of "action", and occasional humour as the timid Bella gets sucked into the vortex of activity. Recommended as a breezy summer read. ...more
Louise Penny, in her second Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel, A Fatal Grace (published also as "Dead Cold"), is a brilliant follow-up to Still LifLouise Penny, in her second Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel, A Fatal Grace (published also as "Dead Cold"), is a brilliant follow-up to Still Life where murder returns to the cheerful village Three Pines in the eastern townships of Quebec, an hour's drive or so from Montreal.
It is a year later, and the austere, aloof Hadley home, had known such grief, has been purchased by CC de Poitiers and her husband Richard Lyon. CC is a glamourous, late forties bleached blonde with ambition far, far exceeding her talent. She annoys, belittles, betrays, and alienates everyone in her path, and in her circle: even her not-so-secret lover despises her. What a fine choice for a murder victim!
The great characters of the original novel return: Ruth Zardo, a curmudgeonly poet; Clara Morrow, a painter struggling to invest the real world with a shred of the beauty of her inner world and canvasses; her husband, Peter, also an artist by trade; Gabri and Olivier, the gay couple who run the B&B and popular bistro in Three Pines; Myrna, a black therapist who has settled here to recharge; Gamache himself, an immensely warm, thoughtful man who struggles every moment to do his best for those he cares about -- including murderers whom he inevitably comes to care about as he gets inside their heads and hearts; and the others of his crew, including the delightfully off kilter Jean-Guy Beauvoir and the return of Yvette Nichol and a new officer, Robert Lemieux. Penny's magic is to share each character's inner voices and asides, commenting on scenes from multiple perspectives.
These are murder mysteries, and there is endless delight trying to guess how the clues, sometimes obvious and sometimes not, fit together, only to have them confirmed, then dashed and a new solution presented in the nick of time as the tale comes to a close. This is virtuoso stuff and hugely pleasurable to read. Bravo!...more
Jill Edmondson's second novel, Dead Light District, is set in Toronto and again stars local female PI Sasha Jackson. It's a soft-boiled, sometimes madJill Edmondson's second novel, Dead Light District, is set in Toronto and again stars local female PI Sasha Jackson. It's a soft-boiled, sometimes madcap mystery to locate a missing person, Mary Carmen, an utterly gorgeous young woman who has come to Canada from Mexico to model only to find herself in (an upscale) house of prostitution. Thirty-something PI Jackson has qualms about taking the case from the bordello's madam but quickly finds herself in a quicksand of clues. It's not long before a murder is added to the mix, a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, a high school reunion band, a flop, a drag queen ... and a couple of gin and tonics. And some sex ... our heroine has a healthy libido and flexes it a couple of times as a side dish.
This series is not high art ... it occasionally flirts with high camp ... but its heart is always in the right place and, despite some of the more outrageous things she does, it's hard not to be routing for Sasha. What is lacks in character development it makes up for in character mischief. A recommended diversion, perhaps over a freshly made mojito....more
I really can't recommend Louise Penny's 2004 debut novel Still Life,, the first of six Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tales, set in the village of ThrI really can't recommend Louise Penny's 2004 debut novel Still Life,, the first of six Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tales, set in the village of Three Pines, Quebec, more highly. It has taken me a while to get around to this series; the Canadian e-book rights were spotty despite the author having been celebrated in Canada and internationally -- she is the only author ever to win three Agatha awards in a row for Best Novel. Alas, Still Life remained out of reach of her fellow Canadian readers as an e-book due to (stupid) e-rights issues ... until mid-April 2011. All of Ms Penny's novels are available in Canada in paper; most are available at public libraries as audio books; none are available as e-books. Now ... THERE's a mystery!
Jean Neal, a 70s-something local artist, is found dead in a pile of autumn leaves at Three Pines, Quebec steps from her home, in the midst of hunting season. She's been killed by an arrow. Accident? or murder? When Montreal-based Chief Inspector Armand Gamache investigates (beginning with: "where the heck is Three Pines, anyway?"), he uncovers an artist neighbourhood of painters, poets and crafters, snuggled next to the gay couple running the local b&b/antique shop and shady relatives in for the killing, metaphorically, one hopes. Toss in Children's Aid, and a deep seated fear of snakes, and you have a really cracker jack tale of murder and love lost over six decades.
Penny's prose is easy, thoughtful, intelligent and psychological. She really gets inside her characters, like Simenon does in his Inspector Maigret tales, but with (much) less emotional detachment; yet the story bubbles along like best of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe; and the unexpected humour conjures Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman, or, allowing for the generation gap, Raymond Chandler. But please don't think her style, her stories, her compassion for the characters is in any way derivative: Three Pines will ring true on multiple levels even if you have no idea what real maple syrup tastes like.
However you acquire an opportunity to read it ... read it. It's a five star gem. ...more