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Crime Fiction, True Crime, Historical Mysteries, and History

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My first eleven books are known as the Collins-Burke mystery series, revolving around the trials and tribulations of my two main characters. Monty Collins is a Halifax criminal lawyer who lets off steam by singing in his blues band, Functus. Father Brennan Burke is priest whose family emigrated from Ireland to New York City under a cloud. Burke is now a choirmaster in Halifax, but aside from his musical brilliance he is hardly a choirboy. He is fond of a drink, uses salty language, and has occasionally let a pretty face compromise his vows, but he stays the course as a priest of God. Monty and Brennan sometimes work together, and sometimes inadvertently against each other, as they try to solve the murders that happen on their turf.

My new book is a departure from the series. The Keening: A Mystery of Gaelic Ireland is a stand-alone historical novel. I’ll be returning to the Collins-Burke series for my future novels!

Like any other writer, I love reading! I read a lot of history, philosophy, politics and, of course, good fiction. My list here includes some of my favourite genres, books that I have enjoyed or that have influenced my own writing: crime fiction, true crime, historical mysteries, …

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First Class Thrillers

Robyn Harding's latest novel is The Perfect Family, which is up for giveaway as part of our Summer Books list right now! Enter for your chance to win this book and others. 

Canada has no shortage of literary heavyweights, but in recent years a crop of talented crime-fiction authors has come to the fore. This country produces some of the best mysteries and thrillers around, with smart, twisty plots; complex (and sometimes unlikable) characters; and settings from small-town Canada to the Harlem Renaissance to an island off the coast of Tanzania.

Besides international superstar authors like Louise Penny, Shari Lapena, and Ashley Audrain, here are some delightfully devious thrillers released this year.

*****

Bath Haus, by P.J. Vernon

In this sizzling read, Oliver Park, a recovering addict, visits a gay bathhouse unbeknownst to his prominent trauma-surgeon husband. What happens inside sets off a runaway train of thrills as Oliver tries to protect his perfect life and outwit a killer. The tension in this one is off the charts.

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10 Unapologetically Twisted Reads

Hannah Mary McKinnon's latest thriller is Sister Dear, a twisted story of family and obsession. It's been called "a thrill-ride through a family mired in secrets, with a satisfyingly villainous ending!” Perfect for relaxing on the the deck with, no?

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It’s common knowledge winter in Canada can be long, cold, snowy and brutal ... but maybe that’s why there are so many stellar novels written in this country—we have plenty of time to hunker over our keyboards with endless cups of Tim’s fuelling our creative minds. Here’s a list of ten crime reads to help you discover why authors in Canada have their own hashtag (#ReadTheNorth), and deserve a place on anybody’s reading shelf.

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Recipe for a Perfect Wife, by Karma Brown

Alice Hale leaves her career and follows her husband to the burbs, where she finds a vintage cookbook. When she becomes captivated by its previous owner, 1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch, she starts to question not only the foundation of her marriage, but also what it means to be a wife fighting for her rightful place in a pat …

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Launchpad: Closing Time, by Brenda Chapman

Book Cover Launchpad Logo

This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching Closing Time, by Brenda Chapman, which Barbara Fradkin calls "Complex and filled with menace... [this] tale of sex, lies, and betrayal will keep you up at night."

*****

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence:

Closing Time is the seventh and last in the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series in which Officer Kala Stonechild reluctantly assists with the murder investigation of a high school student while on holiday with her foster niece Dawn in the wilderness no …

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Ann Lambert: Watershed Books

The Birds That Stay is Ann Lambert's first novel, a murder mystery set in a small village in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. And Lambert brings to her first book more than two decades of experience as a theatre direction, playwright, and English teacher, all of which inform her novel, and in this recommended reading list she shares works that have similarly served as a foundation for her, both as a reader and as a writer.

Although narrowing the list down wasn't easy...

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How do I isolate ten books to recommend from the range and depth of Canadian literature? How do I not include Barometer Rising, The Tin Flute, The Wars, Le Matou, Unless, A Complicated Kindness, A Fine Balance, The Life of Pi, The Book of Negroes, Lullabies for Little Criminals, The Tiger, The Break and so many other terrific books? I decided to select books by Canadian writers whose work prompted a watershed moment for me, over a lifetime of reading.

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The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence 

This was the complete novel for me. It told the story of a woman, Morag Gunn, who migrated fr …

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Valgardson’s Reading List

In Valhalla’s Shadows is a thrilling crime novel with an extraordinary cast of characters set on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. In it, W.D. Valgardson shapes a portrait of small-town living while masterfully weaving in threads of Icelandic mythology as well as discussions of contemporary issues such as systemic racism within the justice system and the lasting effects of PTSD on first responders.

In this recommended reading list, he shares other titles that explores these themes and ideas. 

*****

Ten Years in Winnipeg, 1870-79, by Alexander Begg and Walter R. Nursey

This journal written during the turbulent years of Winnipeg’s birth gives a raw chronology of the events that would determine the city’s future, presents characters determined to wrest fortunes from the land, and provides insights into the machinations that made some people fortunes. There is nothing polished about the narrative and that is what makes it valuable. It is available online.

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If You're Going to Read Just ONE Book This Summer....You Will Be Making a Terrible Mistake

If you're going to read just one book this summer....you'll be making a terrible mistake! Because with all the amazing new books out right now, you should be probably reading at least two, or even eighteen. And so to get you started, check out this spectacular list of gripping titles that will make for perfect reads for the deck chair, the hammock, the dock, the beach, under a tree, on a city rooftop—wherever you're getting your summer on.  

*****

When the Flood Falls, by J.E. Barnard

About the book: With her career in tatters and her marriage receding in the rear-view mirror, ex-RCMP corporal Lacey McCrae trades her uniform for a tool belt, and the Lower Mainland for the foothills west of Calgary. Amid the oil barons, hockey stars, and other high rollers who inhabit the wilderness playground is her old university roommate, Dee Phillips. Dee’s glossy life was shattered by a reckless driver; now she’s haunted by a nighttime prowler only she can hear. 

As snowmelt swells the icy river, threatening the only bridge back to civilization, Lacey must make the call: assume Dee’s in danger and get her out of there, or decide the prowler is imaginary and stay, cut off from help if the bridge is swept away.

Why we're taking notice: This one won the 2016 Unhanged Arthur A …

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Kim Moritsugu: Women Killing it

The Showrunner, Kim Moritsugu's latest novel, is one of those books in which the reader reaches a certain point in the text and just cannot stop reading as the story spirals into mayhem and, well, murder. In this list, she shares other titles that are just as unputdownable, in which women authors are "killing it," literally and otherwise. 

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Strong, outspoken women rule in the seven novels I've had published to date, including my latest, The Showrunner: it's about two women battling for control of the primetime TV drama they co-created, and a third woman who comes between them and plays both sides against the middle, with deadly results. 

In other words, the three women characters are "killing it," so I was thrilled to be invited to the 2018 Women Killing It Crime Writers' Festival, to be held in Ontario's Prince Edward County during Labour Day weekend. 

With a nod to some of this year's Women Killing It authors (who are noted here with an asterisk), here's a recommended reading list of books—some recent releases, some backlist beauties—written by a sampling of the many Canadian women writers who write for and about women, and are killing it in their respective genres.

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Crime Novels: Noir by Northwest

Book Cover Cut You Down

Sam Wiebe (whose most recent novel is Cut You Down, which “convincingly brings Raymond Chandler into the twenty-first century," according to a starred review in Publishers Weekly) recommends eight other crime novels set in the Pacific Northwest. 

*****

Find You in the Dark, by Nathan Ripley 

Seattle: Martin Reese is a retired tech millionaire who spends his free time searching for the bodies of undiscovered serial killer victims. Is he a heroic benefactor, doing what the police can’t, or is he motivated by something darker? Find You In the Dark captures the uncomfortable overlap of Seattle’s business and culture sectors.

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Zero Avenue, by Dietrick Kalteis

Vancouver and the US/Canada border: Kalteis’s tale of 70s’ Vancouver focuses on the emerging punk scene, as well as the cross-border pot trade. His work has been compared to Elmore …

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Crime Fiction Virtual Round-Table

Book Cover A Language of Secrets

What happens when you gather eight of Canada's most exciting authors of crime and detective fiction to take the pulse of Canadian crime fiction today? Among the discussion topics: Is CanCrime a genre and how do we define it? What writers served as literary inspirations? How is one affected by writing about violence and brutality? And so much more, including the authors' answers to the essential question: What books are you excited about right now? Our participants' enthusiasm for books and literature is palpable and will no doubt spread like, well, a crime wave. 

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49th Shelf: In 2014, we talked to critic Sarah Weinman about the possibility of “CanCrime,”—the notion that Canadian crime fiction might be a genre unto itself. Sarah had theories on the subject, but she hadn’t developed them entirely. What are your thoughts?

Hilary Davidson: That’s such a tough thing to quantify, and my answer is going to be based on—and biased by!—the authors I’ve read (there are many I haven’t read yet). But to me, CanCrime explores grey areas. It’s not about easily identifiable villains and heroes; there’s more shading and nuance. There’s a lot of thought given to the psychological life of all the characters. I know Sarah mentioned empathy, and I think that …

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Get Gripped: Mystery, Thriller and Crime Novels to Read This Spring

These are the kind of books they had to make up the word "unputdownable" for. 

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Far From True, by Linwood Barclay

About the book: After the screen of a run-down drive-in movie theater collapses and kills four people, the daughter of one of the victims asks private investigator Cal Weaver to look into a break-in at her father's house. Cal discovers a hidden room where salacious activities have taken place—as well as evidence of missing DVDs. But it may not be the discs the thief was interested in.

Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth is still trying to solve two murders he believes are connected, since each featured a similar distinctive wound. And when yet another murder happens, Cal and Barry are both driven to pursue their investigations, no matter where they lead. But where they lead may be more horrific than either man can imagine.

Why we're taking notice: This is the second title in the bestselling Barclay's Promise Falls trilogy. Readers will want to know what happens next. 

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What's Left Behind, by Gail Bowen

About the book: The latest novel …

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Ten Mystery Books to Read This Spring

There are fine distinctions, so say the genre purists, between crime fiction, detective fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, and here we go lumping them all in together, but on another level, books are just books, and is there any novel that doesn't have an element of mystery at its core? So forgive us, is what I mean, as we suggest the must-have titles to reading this spring (which is rapidly moving toward summer, when mystery novels somehow seem most vital).

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The Corpse With the Sapphire Eyes, by Cathy Ace

About the book: It's Cait and Bud's wedding weekend and for the first time she feels like a bride—or at least, she's supposed to. But then the rain won't quit, the supposedly romantic Welsh castle feels creepy, and there's a dead body on the stairs. 

What first appears to have been the untimely, unfortunate, and accidental death of their wedding choirmaster quickly reveals itself to have been a murder. And when a series of mysterious events occur around the castle, Cait, Bud, and Cait's sister Sian tackle the case of The Corpse with the Sapphire Eyes, attempting to solve the mystery before another sinister event can ruin their destination wedding. 

Why we're taking notice: Cathy Ace writes, "They say 'write what you know,' so a short, plus-sized Welsh woman, …

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