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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. 


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. 


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. 


What's Left Behind, by Gail Bowen

About the book: The latest novel …

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CanLit Noir: Ricochet Books

"A raw novel of sex and drugs in the years just before rock 'n' roll, Hot Freeze moves from the highest Westmount mansion to the lowest Montreal gambling joint and nightclubs. "

Richochet Books is CanLit like you've never seen it before. An imprint of Montreal's Vehicule Press and edited by Brian Busby, the series brings hard-boiled noir detective novels of the 1940s and 1950s back into print. The latest title is Hot Freeze, by Douglas Sanderson, which is forthcoming this fall. 

We asked Simon Dardick, Co-Publisher of Vehicule Press, to tell us more about Ricochet and its origins, and just how they come up with the series' incredibly distinctive cover art.  


"A novel about Montreal during the not-so-halcyon era of a couple of decades ago when gangs and girls made rum-running and slot machines big business."

49th Shelf: How did the Ricochet Books series come to be (and get their name)?

Simon Dardick: Collecting Canadian noir mysteries from the 1940s and '50s has been a passion of mine for over 20 years. Aside from being attracted to the genr …

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Safe as Houses: A List by Susan Glickman

Book Cover Safe as Houses

Our next stop for Mystery Month is Safe as Houses by Susan Glickman. It's the story of a quiet Toronto neighbourhood disturbed by a murder in its midst, a book that portrays the uncanniness of discovering that our safe places have hidden dangers after all. And it's true that houses have many more sides than just four walls. In this list—whose expansiveness is fitting for an author who has written for a children and adults—Glickman shares ten stories with a house at their centres. 


My new novel, Safe as Houses, is a murder mystery that plays with the assumption that a house is always a safe place. Home can be a refuge; family (another meaning of “house”, as in the house of Windsor) can be those who love you best. But home can also be a prison, and those you live with your greatest torment. Here are some other Canadian books, for both adults and kids, which ask whether a house is always a home—or even whether a home need be an actual house. 


Something from Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman

A beautiful picture book that parents and children will bo …

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Holey Tales: 7 Literary Sleuths Are on the Case for Mystery Month

For a few weeks earlier this year, a mysterious tunnel in Toronto captured the nation's imagination. There is something about a hole in the ground that suggests infinite possibility, an empty space into which all kinds of stories can be projected. A point that is proven by the seven writers who responded to our Hole in the Ground Challenge for Mystery Month. These writers' task was to use a mysterious hole as a starting point for a mystery and to put their literary detectives be on the case. The hole's specifics—where, what, and why—would be determined by the literary universe in which their detectives exist, providing our readers with an idea of what to expect from these writers' new novels, and the detectives themselves with a bit of an extra-textual challenge. 

The results are wildly diverse, a lot of fun, and make for some excellent short reads. 


The Corpse With the Sapphire Eyes

A Hole in the Ground, by Cathy Ace

It all began just before 8:00 AM when I looked out of my office window from the school of criminology at the University of Vancouver. See a group of undergrads standing in a circle peering at the floor? Chances are something’s up. Sipping lukewarm coffee, I opened my window to hear what was bein …

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More Than One Side to Every Story

Book Cover The Merit Birds

May is Mystery Month at 49th Shelf, and we're having fun highlighting suspense-filled titles coming out this spring. Today it's The Merit Birds, by Kelley Powell, a YA novel about an angry young man who is wrongfully accused of murder and ends up in a Laotian prison. Powell builds suspense by having her narrative inhabit multiple points of view, and here she shares other titles—many also with international themes and some intrigue—that similarly use a variety of voices to enable their reader an experience of multiple dimensions. 


Like any split personality, multiple-point of view (POV) novels can get messy and challenging. But when they are done right—ahh—it’s like having all of your friends in the same room at the same time. Multiple perspectives help to create suspense, ramp up tension and give the reader a fuller understanding of a situation. Here are some that stand out:

Barney’s Version, by Mordecai Richler

When polling friends and random strangers on the bus about Canadian POV novels, this one came up most often. The 2010 movie ma …

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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).


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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Detecting Canada Excerpt: A Feminist Examination of Joanne Kilbourn

Book Cover Detecting Canada

Detecting Canada is the first serious book-length look at crime writing in Canada, containing essays on many of Canada's most popular crime writers. The following is an excerpt from Pamela Bedore's piece on novelist Gail Bowen and her Joanne Kilbourn novels. Of the essay, the book's editors, Jeannette Sloniowski and Marilyn Rose, say:

"Pamela Bedore [argues] that the author uses the series as a jumping-off point for a feminist examination/reconstruction of the amateur sleuth. She sees Bowen’s fiction as complex and nuanced and the author as creating a serious discussion of feminist issues through manipulations of the conventions of crime fiction."


From Chapter 7 by Pamela Bedore

A Colder Kind of Death

The Joanne Kilbourn series naturally breaks into three “movements” of three or four novels, each based on Jo’s professional situation as well as her romantic relationships, and each movement contains one novel that addresses feminism head-on, although questions of gender politics inflect all the novels. Although Jo’s strength as a successful professional woman oft …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Mystery Novels for Young Readers

Every month, our resident children's librarian, Julie Booker, brings us great stories from the stacks. May is Mystery Month at 49th Shelf, and Julie's picks are in the spirit. 


John Spray grew up on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. He became the President of the Mantis Investigation Agency and, in 2011, established the John Spray Mystery Award for novels for ages 8 to 16. (The award is administered by the Canadian Children's Book Centre). Four of the following five titles were winners or nominees, and the other is remarkable in its own right.

The Lynching of Louie Sam, by Elizabeth Stewart, is a compelling story, based on true events—the only recorded lynching in Canada. The book opens in 1884, in Washington Territory, with 15-year-old George Gillies finding the local store owner murdered. The facts point to Louie Sam, a native boy a year younger than George. Sam is arrested and taken to Canada for a hearing but a posse of men (disguised in their wives’ petticoats) ride to BC to snatch him. George’s father is among them and George follows on horseback to witness the hanging. Things get complicated when George discovers Louie Sam may be innocent. George wrestles with his conscience while watching the adults cover up for political reasons. The Gillies family is …

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Breaking Bad Versus Almost Criminal

Almost Criminal

E.R. Brown's novel, Almost Criminal, is making waves. It was nominated for an Edgar Award (named for Allan Poe, and the most prestigious award in the mystery genre) and is up for an Arthur Ellis Award in June. And in press and reviews, this novel about a guy with a secret life producing illegal drugs inevitably gets compared to another blockbuster, this time of the televised variety: Breaking Bad. So we asked E.R. Brown to take a moment (in transit) to tell us what he thinks about this comparison, and why, in this age of images, the book still has a job to do. 


My book, Almost Criminal is about a bright young man who attempts to get himself out of difficult times by making fast money with BC Bud. Many people—including reviewers like the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Cannon and the Liquid Hip blog—have compared it to the TV show, Breaking Bad. I’m flattered. Although when I began the book I hadn’t heard of the show, and didn’t watch an episode until I’d finished the first draft.

The comparisons have brought up an old question: which is better, reading or watching? When shows like Breaking Bad can dig into character to a depth that used to be reserved for the novel, why do people bother to pick up books?

I’m writing this in a plane, on the way home fr …

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Angela Misri: Homage to Holmes

Jewel of the Thames

Angela Misri is author of Jewel of the Thames, the first book in the Portia Adams Adventure Series, which takes place in 1930s' London and borrows a famous literary address (Sherlock Holmes') for its setting and genealogical lineage (Watson's) for its protagonist. In this 49th Shelf exclusive, she tells us what it's like to pay homage to Sherlock Holmes and his world, and shares some additional reading recommendations which pay similar homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, whether explicitly or otherwise.   


hom·age (noun): something done or given in acknowledgment or consideration of the worth of another.

I know the exact moment when my detective, Portia Adams, appeared in my mind’s eye. I was reading Stephen King’s short story anthology Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and turned the page to “The Doctor’s Case.” In the story, we return once again to the well-known partnership of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as they arrive on the scene of a locked-door murder. As the title implies, it is Doctor Watson who manages to solve the case this time, to the astonishment of Inspector Lestrade, the Great Detective, and (poor fellow) Watson himself. Not only was this a clever twist on the relationship of my favourite detective duos, set in one of the most c …

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R.J. Harlick: Crime Novels Across the Country

Book Cover Silver Totem of Shame

R.J. Harlick's Meg Harris was included on our Canadian Sleuth Lit Wish List in December, an amateur sleuth "who drinks a little too much and is afraid of the dark." She appears most recently in Harlick's latest novel, Silver Totem of Shame, in which Meg encounters the crime scene of a murdered Haida carver while on a visit to Vancouver and begins a journey up the coast to the islands of the Haida Gwaii in search of the murdered boy's family and his killer. 

While she's not cooking up new plot twists, Harlick fulfils her duties as President of Crime Writers of Canada. In this guest post, she offers a coast-to-coast perspective on the Canadian crime writing scene. 


These are exciting times for Canadian crime writing. With books by Canadian writers appearing more and more frequently on both national and international bestseller lists or as finalists and winners of national and international book awards, I feel we have finally arrived. It is hard to believe that 30 years ago, when Crime Writers of Canada was established, there were only a handful of authors writing distinctly Canadian mysteries. Today there are well over 250. I like to think we Canadians are the next wave to take the mystery reading world by storm.

With so many fabulous recent releases, it is diffi …

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