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Shiver Me Timbers: A Little Murder with My Fall

Helen Walsh’s debut novel Pull Focus—a feminist thriller set behind the scenes at an international film festival—publishes September 7 in North America and October 7 in the UK.  

Autumn’s long shadows cut across the darkening sky. A director frames a close-up shot of a woman in an armchair clutching a book, legs curled up beneath her, half-drunk glass of Pinot Noir on the side table. The crackle of the fire makes her jump, as her eyes dart from the page out the bare window, and back again. What lurks outside? Waits upstairs? Under the bed, perhaps. . .

Is there anything more delicious than a chill up the spine as nights grow longer and shadows lurk?

Here are 10 novels full of crackling tension that crowd my beside table or will soon, once their publication date arrives.

*****

Everything Turns Away, by Michelle Berry

I was a film producer living half-time in lower Manhattan when September 11th blew up life as I knew it. Cataclysmic events shake our very foundation, prompting us to look at the world, and those closest to us, through greater clarity …

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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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Ottawa Writing: Light and Dark, Sepia Toned and Noir

John Delacourt—whose latest novel is Butterfly—celebrates the unique sensibility of Ottawa writers in this fantastic and wide-ranging recommended reading list. 

*****

It was more than 16 years ago, at an event celebrating the work and life of Ottawa’s John Newlove, that I first discovered the depth and diversity of Ottawa’s writing community (it was at the Manx Pub—where poet David O’Meara tends bar). I was new to the city but realized, as the readings began that night, this was truly a city where a writer could work, find readers and even, every now and then, a little inspiration. The following list is my submission of the evidence.

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Asylum, by André Alexis

Long before his Giller-winning 15 Dogs, author André Alexis spent close to a decade writing Asylum, a novel set in late-1980s Ottawa. The novel’s main character and narrator is a bookseller who joins a group of would-be intellectuals and civil servants called The Fortnightly Club. One of its members, a high-ranking bureaucrat serving Mulroney’s cabinet, aspires to implement the best …

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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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The Chat With Grace O’Connell

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This week on The Chat, we’re in conversation with Toronto novelist Grace O’Connell. In Be Ready for the Lightning, her second book, we meet Vancouverite Veda and follow her relationship with her troubled brother Conrad and their group of childhood friends. Caught as a bystander on a hijacking on a New York City bus, Veda is forced to re-evaluate her past.

Writing in The Toronto Star, Robert Wiersema says Be Ready for the Lightning is “a novel of stunning beauty and impact, its revelations and realizations are startling, hard-earned and realistic."

Grace O’Connell is the author of Magnified World, a Globe and Mail Best Book and she was the 2014 winner of the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing, and her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, The Globe and Mail, National Post and Elle.

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THE CHAT WITH GRACE O'CONNELL

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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. 

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What's Left Behind, by Gail Bowen

About the book: The latest novel …

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Thrillers: Pick Up the Unputdownable

The definition of a "thrill" is "a sudden rush of excitement," and so the thriller genre is one in which such rushes are a fundamental part of the reading experience. How writers go about creating these thrills is what makes each book unique, but the most successful employ a mix of suspense, fast pacing, and crazy plot twists that keep readers on the edge of their seats (or beds) the whole way through.

"I couldn't put it down," is how most readers describe it when a writer employs these thrills just right. 

The following are books that will be chilling bones, tingling spines, and sending heartbeats racing this fall. 

*****

The Place of Shining Light, by Nazneen Sheikh

About the book: Three men race against time to take possession of a sacred 5,000-year-old Buddhist sculpture: Khalid, a leading Pakistani antiquities dealer, arranges for the illegal importation of the statue from neighbouring Afghanistan. Ghalib, a wealthy art collector with political aspirations, has purchased the statue for his private collection. Adeel, a highly recommended ex-military officer, is hired by Khalid to transport the sculpture to its final destination.

When Adeel first views the statue in a cave in Bamiyan—known as “the place of shining light”—he has a profound spiritual reaction …

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"I Am Not At Peace": Ghosts and Haunting in Canadian Fiction

Graveyard at night

“There is a sense in which all novels are ghost stories: fictional characters are translucent phantoms, which readers believe in (or don’t); readers lurk in the presence of characters, spying on their most intimate moments, eavesdropping on their innermost thoughts. And however thoroughly the novelist establishes her characters’ motivations, however robustly she forges her chains of cause and effect everything that happens ultimately does so at the whim of the writer. Certain things have to happen for the narrative to progress… Every novel is haunted by a tyrannical poltergeist, in the form of its plot.” from “Poltergeist: The Little Stranger” by Thomas Jones, London Review of Books 9 July 2009

In Britain, a civilization so old that it’s nearly impossible not to be walking on a grave, it’s no surprise that fictional ghosts are abundant. From The Woman in White down to the The Woman in Black, the ghost story is a literary staple, and it’s taken comedy turns in novels by contemporary writers including Hilary Mantel and Nicola Barker.

In Canada, however, where bones underfoot are less common and those discovered often hearken back to colonial atrocities, our ghosts are not so playful. Something is extra-unnatural about the supernatural in Canadia …

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