How the Light Gets In, the latest book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, was a huge international success this year, proving once again that Canadian crime fiction knows what it’s doing. And although it is unclear whether or not Penny has more Gamache novels in the works, there is a huge variety of other Canadian crime/detective series to try out in the meantime. (And get ready—quite a few of these series have new instalments due in 2014!)
But how to choose which series to start with?
Well, it’s easy with our handy #LitWishList of fictional Canadian sleuths. Think of it like sleuthy speed-dating—peruse the list to see who catches your fancy. Though you just may end up wanting to read them all.
The Toronto Lesbian PI: Calli Barnow
Last Seen: Yellow Vengeance by Liz Bugg
After narrowly escaping death while solving her last case, the Toronto PI is settling happily into married life with her new wife, Jess. Once again, however, trouble is looming: Jess wants a baby but Calli would rather fight a psycho with a gun than contemplate parenthood. When an old school friend asks Calli to investigate her mother’s death, Calli jumps at the chance to distract herself with work. Her plans go awry when her own mother reveals a shocking secret that threatens to turn Calli’s life upside down. By turns lighthearted and thrilling, Liz Bugg’s Calli Barnow mysteries feature an engaging cast of characters including Calli’s beautiful and sensible wife, Jess; June, her police officer ex-lover; and Dewey, aka Lady Dee: drag artiste, sidekick, buddy, and sometimes assistant. The city of Toronto itself is a character, especially the quirky Kensington Market neighbourhood where Calli lives and works.
The Algonquin Park Detective: John Cardinal
Last Seen: Until the Night by Giles Blunt
It's not unusual for John Cardinal to be hauled out of a warm bed on a cold night in Algonquin Bay to investigate a murder. And at first this dead body, sprawled in the parking lot of Motel 17, looks pretty run of the mill: the corpse has a big bootprint on his neck, and the likely suspect is his lover's outraged husband. But the lover has gone missing. And then Delorme, following a hunch, locates another missing woman, a senator's wife from Ottawa, frozen in the ruins of an abandoned hotel way back in the woods. Spookily, she was chained up and abandoned wearing a new winter parka and boots, with a thermos beside her—as if her murderer was giving her a whisper of a chance at survival. Neither Delorme nor Cardinal can imagine where their investigation will lead: into a decades-old injustice committed in the high Arctic; into the swingers' world inhabited by an ex-rock star who owns a pub in Algonquin Bay as well as private members' clubs in Toronto and Ottawa; into the insecurity that afflicts Delorme the woman and the cop; and into the deep bond between Delorme and Cardinal, which is at real risk of coming undone. In Until the Night, Giles Blunt outdoes himself, creating a masterpiece of crime fiction that will not only haunt his fans and readers, but delight and amaze them too.
The Montreal Jazzman/Lawyer and the Priest: Monty Collins and Father Brennan Burke
Last Seen: Blood on a Saint by Anne Emery
Father Brennan Burke's patience is tested to the limit when a young woman announces to the world that the Virgin Mary has appeared to her in his churchyard, and hordes of pilgrims, souvenir hawkers, and reporters converge on the scene. But, as unwelcome as these guests may be, they pale in comparison to yet another aggravation in Father Burke's life, a controversial talk show host who clashes with Burke the minute he arrives in town. Events take a darker turn when a body is found at the apparition site, and the talk show host is picked up for the murder. There is enough aggravation to go around, as Monty Collins learns when he takes on the loud-mouthed TV man as a client. Monty and Brennan both have a stake in uncovering the truth about the murder, and they both learn disturbing things about the accused man and other suspects in the case. Problem is, Monty and Brennan cannot talk to each other about what they find out, because one is bound by solicitor-client confidentiality and the other by the seal of the confessional. And Monty has other things to deal with as well, when an emergency forces him to make some crucial decisions in his personal life.
The Edmonton Perennial Academic Gypsy: Randy Craig
Last Seen: Condemned to Repeat by Janice MacDonald
Five books into the series and perennial academic gypsy Miranda "Randy" Craig still hasn't landed a tenure-track position. For anyone other than Randy, a contract to do archival research and web development for Alberta's famed Rutherford House should have been a quiet gig. But when she discovers an unsolved mystery linked to Rutherford House in the Alberta Archives and the bodies begin to pile up, Randy can't help but wonder if her modern-day troubles are linked to the intrigues of the past.
The Distressed Gentlewoman on a Motorbike: Bliss Cornwall
Last Seen: Corpse Flower by Gloria Ferris
Swindled out of a fair divorce settlement, former socialite Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall works a number of part-time jobs to pay the rent on a rundown trailer and keep her motorcycle on the road. House cleaner, yoga teacher, library assistant, cemetery groundskeeper, drudge for her agoraphobic cousin—the work never ends. But Bliss still can't save enough money for another day in court. So, when her cousin offers her a generous fee to find a pollinating mate for his giant jungle plant, she agrees to help. How hard can it be?
That's when she discovers that her neighbours, her employers, and even her cousin are involved in a string of illegal activities—including grow-ops and suspicious deaths. Police Chief Neil Redfern's persistent scrutiny is interfering with her goal, and Bliss suspects he may be up to his badge in the crimes he's supposed to be investigating. With no one to back her up, Bliss must make a decision. She can give up on her dream, or she can start fighting dirty. Either way, she risks becoming another murder victim.
The Edmonton Cree/French-Canadian Reporter: Leo Desroches
Last Seen: A Killing Winter by Wayne Arthurson
Undercover as a homeless man, Leo’s got his hands full both on the job and in his personal life. As he tries to reconnect with his estranged son and fight his urge to gamble, he is consumed by a story that turns into a personal crusade: a search for a missing Native street kid he’s befriended. When the boy is found brutally murdered, Leo explores the depths of Native street culture in a local gang. As Leo delves deeper into the gang, secrets emerge that threaten not only their members, but Leo’s life…and his sanity.
The Ottawa RCMP Inspector: Inspector Green
Last Seen: The Whisper of Legends by Barbara Fradkin
When his teenage daughter goes missing on a summer wilderness canoe trip to the Nahanni River, Inspector Michael Green is forced into unfamiliar territory. Unable to mobilize the local RCMP, he enlists the help of his long-time friend, Staff Sergeant Brian Sullivan, to accompany him to the Northwest Territories to look for themselves.
Green is terrified. The park has 30,000 square kilometres of wilderness and 600 grizzlies. Even worse, Green soon discovers his daughter lied to him. The trip was organized not by a reputable tour company but by her new boyfriend, Scott, a graduate geology student. When clues about Scott's past begin to drift in, Green, Sullivan, and two guides head into the wilderness. After the body of one of the group turns up at the bottom of a cliff, they begin to realize just what is at stake.
Toronto Escapee to the Wilds of Western Quebec: Meg Harris
Last Seen: A Green Place for Dying by RJ Harlick
Meg Harris, an amateur sleuth who drinks a little too much and is afraid of the dark, returns to her home in the West Quebec wilderness after a trip. Upon her arrival she discovers that a friend's daughter has been missing from the Migiskan Reserve for more than two months. Meg vows to help find the missing girl and starts by confronting the police on their indifference to the disappearance. During her investigation, Meg discovers that more than one Native woman has gone missing. Fearing the worst, Meg delves deeper and finds herself confronting an underside of life she would rather not know existed. This is the fifth installment in the acclaimed Meg Harris series.Arctic Blue Death, the previous title, was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel.
The Birding Detective: Inspector Domenic Jejeune
Last Seen: A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows
Inspector Domenic Jejeune's success has made him a poster boy for the U.K. police service. The problem is Jejeune doesn't really want to be a detective at all; he much prefers watching birds. Recently reassigned to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, located in the heart of Britain's premier birding country, Jejeune's two worlds collide when he investigates the grisly murder of a prominent ecological activist. His ambitious police superintendent foresees a blaze of welcome publicity, but she begins to have her doubts when Jejeune's most promising theory involves a feud over birdwatching lists. A second murder only complicates matters. To unravel this mystery, Jejeune must deal with unwelcome public acclaim, the mistrust of colleagues, and his own insecurities. In the case of the Saltmarsh birder murders, the victims may not be the only casualties.
The Feisty Single-Mother Amateur Sleuth: Joanne Kilbourn
Last seen in: The Gifted by Gail Bowen
Joanne Kilbourn is as feisty as ever in the 14th book of the series that bears her name. This time, Jo and Zack's young daughter Taylor's precocious talent as a painter has drawn the attention of people who may not be at all what they seem. Jo and Zack are both proud and a little concerned when their youngest daughter Taylor—whose birth mother was a brilliant but notoriously promiscuous artist—has two paintings chosen for a high-level fund-raising auction. One they've seen; the other, a portrait of a young male artist's model, Taylor has carefully guarded in her studio. Their concern grows when it becomes clear (and quite public) that the young man is the lover of the older socialite who organized the fund-raiser—and whose husband is Zack's old friend.
Soon, an ugly web of infidelity, addiction, and manipulation seems to be weaving itself around the Kilbourn-Shreve family. Jo and Zack are doing their best to keep everyone safe, but when one of the principal players in the drama is found murdered, events begin to spiral, Taylor seems to be drifting further away, and their very darkest fears seem about to be realized.
The Gay Calgary Cop: Detective Lane
Last Seen: Foxed by Garry Ryan
After a long series of professional and personal upheavals, Detective Lane begins his latest adventure happy, at peace, and enjoying life with his partner Arthur, their children Christine and Matt, and his able new partner, RCMP officer Keely Saliba.
But when the body of a young boy is unearthed ten years after he was reported missing, Lane's investigation into the crime puts him in conflict with a powerful and charismatic Calgary real estate developer and restaurateur—a cunning sociopath whose desire to suppress any threat to his empire will endanger the safety of Lane's own family.
The sixth book in Garry Ryan's award-winning and Calgary Herald bestselling series of Detective Lane mysteries pits Lane against his most dangerous antagonist yet
The Forensic Accountant: Ava Lee
Last Seen: The Scottish Banker of Surabaya by Ian Hamilton
The fifth installment in the wildly popular Ava Lee series,The Scottish Banker of Surabayaexposes the dark world of money laundering and the Italian mob. Ava begins an investigation into what she thinks is a Ponzi scheme. The trail leads her to a bank in Indonesia that is run by a Scot, but in actuality is a front for an elaborate money-laundering operation for Italian mobsters. The relationship between Ava and the Scotsman turns nasty and personal. Meanwhile, Uncle’s health problems become apparent...
Foodie and Criminologist: Cait Morgan
Last Seen: The Corpse With the Golden Nose by Cathy Ace
The second book in the Cait Morgan Mysteries brings overindulgent foodie and criminologist Cait Morgan to the vineyards of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
A world-famous vintner is dead. And when a heartfelt plea to look into the matter is paired with an exclusive gourmet event in BC’s stunning wine country, Cait Morgan cannot resist. She is sure the owner of the family-run vineyard was murdered. But her companion, Bud Anderson, is convinced that the woman took her own life. That is, until death strikes once again. Uncovering obsessions and murderous thoughts among the victim’s wacky neighbours is a start. But, as Cait unravels the clues, she realizes that more lives are at stake. Can she think, and act, fast enough to prevent another death?
Disgraced Toronto Cop-turned-PI: Steve Nestos
Last Seen: Dark Matter by RD Cain
When the murder of one of her sources is written off by the police as just a drug deal gone bad, journalist and former police officer Karen Grant finds herself on the hit list along with Ann Falconer, the solitary witness to the killing. They have only one person they can turn to for help: Steve Nastos, Grant’s ex-partner and disgraced detective who is now a private detective in business with rash lawyer Kevin Carscadden. Added to the mix are police officers David Morrison and Jake Radix, two rookies determined to advance their careers into the drug squad by any means necessary. When the dirty cops, outlaw bikers, and Nastos meet for the inevitable confrontation, only those willing to get the filthiest will survive
The Zoologist: Cordi O'Callaghan
Last Seen: Innocent Murderer by Susanne F. Kingsmill
When zoology professor Cordi OCallaghan reluctantly accepts an invitation to be a lecturer aboard the Susanna Moodie, a vessel ferrying tourists through Canada's Arctic, she figures it will be a breeze. Seasickness aside, Cordi becomes entangled in the deaths of two of her fellow passengers, both members of a close-knit fiction-writing group. The fatalities are ruled accidental, but Cordi suspects they're anything but. However, she lacks evidence and credibility, according to Martha Bathgate and Duncan McPherson, her sometimes-reluctant sidekicks who try to keep her grounded.
After Cordi returns to her home in the Ottawa Valley, she hits the trail and stirs up a hornets' nest of lies, intrigue, jealousy, and greed as she grills potential murderers, one of whom takes offence and stalks her. Getting marooned on pack ice, a harrowing trip in an airplane and a hot air balloon, and a mysterious fire all add to the menace that threatens Cordi as she attempts to nail down a killer.
The Maverick and Culturally Sophisticated Toronto Detectives: Quin and Morgan
Last Seen: Reluctant Dead by John Moss
Murder casts a long shadow, reaching from fabled Easter Island in the South Pacific to the desolate shores of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Detective Miranda Quin of the Toronto Police Service takes time off to write a mystery in the tropics and gets trapped in a sinister plot with global implications. Her partner in homicide, David Morgan, is left alone to resolve the case of a beautiful corpse on a Toronto Island yacht and ends up precariously compromised in the mysterious North. Their stories converge when they both return to Toronto. They discover themselves trapped in a labyrinth of deadly complexity, and the only way out is together. Much more than their own survival depends on it. Islands, they learn, are an illusion. Everything connects, especially when murder is involved.
The Undercover Mountie: Jack Taggart
Last Seen: Corporate Asset by Don Easton
Corporate Assettakes RCMP undercover operative Jack Taggart into the world of white-collar crime and murder. Insurance companies are being bilked out of millions of dollars. Multiple murders take place right under the cops' noses but are thought to be accidental.
Taggart gets a whiff of what is going on when he captures a drug trafficker willing to expose one of the murderers connected to the plot. The problem is the new informant is also a serial rapist.
Corporate Asset puts Taggart into the gut-wrenching position of having to let a rapist go in order to catch a serial killer. With his informant's assistance, he sets himself up as bait to be murdered in a bid to discover who is behind the insurance scam. It is a race against time to catch the murderer before the rapist strikes again.
The Midwest Outcasts with Parisian Dreams: Ray Tate and Djuna Brown
Last Seen: Presto Variations by Leo Lemothe
Disgraced city cop Ray Tate and outcast state trooper Djuna Brown are back from a vacation in Paris —fraudulently funded by a stolen State Police credit card. While waiting to find out if they're going to be fired or jailed, the couple is assigned to the Green Squad, a dead-end job shuffling paper and counting contraband money. But while interrogating a money smuggler, Tate and Brown uncover a massive currency stash they hope will keep them out of jail. Their target is drug trafficker Laszlo "Marko" Markowitz, who has millions in cocaine profits to be laundered and shipped into Canada.
As Tate and Brown try to penetrate the Markowitz organization, they uncover an underworld choking on its own profits and find a homicidal madman who has created the perfect blend of criminality and anarchy.
The World-Weary Montreal Detective: Luc Vanier
Last Seen: Vigilante Season by Peter Kirby
Inspector Luc Vanier is back, and Montreal's Hochelaga district is in the throes of gentrification. Its drug dealers and prostitutes are disappearing, and Vanier, investigating the brutal death of one, suspects the neighbourhood cleanup may involve murdering the unwanted. The local Police Commander sees only declining crime rates and his improving career prospect, and is willing to go easy on a local militia group that’s expanding its influence. When Vanier is suspended for brutality, he’s on his own. He continues to probe the dark side of progress, while struggling to help his son, just back from Afghanistan and crippled by PTSD. As the threats against him mount, Vanier fights to prove his innocence and discover who really controls the streets. Have the government and police stepped back to allow the militia to impose order? Is the militia the price of order when governments run out of money? In Vanier's Montreal, thugs and lowlifes rub shoulders with the elite, and Peter Kirby follows up his critically acclaimed debut The Dead of Winter ("an auspicious debut from a writer to watch"-The Globe and Mail) with a riveting novel of corruption and street crime.
The Undercover Agent for the New Generation: Clare Vengel
Last Seen: Death’s Last Run by Robin Spano
A young snowboarder is found dead on a Whistler ski run, and local police want to close the case as suicide. The victim's mother, a New York senator, will not accept that verdict. At her request, the FBI sends in an undercover agent—Clare—to mix with Sacha's friends and find out who killed Sacha and why. Dropped into a world of partying with ski bums and snow bunnies, Clare soon discovers that Sacha was running Canadian LSD across the American border.
The problem: Sacha's friends know an FBI agent is in town, so they're not trusting strangers with anything more than hello. As suspicion snowballs, Clare's cover becomes too precarious for comfort. Can she solve this case before she's buried alive?
Anyone we missed here? What other Canadian detective series do you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.