Ten rising Canadian mystery writers to watch
Over the past decade, Canadian mystery writers have made a splash on bestseller and award lists around the globe. With established veterans like Howard Engel, Peter Robinson, Gail Bowen, and Giles Blunt and newer stars like Linwood Barclay, Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, and Louise Penny, there’s no need to leave home to be kept on the edge of your seat. Looking ahead, here are 10 authors likely to make a killing in the not-too-distant future.
Alex Brett (Ottawa)
Why you should read her: Brett’s background as a science writer adds a welcome layer of verisimilitude to her mysteries featuring Morgan O’Brien, an investigator specializing in research fraud in the world of science.
Start with: Cold Dark Matter (Dundurn Press, 2005). Though only the second in the series, it represents a major leap forward in Brett’s ability to combine complex scientific subjects with nifty mystery in a tale set near Hawaii’s Franco-Canadian Telescope.
Fun fact: Brett penned a feature for the Ottawa Citizen on the art and science of lying – including a “Spot the Liar” quiz at the very end of the article.
Pat Capponi (Toronto)
Why you should read her: Capponi is one of Canada’s leading mental health advocates, and her acute understanding of how Toronto’s homeless and mentally ill are criminally underserved by both province and country comes through in her fiction.
Start with: Last Stop Sunnyside (HarperCollins Canada, 2006), Capponi’s first novel, which introduces Dana Leoni, a young woman escaping serious trauma who lives in a rooming house in Toronto’s hardscrabble Parkdale neighbourhood. Leoni’s attempts to solve two local murders – with the help of a band of ragtag misfits – brims with warmth, pathos, and dry humour.
Fun fact: Capponi spends much of her time teaching at Voices from the Street, a grassroots speakers bureau based in Toronto.
Vicki Delany (Oakville, Ontario)
Why you should read her: With warmth and a light hand, Delany, a bank systems analyst, sets her mysteries in Northern Ontario, B.C., and the Muskoka region – smalltown locales not often frequented by crime writers.
Start with: In the Shadow of the Glacier (Poisoned Pen Press, 2007), which marks a new direction for Delany after several standalone novels. Here she introduces Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant John Winters as they investigate crimes in the sleepy northern town of Trafalgar, B.C.
Fun fact: Delany blogs, along with six other mystery writers, at Type M for Murder (typem4murder.blogspot.com).
Anne Emery (Halifax)
Why you should read her: Not many writers would dare to begin a mystery series by eliciting sympathy for a Catholic priest accused of murdering two young women. But Emery, whose Sign of the Cross won the Arthur Ellis Award for best debut novel, creates a believable crime-fighting duo in Halifax-based lawyer Monty Collins and the aforementioned priest, Brennan Burke.
Start with: Sign of the Cross (ECW Press, 2006), a complex, multilayered mystery that goes far beyond what you’d expect from a first-time novelist. Emery, a lawyer and legal affairs reporter by training, knows her procedure but has an equal handle on creating characters that readers will continue to care about.
Fun fact: Emery still works as a litigation law analyst for the Halifax firm McInnes Cooper.
Jon Evans (Montreal)
Why you should read him: Evans’ action-packed thrillers are a refreshing mix of emerging technology, characters who act and feel contemporary, and express-train-paced storylines set around the world, in countries the much-travelled author has visited.
Start with: Invisible Armies (HarperCollins Canada, 2006). Not that Evans’ earlier books, Dark Places and The Blood Price, aren’t excellent (they are), but with his third effort, he’s in full command of his genre. Armies features a heroine both kickass and vulnerable, and offers up clear-eyed explanations of the dangers that security databases pose when the bad guys gain access.
Fun fact: This past summer Evans made his unpublished urban fantasy novel, Beasts of New York, available online for free. It can still be found at beastsofnewyork.com.
Mike Harrison (Okotoks, Alberta)
Why you should read him: Harrison’s private investigator protagonist, Eddie Dancer, brings to mind Robert B. Parker’s Spenser in his prime. Harrison’s dialogue sings, his action moves fast, and his stories are surprisingly poignant.
Start with: All Shook Up (ECW Press, 2005), the first of three novels to date featuring Dancer walking the mean streets of Harrison’s adopted hometown of Okotoks. Already Harrison’s high-
energy, tough-minded style is in full effect.
Fun fact: Though Harrison currently works as a real estate agent, he spent much of his professional life in advertising, and his bio lists motorcycling, hiking, cooking, and hypnosis among his hobbies.
Illona Haus (Waterloo, Ontario)
Why you should read her: Haus, a former University of Waterloo employee who lived in Baltimore for a time, sets her police procedurals in Charm City and has a fine eye for detail and a strong sense of moody atmosphere – especially as it affects her homicide detective, Kay Delaney.
Start with: Blue Mercy (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 2005), which introduces Delaney and her on-again, off-again cop boyfriend Danny Finnerty as they investigate rising crime on Baltimore’s killing streets.
Fun fact: Before moving into the suspense genre, Haus penned several Harlequin romance novels under the pseudonym Morgan Hayes.
Grant McCrea (from Montreal)
Why you should read him: The internationally known litigator, now based in New York, also spends much of his time at the poker table, and that inside knowledge comes through in his first novel featuring the Hammettesque private eye Rick Redman.
Start with: Dead Money (Random House Canada, 2006), Redman’s first case, in which he investigates whether a rich man’s son committed a brutal murder, and is also forced to examine his troubled family life and his love of poker.
Fun fact: McCrea based much of the novel on his experience practising litigation law in Russia and Eastern Europe.
John McFetridge (Toronto)
Why you should read him: McFetridge describes a Toronto of opportunists, seedy deals, and double-crosses not unlike Elmore Leonard’s Detroit or James Ellroy’s Los Angeles, but his books are distinctly rooted in his home city’s rhythms and flavours.
Start with: Dirty Sweet (ECW Press, 2006), McFetridge’s first novel, in which a murder becomes an opportunity for real estate agent Roxanne Carter to embroil herself in the doings of the Russian mafia – and possibly come out ahead.
Fun fact: McFetridge recently sold Dirty Sweet and the follow-up, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, to the U.S. publisher Harcourt – which will publish the books next year with eye-popping retro 1970s covers.
Mobashar Qureshi (Toronto)
Why you should read him: Qureshi, a University of Toronto economics graduate, already has a knack for absurdist humour and wry observation after just one novel, featuring inexperienced cop Jon Rupret and his non-linear navigation of city police politics and the drug trade.
Start with: R.A.C.E. (The Mercury Press, 2006), which introduces Rupret, a most unlikely hero in a noir Toronto world where lethal drugs abound.
Fun fact: At 29, Qureshi is the youngest writer to make this list.
Sarah Weinman is a widely published reviewer and the proprietor of the crime and mystery fiction blog “Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind” (sarahweinman.com).
Go back to Q&Q's Books of the year 2008 guide