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By Zoe Whittall
January 31, 2011
10:21 AM

Filed under News, Obituary

Michael Van Rooy: 1968–2011

Crime novelist Michael Van Rooy, a tireless supporter of the Winnipeg writing scene, has died at age 42. Van Rooy was on a book tour of Eastern Canada Thursday when he suffered a heart attack in Montreal. He was in town promoting A Criminal to Remember, the third title in his Monty Haaviko thriller series published by Turnstone Press.

Van Rooy was a rising star in his own right. The first book in the Haaviko series, An Ordinary Decent Criminal, was published in the U.S. last year by St. Martin’s Press mystery imprint Minotaur. The book had also been optioned by Winnipeg’s Far Point Films and Big Mind Productions.

“There’s been a big void left in Winnipeg,” says Turnstone associate publisher Jamis Paulson. “All of our hearts go out to Michael’s family as they work through this very tough time.”

Van Rooy won the 2009 John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer and was recently named literary ambassador for the City of Winnipeg. He worked as audience development coordinator and publicist for the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival, and was also active as a mentor to young writers. “He really believed that writing was a very special vocation,” Paulson says, “and that he had a responsibility as a writer to encourage others to appreciate and pursue this very special job that he had.”

Winnipeg’s Aqua Books owner Kelly Hughes describes Van Rooy as kind and soft-spoken, and a tireless worker. “Despite all the extra work he took on to support his family and advance his career goals, he never stopped honing his craft,” Hughes says. Van Rooy was a writer-in-residence at the store in 2008, where Hughes says he completed most of A Criminal to Remember, while juggling his various jobs and his role as a husband and father. “He was someone who almost never let an opportunity pass him by,” he says.

In a Facebook post, Thin Air director Charlene Diehl described Van Rooy as “witty, intelligent, sardonic, kind, curious, driven, [and] big-hearted.” She also noted his commitment to the writing community. “Michael is a man who invested deeply in many people, and put his considerable muscle into supporting and developing the writing community here in Winnipeg.”

At 21, Van Rooy was convicted of armed robbery and served nearly two years in federal penitentiary. He has always maintained his innocence and told the Winnipeg Free Press last year that he had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Aqua Books will host a tribute to Van Rooy on Feb. 12 and,  as part of the Manitoba Book Awards, is planning to sponsor a biannual genre fiction award in Van Rooy’s name. “In addition to an opportunity to publicly remember Michael, we will give people a chance to help in a practical way,” Hughes says. “A writer’s living in Canada is a tenuous one, and we’re setting up a bank account in the name of his three kids.”

Van Rooy is survived by his wife, Laura Neufeld, and their three children.

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