Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Mystery / Thrillers - Canadian Style

I'm currently sitting in the den, enjoying the view and preparing this Blog. Upstairs, the missus and Clyde, one of our pups, is watching Olympic synchronized diving. Bonnie, our other pup, is on the front hall landing, protecting the house against potential invaders. In the family room, just next door, I've got the Canada vs. Germany women's footie match on the tele and every now and then I switch to other events; Canada vs. Czech Republic women's doubles tennis or the diving, maybe even a quickie look at the Women's team gymnastic events. Whew!! My head is spinning. :0)

But, onto the reason for me sitting in the den. Yesterday, I posted a Top Ten list of favourite Canadian novels. I have to reiterate that it is a very limited list, based on my exposure to CanLit. There are so many great Canadian authors that I never even touched on. I'm hoping to find more as I continue with my Goodreads 12 + 0 CanLit reading challenge. For your interest, I'm currently reading and enjoying very much, Mordecai Richler's Solomon Gursky Was Here. Richler is one of Canada's more unique writers. I've previously enjoyed The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which was made into a movie many years ago and starred Richard Dreyfus in the title role. As well, I quite enjoyed St. Urbain's Horseman, a strange, but fascinating book. Richler also wrote children's books, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, which as also turned into a film. Anyway, just to say, there are many excellent Canadian writers I never even touched on. I hope my last Blog gets you interested in exploring the genre.

Now, on to today's Blog, which continues my Canadian author theme, this time focusing on Mystery / Thriller writers. I'll follow a similar method as my last Blog, highlight 10 favourites and mention some others as I finish off.

Canadian Thriller / Mystery Authors

10. Lyn Hamilton (1944 - 2009). Lyn Hamilton was born in Etobicoke, Ontario, just on the outskirts of Toronto and wrote the Lara McClintoch series of archeological mysteries. Lara is an antique dealer with a shop in Toronto and finds herself traveling around the world in search of artifacts and, also, getting involved in various mysteries. She wrote 11 books in the series between 1997 and 2007. It's only from starting the Blog that I realized she had passed away in 2009 from cancer.

I have 7 of the books on my bookshelves and have so far enjoyed 3 of them. I'll continue to read them, treasuring each one, now knowing there will be no more written. The series is made of the following books -

1. The Xibalba Murders (1997)
2. The Maltese Goddess (1998) - 3 stars
3. The Moche Warrior (1999) - 3 stars
4. The Celtic Riddle (2000)
5. The African Quest (2001)
6. The Etruscan Chimera (2002)
7. The Thai Amulet (2003)
8. The Magyar Venus (2004)
9. The Moai Murders (2005)
10. The Orkney Scroll (2006) - (3 stars)
11. The Chinese Alchemist (2007)

9. Linwood Barclay (1955) - Barclay was born in Connecticut and moved with his family in 1959. I've, so far, read only one of his books but it intrigued me enough that I've now started to explore his other works. Never Saw It Coming (2013) was one of his more recent books and it was a pleasant surprise. Below is my review of it.

"This was a pleasantly surprising book. The basic premise from the back cover synopsis is that a woman, Keisha Ceylon, is a con-woman, who pretends to have powers to talk to spirits, and uses her pretense to try and con a man whose wife has gone missing, into paying her for her supposed help. But this activity ends up endangering her life.
So with little expectation I began the book and was nicely surprised at the twists and turns. Every time I thought it would go one way, Barclay would turn it another. For all her conman activities, it's difficult not to like Keisha. I also liked the police detective, Rona Wedmore, for her ability to get to the crux of the situation. It's not a complex story, but the writing style was easy and smooth and the story most enjoyable. A real pleasure to finally try a book by Linwood Barclay."

Barclay has written non-fiction and a mystery series featuring a newspaper columnist / sleuth, Zack Walker. His big break came with his 2007 thriller, No Time For Good-bye, one I'll have to look for. I currently have his 2011 novel, The Accident on my bookshelves.

8. Rosemary Aubert - Rosemary Aubert was born in Niagara Falls, NY, and has lived in Canada for the past 40 years, currently residing in Toronto, Ontario. She has written 11 novels since 1982, but I am focusing on her excellent Ellis Portal mystery series. Portal is an ex-judge from Toronto who suffered a nervous breakdown and finds himself living on the streets of Toronto. Getting involved in various mysteries is a strain but also helps him gather himself and work to gain acceptance once again in the halls of Justice. I've read the first three books and enjoyed very much. These are the six Ellis Portal mysteries -

1.  Free Reign (1997) - 4 stars
2. The Feast of Stephen (1999) - 3 stars
3. The Ferryman Will Be There (2001) - 4 stars
4. Leave Me By Dying (2003)
5. Red Mass (2005)
6. Don't Forget You Love Me (2014)

Aubert has written other books as well; e.g. Judge of Orphans (2007) and Terminal Grill (2013).

7. Stanley Evans (1931) - I only recently discovered Stanley Evans' works in my local used book store. Evans was born in England but emigrated to Canada in 1954 and he currently lives in Victoria, B.C. His Silas Seaweed mystery series is set in Victoria. Seaweed is a Coast Salish who is an investigator with the Victoria Police Department.

There are currently 6 books in the Seaweed series. I read Seaweed on the Street last month and loved the mix of mystery, local culture, native mysticism and the characterizations. It was an excellent introduction to the series. I have a few others now waiting my attention on my bookshelves. The series is made up of the following books -

1. Seaweed on the Street (2005) - 4 stars
2. Seaweed on the Ice (2006)
3. Seaweed under Water (2007)
4. Seaweed on the Rocks (2008)
5. Seaweed in the Soup (2009)
6. Seaweed in the Mythworld (2011)

6. Louise Penny (1958) - Louise Penny is the author of the Inspector Gamache mystery series, a series set in province of Quebec. Her first book, Still Life, was also made into a television movie, featuring Nathaniel Parker as Chief Inspector Gamache. I have read the first two books in the series and enjoyed immensely. Gamache is an interesting character and the settings, both of the first two centered around the small town of Three Pines, a locale peopled with interesting, complex characters. Everything about the stories catches your attention, even down to the food served in the local restaurant/ B&B. The stories remind me very much of Martin Walker's Bruno mysteries. The books are more than just mysteries, they are experiences. Below is the list of Gamache books -

1. Still Life (2005) - 4 stars
2. Dead Calm (2007) - 4 stars
3. The Cruelest Month (2008)
4. The Murder Stone (2009)
5. The Brutal Telling (2009)
6. Bury Your Dead (2010)
7. A Trick of the Light (2011)
8. The Beautiful Mystery (2012)
9. How the Light Gets In (2013)
10. The Long Way Home (2014)
11. The Nature of the Beast (2015)
12. A Great Reckoning (2016)

5. Karen Irving (1957) - Karen Irving was born in Victoria, BC and now resides in Ottawa, ON, the setting of her Katy Klein mysteries. The series has only 3 books currently, publication of any others is on hold due to a 2005 decision of her Raincoast publishing company. I have mentioned Karen in a previous Blog. The Klein series is interesting; Klein is a former psychologist turned astrologer and finds herself getting involved in mysteries and murders. The characters are all excellent, the illusions to horoscopes and the star signs make the stories even more interesting. I enjoyed all three books and I hope that someday more are written and published. The three books are -

1. Pluto Rising (1999) - 3 stars
2. Jupiter's Daughter (2000) - 4 stars
3. Mars Eclipsed (2001) - 4 stars

4. Giles Blunt (1952) - Blunt grew up in my home town, North Bay, Ontario and his John Cardinal mystery / thriller series is set there, even thought the town is now called Algonquin Bay. That is one reason I first tried the series, Forty Words for Sorrow, as the locale piqued my interest. Luckily, the story made for a tense, exciting, excellent mystery as well and I've since read 5 of the 6 books in the series. The locale is interesting for me and the stories are all well-crafted and the characters interesting. It's a gritty series and maybe reminds me somewhat of Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne series or Ian Rankin's Rebus books. Both Cardinal and his partner, Lise Delorme, have their issues but at the same time, they are excellent cops. The books in the series are listed below. (Blunt has written other books as well. I haven't tried yet, but when I finish the Cardinal books, I may do so)

1. Forty Words for Sorrow (2000) - 4 stars
2. The Delicate Storm (2002) - 4 stars
3. Blackfly Season (2005) - 4 stars
4. By the Time You Read This - 4 stars
5. Crime Machine (2010)
6. Until the Night (2012) - 4 stars

3. L.R. Wright (1939 - 2001). I won't spend too much time on L.R.Wright, except mainly to list her books. (If you click on her highlighted name, you will link to a previous Blog I wrote about her in 2010. I discovered her mystery series featuring RCMP Sgt Karl Alberg when I first came to the Comox Valley. It appealed to me at first because it was set on the Sunshine Coast, mainland British Columbia, just across the Straits of Georgia from where I and my wife now reside. However, it didn't take me long to be hooked on the books. I enjoyed the character, the locale, the stories, which are more than mysteries. Once again, I'll harken to Martin Walker's Bruno mysteries or Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series. The books are about the life of the characters, where they live, what they do. The mystery is important but also used as a window to explore the characters and their lives. L.R. Wright wrote 9 books in the Karl Alberg and then had just started a new series featuring Alberg's replacement, Edwina Henderson, when she passed away. It's odd how an author's death can affect you, but I readily admit that when I heard of her death, it took the wind out of my sails for a little while.  Check out the link for more information on the books and check out the books too. Excellent series.

2. Margaret Millar (1915 - 1994) - I should state that the authors mentioned above and throughout this Blog entry are not only favourite Canadian mystery writers, but also just favourites in general. It doesn't matter if they were Canadian or not, they stories they tell are well-written and worth trying. This is especially the case of the last few I've highlighted. Anyway, back to Margaret Millar. She was born in Kitchener, Ontario and died in California. Her stories are set in both locales. She was a highly respected writer, winning the Edgar Allen Poe award for her novel, Beast in View and also Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times in 1965. She also was awarded Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1983 in recognition for her lifetime achievements. She was married to Ross MacDonald, another mystery writer, known especially for his Lew Archer books.

I've read 4 of Millar's books thus far and gave 5 star ratings to two of them, The Soft Talkers (1957), which I listed as one of my Top Ten Favourite Canadian books in my previous Blog, and Beast in View (1955), which I read this year. Both highlight Millar's story-telling ability and her character development and strength in crafting an excellent mystery. I included my review of The Soft Talkers in my previous Blog. For your interest, as a way of describing Millar's writing abilities, below is the review of Beast in View.

"Beast In View was a true gem. I've enjoyed a couple of her other books in the past few years, when I've been able to find copies. The Soft Talkers was one of my favourites of last year. Beast in View is another 5-star read. It's such an interesting story. I love how Millar develops her plots. Is the story about Helen Clarvoe, who lives alone in her apartment, isolated from the world about her? Is it about Mr. Blackshear, Helen's financial adviser, bored with his work, who she asks to help her find the woman who made the distressing call to Helen and who begins to conduct an investigation on Helen's behalf? Or is it about Evelyn Merrick, the woman who makes the initial call to Helen and who seems to be making many calls to other people that have upset her? I loved how it moved along, from the one character to the other, how the tension builds, how the story surprisingly makes a turn to the left. Excellent, excellent!! She is such a wonderful writer."

I've also read Rose's Last Summer and Ask Me For Tomorrow and enjoyed very much. On my bookshelf is still How Like an Angel (1962) and I'm looking forward to trying it out. It isn't easy sometimes to find Millar's books. I've managed to locate the odd copies in various used book stores I've wandered through. Find them, especially The Soft Talkers (also published as An Air that Kills) and Beast in View. You'll be impressed.

1. David Rotenberg - I can't find a lot of information online about David Rotenberg except that he has written a series of mysteries set in China and also is artistic director of the Professional Actors Lab (and I think he features in his mysteries in a similar role). However, it is about the mysteries that I want to talk. I found this series by accident and fell in love with it immediately. The books feature Chinese police inspector Zhong Fong and his excellent staff of investigators, who work to solve crime in China while trying, at the same time, to avoid falling into trouble with the Communist Party hacks. Besides gritty, interesting mysteries, there is political intrigue, love, action, everything that makes for an excellent, thrilling, compelling series. There are five books in the series and each was as good as the other. They are page turners and tense, intriguing stories. Try them. Below they are listed for your reading pleasure. (I do hope that David Rotenberg decides to write a few more in this series)

1. The Shanghai Murders (1998) - 4 stars
2. The Lake Ching Murders (2002) - 4 stars
3. The Hua Shan Hospital Murders (2003) - 4 stars
4. The Hamlet Murders (2004) - 4 stars
5. The Golden Mountain Murders (2005) - 4 stars

If you like these authors, check out also:

- Gail Bowen - Joanne Kilbourn mysteries
- Alan Bradley - Flavia de Luce mysteries
- Howard Engel - Benny Cooperman mysteries
- Maureen Jennings - Murdoch mysteries
- John Farrow - Detective Emile Cinq-Mars mysteries
- Deryn Collier  - Ben Fortin mysteries
- Ian Hamilton - Ava Lee thrillers
- Michelle Spring - Laura Principal mysteries.



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