The Christie Curse, Victoria Abbott’s first Book Collector Mystery, is suspiciously polished for a maiden work by a novice author. I wasn’t surprised, then, to discover that Abbott is actually a mother-daughter duo consisting of neophyte writer Victoria Maffini and her mother, Mary Jane Maffini, a veteran Canadian mystery writer with three series to her name. The Christie Curse introduces Jordan Kelly, a destitute English major with a newly minted graduate degree. Jordan returns to her hometown, Harrison Falls, New York, to once again take up residence with the rather unusual (i.e., criminal) uncles who raised her. Fortunately, Jordan chances upon what appears to be the perfect job, when she answers a want ad for a research position in the home of Vera Van Alst, the last remaining member of the family dynasty responsible for making—and then breaking—the town of Harrison Falls. (When the Van Alst Shoe Company fails, so, too, does the village economy.) Jordan accepts the job, which requires her to research the life and works of—you guessed it—Dame Agatha Christie, in order to discover the whereabouts of a lost play. The Abbott/Maffini team employs a clever plot framework by invoking Christie’s mysterious, still-unexplained 11-day disappearance in December, 1926. Perhaps—just perhaps—Christie had written a play during the time she escaped the ignominy of her faithless husband. Jordan’s ultimate mission, then, is to obtain the Christie manuscript for her employer, inveterate mystery book collector Vera Van Alst. Along the way, Jordan must solve mysteries involving the suspicious death of her predecessor in the research position and the blatant murder of a local rare-book dealer. Despite the fact that it is notably improbable that small-town Harrison Falls would support a number of competing rare book dealers and that Jordan’s search could be conducted locally, The Christie Curse gains momentum as it hurtles toward its denouement. I wish, though, that “Abbott” incorporated the Christie hook as more than simply a device for framing the mystery. As a reader, I was a bit disappointed, because the title of The Christie Caper seemed to promise more than it delivered regarding Christie and her works. That being said, this is a truly enjoyable book.
Volume 19, No. 4, Winter 2003-2004
Buy this back issue! Available as a downloadable PDF.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Canadian Heroes by James R. Coggins
- French Québec Crime Scene by Nicole Leclerc
- Canadian Crime: From Caring To Chilling by William Deverell
- Canadian Festival Honours Crime-Writing Pioneer by Therese Greenwood
- Choosing Places by Roberta Ann Henrich
- Sylvia Warsh: To Die in Spring by Herbert Batt
- Maintiens le Droit: The Mounties, Canada’s National Police Force by Sharon Wildwind
- Timothy Findley: Seeing Mysteries Differently by Carolyne Van Der Meer
- Almost As Crooked: A Dozen Montreal Private Eyes by Kevin Burton Smith
- The Crime Fiction Canada Project by Jeannette Sloniowski and Marilyn Rose
- High-Carb Climate by Lou Allin
- Exotic Canada by Giles Blunt
- Clue, More Clue and Canadiana by Vicki Cameron
- Writers Are Born Observers by James R. Coggins
- The Thrilla in the Chilla: Setting a Story North of the Border by Shelly Costa
- Bloody Murder on “The Rock” by Thomas Rendell Curran
- Vision of the Imagination by Vicki Delany
- Mr. Widgeon Sets the Record Straight by William Deverell
- Stroke of Genius or Dumb Luck? by Barbara Fradkin
- Offhandedly Humane by Laurence Gough
- You Can Take the Girl Out of the Country, But… by Lyn Hamilton
- How “The Town That Forgot How To Breathe” Spawned SARS and the Collapse of the Newfoundland Cod Fishery by Kenneth J. Harvey
- The Frozen Diplomat by Timothy Heald
- The Effects of Cold on the Animal Body Are Depressing by Maureen Jennings
- Through the Looking Glass, or, How Winnipeg Became Victorian Toronto: The Murdoch Mysteries TV Series by Maureen Jennings
- Murder—Even In Canada! by Nora Kelly
- Rolfe-ing in Canada by J.J. Lamb
- Canada’s Murderous Weather by Scott Mackay
- Blame Canada by Mary Jane Maffini
- Crime in Cottage Country by H. Mel Malton
- Chilling Out in Canada by Art Montague
- Chekov’s Snow Shovel by James Powell
- Author with a Capital Eh! by Peter Sellers
- Orchestrating Mayhem by Caro Soles
- Imitation and Experience by Eric Wright
- Coastal Canada by Owen Magruder
- In Short: Oh, Canada! by Marvin Lachman
- Canada as Featured in British Crime Fiction by Philip L. Scowcroft
- Sounds of Crime: Canadian Mystery Audiobooks by Steven Steinbock
- The Canadian Children’s Hour by Gay Toltl Kinman
- MRI MAYHEM by Janet A. Rudolph
- Letters to the Editor
- From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph
Canadian Crime: From Caring To Chilling
by William Deverell (North Pender Island, British Columbia)
An American cavalry regiment met a lone Canadian Mountie escorting a fugitive Amerindian war-band across the border.
“Where are the rest of you?” asked the regiment’s colonel.
“Oh, he’s back at camp cooking breakfast,” the Mountie replied.
The story—apocryphal possibly, just as likely true—is recounted by David Skene-Melvin in an essay introducing his bibliography, Canadian Crime Fiction.
It set me thinking about some arresting (so to speak) differences between US and Canadian crime writing that go back to the founding roots of our two nations: one born of revolution, the other comfortably breast-fed in the lap of Queen Victoria.
Skene-Melvin believes Canadian crime writing is “more subtle, more psychological, more caring” than in the US, “where the gun is forged into the collective soul, where the gunslingers of the wild west became the hardboiled private eyes in the cities.” Canada never had a wild west because the Mounties got there first. (We’re about the only country in the world with a policeman as a national symbol. Not a policewoman—we’re not quite as egalitarian as we claim to be.)
When Canadian villains are brought to justice, “we want the state to do it, not vigilantism,” Skene-Melvin says. In the US, on the other hand, the outlaw is an icon. Billy the Kid, a hot-headed (possibly psychopathic) killer, is portrayed as heroic, Don Corleone as noble. If a novel’s hero is a cop, he/she’s a rebel. (Though frankly, in my experience, particularly as a criminal lawyer, the rebel cop is one of the most unlikely fictions ever invented.)
But in Canada, we have the caring cop hero. Eric Wright, creator of the Inspector Salter series, says he constructed his protagonist “according to what I like about Canadians—he has a gentleness and a fundamental sense of decency.”
Likewise, you will not find Lawrence Gough’s Vancouver officers, Willows and Parker, suffering antisocial personality disorder. Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks does not have to shoot his way to a resolution, he thinks his way there. The late L.R. Wright’s Sergeant Karl Alberg was as gentle as his author. Our private eyes are like Benny Cooperman: soft-boiled. (Like a klutzy version of Howard Engels himself, come to think of it.)
Peter Sellers (the living, not the late), another crime writer and anthologist, offers an interesting theory about why the private eye developed only late in Canadian fiction: “Because it’s an American convention that usually delivers a happy ending or at least a resolution. I think Canadians, certainly of an earlier generation, were too aware of the role of chance in life to want that.”
But wait a minute, does this comparison of our two crime-lit cultures still hold as we inch our way into the 21st century?
The American ideal, the private eye or the loner cop as gladiator—indeed the concept of crime fiction forged from a national instinct to rebel—is getting a second look these days. For example, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham (commenting on post 9-11 subservience to the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and other recent Orwellisms.):
In place of the reckless and independent-minded individual once thought to embody the national stereotype (child of nature, descendant of Daniel Boone, hard-drinking and unorthodox) we now have a quorum of nervous careerists, psalm-singing and well-behaved, happy to oblige, eager to please…
The supposedly enduring Canadian images (King of the Royal Mounted with his loyal husky at his side, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon mushing up the frozen Klondike) were never particularly Canadian, the former conceived by Zane Grey in the pillowed comfort of an estate in Southern California, the latter the creation of Fran Striker, also a Yank.
They didn’t need to live in Canada to write about it. It was enough effort imagining it.
Sellers dismisses the notion that Canadians, with our constitution quietly calling for “peace, order and good government” (while the Declaration of Independence triumphantly tolls for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) defer to authority. Or that our authors mainly write cozies featuring introspective cops. In fact there’s a strong noir tradition, he says, and some Canadian offerings can be savagely chilling.
He gives as an example R. Lance Hill, later a Hollywood script writer, who wrote hard-edged thrillers—Nails caused a stir for its violence and edgy style. Needles, my first novel, came out around the same time, shocking staid reviewers with its junkie prosecutor, its villain (a sadistic heroin kingpin known as The Surgeon) and its bribe-taking (horrors) RCMP officer.
The tradition continues in the works of Andrew Pyper, especially his beautifully written, explicitly violent, The Trade Mission. Giles Blunt, John Farrow, Kathy Reich, Brad Smith can be dark. Or try the black humor of Bill Gaston, his noirish and funny The Cameraman, about the making of a snuff movie.
That’s another element of Canadian crime literature that should not be overlooked: we often like to sprinkle our offerings with the salt of humor, as in this brutal description of a Pyper character: “the guy behind the counter at the corner store with the nose hairs that reached halfway down his lips, fine and searching as butterfly antennae.”
(A source of inspiration for the Canadian wedding of crime and humor may be Ontario broadcaster R. Howard Lindsay, who in the Thirties authored a hilarious stream-of-consciousness mystery, Fowl Murder.)
Since the Crime Writers of Canada was born in 1983—in a Toronto bar called Dooley’s—membership has grown from the 6 conspirators who were present to 150, books published annually from 6 to 60. The Arthur Award for Best Canadian Crime Novel (named after Arthur Ellis, the nom de guerre of the Official Hangman to the Dominion of Canada) had a 35-percent increase in entries last year.
And the talent is finally being recognized internationally. It has helped that Canada has produced such luminaries as Atwood, Ondaatje, Shields, and Munro—their successes alerted the world to seek out others toiling in the genres of mystery and thriller. Carol Shields is herself an Arthur winner, and Margaret Atwood has taken the Dashiell Hammett award—for literary excellence in crime writing—with The Blind Assassin. In her acceptance speech, at the Bloody Words conference in Toronto, she admitted to an early addiction to detective stories. (She still needs an occasional fix, and helped edit one of mine, Slander, as a favour.)
A little history to explain how we got where we are:
Though Canada’s first home-grown murder mystery saw print in 1876, it was not a proud moment in our history. Surrendering to the hypocrisy of the times, the author, Mary Leslie, used a male pseudonym, then had to withdrew all copies because of an uproar in the Ontario town where her story seemed (too accurately) to be set.
Through much of the 1900s, Canadian crime writers masqueraded as American or British, often hiding behind pseudonyms, as if in shame. Luke Allan, Guy Morton, Sara Woods were among dozens of best-selling Canadians afraid to come out of the closet.
Until well into the 20th century, Canadian crime writing in particular and Canadian literature in general, suffered from a serious problem: the slighting of Canadian authors. [Skene-Melvin says.] It was too expensive to produce small numbers of domestic editions when the country was swamped with American culture and had to compete with British as well.
He blames it on a culture of “intellectually snobbish librarians,” Up through the 1940s, the public library systems did not purchase popular fiction—”it was considered déclassé by libraries, and crime fiction beyond the pale.” In the 1950s, fiction collections were shelved well away from the “literary” sections so as not to contaminate them.
These elitists believed we had a culture that was little, provincial, unknown, and they covered up their shame with snobbishness. That attitude went on to infect academic libraries and graduate English courses, where students were made to believe that Hugo and Dostoevsky and Dreiser had not written crime novels.
So it’s no wonder that under that kind of censorious pressure, we are late bloomers (though we flower now prodigiously). Even today, our self-appointed guardians of culture tend to leave us off the literary tea guest lists. She writes mysteries, my dear, she’ll show up reeking of gin. Or you get: He writes thrillers? How crass. It’s so American.
That all began to change in the late ’70s. When Needles won a $50,000 first-novel award, there was controversy in Puritanical circles about a literary award going to an unabashed, unalloyed thriller—with graphic sex scenes. One distressed reviewer wrote:
The author… is a Vancouver lawyer with considerable experience in criminal law. He should know that a decade ago, before decency was outmoded, his book would have risked prosecution under Canada’s obscenity laws. Today, in our permissive society, the book wins a literary prize.
Yet I was applauded by fellow nationals for having set it in Vancouver. Some readers wrote me expressing shock when they learned I wasn’t an American: Canadians weren’t supposed to write thrillers. (Conversely, when Platinum Blues, then Slander, were set in the US, I was dumped on by my Canadian fans for “selling out.”)
Andrew Pyper, who was ignored at home until Lost Girls, set in Ontario, was discovered in Britain, says Canadians have long suffered a
…constipation about what we call literature, a teetotalling Presbyterian reflex. Someone told a lie about literature in Canada early on, someone who prefers books that are morally obvious, quiet, settled. It’s a lie that became institutionalized.
In rebellion to this attitude, new voices are rising in strong, well-crafted novels and short stories that don’t fear the darkness. (See, we can rebel, too, we Canadians. And good literature often does come from rebellion: Steinbeck, Lewis, Richard Wright, Hammett. They were my boyhood heroes.)
David Skene-Melvin says, “Canadians today are telling their own stories, no longer feeling obliged to hide their nationality nor pretending to be British or American.” Still, it remains a struggle for many who write cool Canadian crime in these cool Northern climes. “Too Canadian” is a phrase American acquiring editors still tend to use. (Or how about: “Too literary for the genre,” a complaint I once received.)
For a sampling of Canadian talent, check out the CWC website at crimewriterscanada.com.
William Deverell can be found lurking at deverell.com.
by Giles Blunt (Toronto, Ontario)
I have an odd relationship to Canada. I’ve often thought that writers who grow up with a sure and certain background have a terrific advantage—Irish writers, Quebec writers, Southern writers. But I grew up in Northern Ontario with a confused identity.
It is said of British expatriates that they are more English than the English, and this was certainly true of my parents. Although they moved here in 1949, in a certain sense they never really arrived in Canada, they clung so tenaciously to British ways. The English way was the right way, and they never ceased to be amazed when others did not agree. Like many children of immigrants, my childhood consisted of a kind of shuttle diplomacy—I was Canadian in the schoolyard and English at home. My friends were terribly amused by my parents, and thought—mistakenly—that they were rather posh and wondered how I could turn out so ordinary.
Growing up in a British background, I never really felt Canadian. I always felt like a visitor. Then, in 1980, I moved to New York City where I stayed for the next 20 years. While there, I worked on TV shows such as Night Heat, Street Legal, and Law and Order—a useful, though far from essential, background for writing crime fiction.
Living in New York for so long yielded another advantage. It gave me enough distance from northern Ontario to see it objectively. I now visit my home town of North Bay and it seems exotic. It is exotic. It’s ridiculous that anybody should live there, really, amid blistering winds and blinding snow.
John Cardinal was born on a frigid December day on the shore of Lake Nipissing. I was out jogging—not the smartest thing to do in North Bay in December. It was grey: heavy cloud, thick snow, serious wind. They snow and cloud and landscape were fused together in a horizonless swirl. But I could just make out the silhouette of the Manitou Islands, and on one of these, the shafthead of an ancient mining operation. It looked sinister, and I thought it would be an excellent place to find a (fictional) body.
I am not a crime buff and not, on the whole, a fan of mysteries. Even worse, I had not at the time read a single Canadian mystery, so it was out of ignorance as much as anything else that I thought the near north had not been used for a thriller. Which was why I set Forty Words for Sorrow in a fictionalized version of North Bay, called Algonquin Bay. That setting offered me the chance to use the spectacular weather, the First Nations presence, a large French-Canadian element, and numerous eccentrics I remembered from my adolescence.
Other crucial threads for that book, however, came from England. Contrary to the opinions of several readers (including one outraged reviewer), Forty Words was not in any way based on our home-grown murderous couple, Bernardo and Homolka. It was based on the infamous Moors murders, which took place in Britain in the sixties. I modernized their use of audio tape to video, and thought it would be more interesting if they used drugs, rather than ropes, to control their victims. I was a little taken aback to learn, after publication, that Homolka had used drugs from her veterinary job for the same evil purpose.
I was worried that writing a second thriller set in Northern Ontario would tax the available raw material, but it was a fear that proved unfounded. My home town is also the home town of former Ontario premier Mike Harris, and there is still a lot of embarrassment up there because of it. In The Delicate Storm, when John Cardinal’s father gets sick, they are faced with the shortcomings of a now-decimated health-care system. One’s political opinions are usually out of place in a novel, but as it was an integral part of the story, I thought this was fair game.
Canadian history also proved a rich source of material for Delicate Storm. The story opens with the finding of a body—or what’s left of it—that has been eaten by bears. It turns out the victim was killed before the bears got to him, however, and the resultant mystery leads Cardinal and his partner Lise Delorme on a journey that takes them to New York, Toronto, and ultimately to Montreal and thirty years into the past, into Canada’s very own terrorist group, the FLQ. What fascinated me most about the FLQ wasn’t so much the events of October, 1970, when they kidnapped and murdered a provincial minister of labour, but how they and their victims and investigators are living today. The second half of the book looks at a Mountie who went bad, a former British diplomat who survived his kidnapping, and a former terrorist who runs a daycare centre.
It’s no surprise to fans of Eric Wright and Howard Engel and many others that Canada should prove fertile ground for thriller writers, but it has been a pleasant discovery for this quasi-foreigner. To my mind, the use of setting is one of the crucial elements of good crime novels: think of Martin Cruz Smith, Tony Hillerman or Peter Robinson. The challenge is to make those peculiarities of place ring so true that the reader feels the reality of the place, without inflicting on them an endless series of street names and so on which, unless you’re describing somewhere like London or New York, mean nothing to people who haven’t been there.
Canada, with its rich history, its diverse population, and its hostile climate, offers vast opportunities for any writer. At the moment I am working on the third John Cardinal novel, and I’m happy to say that this one is not set in winter. For the first time in several years I will not be called upon to describe snow. There’s no need to tell you any more, because you can probably picture the setting from the title alone: Black Fly Season.
Giles Blunts first John Cardinal novel, Forty Words for Sorrow, won the British Crime Writers’ Silver Dagger, and was translated into eight languages. The second in the series, The Delicate Storm, was published this year by Random House Canada.
Through the Looking Glass, or, How Winnipeg Became Victorian Toronto: The Murdoch Mysteries TV Series
by Maureen Jennings (Toronto, Ontario)
I am sitting in a cold, dreary building that used to be the old Winnipeg jail and I am on the set where the television adaptation of two of my books is taking place. I’m not dreaming. It is really happening.
Four years ago, I received an email from Shaftesbury Films asking if my books were still available for possible production. Well, yes, they were, and after several heart-stopping highs and lows, it has actually happened and the cameras are rolling on the Murdoch Mysteries, adaptations of Except The Dying and Poor Tom Is Cold, part of my historical mystery series, set in Toronto 1895. Ironically, Toronto, which has pretended to be so many other places, now has Winnipeg as a stand-in. This was a decision not made lightly by the producers, but the economic advantages to filming in Winnipeg outweighed sentiment. The Manitoba government is very generous to production companies and allows a nice grant to those who employ local actors and crew. Also, I am assured, there are more accessible Victorian locations in Winnipeg than Toronto. By good chance, the Winnipeg Writer’s Festival is happening at the same time as the shoot and when I am invited to come and do a reading, my husband and I seize the opportunity. We can visit the set at the same time.
As soon as we arrive, Leslie, the publicist, picks us up and takes us to the set where I will be doing some television interviews. The first indication of what is happening is the long line of huge trailers parked along the street—a familiar sight to Toronto residents. Just as we are about to enter the building, which was once a jail, a man in a dark suit and bowler hat emerges. It is the actor, Peter Outerbridge, who is playing the lead part of my detective, William Murdoch. My husband immediately wants to take a photograph of the two of us for posterity and we stand, arms around each other. It is the oddest feeling to be embracing, in the flesh, my own creation. When I see how Peter is in the scenes, I know this is the Blue Jays winning the world series and we have hit a home run.
Leslie takes us inside and we go up to the third floor, stepping over cables and temporary plank bridges. At the moment, the cameras are rolling on the “Ettie and Alice’s room” scene. I don’t know what the room was originally used for, perhaps the wardens’ office. It could only ever have been functional and now, empty and abandoned, it is bleak with grey walls, many of them showing exposed plaster. The actual set is too small to allow anybody in the room except the actors and the camera men, so I stand outside where the director, Michael De Carlo, is watching a small, flickering monitor. The monitor is the beating heart of a production and at any one time, several people may be staring at it, as intent as surgeons watching the patient’s EEG. I glimpse the inside of the room which has been hung with garments, Ettie and Alice’s washing. There is one iron bed, one old dresser. It is wonderfully squalid.
CUT. Michael jumps up and goes to explain something to the actors. Everybody around us is quiet and focused. I’ve heard that shooting a film is boring, “like watching paint dry,” but that’s not the impression I have at the moment. The crew are interested in doing their job. Everybody has a task and they work together. They are also mostly young, which I soon understand why. Making television films is grueling work, involving long hours and a hell of a lot of the time on your feet.
I am so excited about seeing my book come to life, I feel as if my mouth is perpetually hanging open. Kim Todd, the producer, arrives. She is an attractive woman, full of energy, even though she says she hasn’t had much sleep in the last couple of weeks. She, like a lot of people in show biz, is trying to juggle a home life with the punishing hours of filming. She watches the monitor for a while as does the director of photography, Steve, and the continuity girl, Connie. There’s a brief break and assistants rush over with coats for the actresses who are in night clothes. The building is unheated and very cold.
Kim takes us down to the basement to see the cells. They are intact and frightening in their starkness, grey brick, no natural light, and narrow metal beds. I feel as if they are full of sorrow and anger and will never be cleansed.
We go back upstairs and I see a dark eyed gypsy. “Who are you?” I ask. “Wally,” he says. Hmm, is this a new character that the script writer has introduced? No, he is an extra and I follow Kim to another set, the tailor’s shop, where several extras are sitting waiting to do their scene. When she introduces me as the writer of the books, they want to shake my hand but they look unbelievably dirty and for a moment, the illusion that they are might be lousy and smelly is so real that I flinch away. However, it’s all make-up, there is no smell and they are a great bunch of people that I’d like to know better. Later, one man says he’s retired and his wife got him into it.
On this set, I do two television interviews surrounded by old sewing machines and tailor’s dummies. That’s it for television and I’m off to do a reading at the local mystery book store, Whodunit?
Nothing is happening until the afternoon so Iden and I go for a walk to the legislative building which manages to be both friendly and awesome. The justly famous Buffalo sculptures are stunningly beautiful. We want to find the minister of culture and thank him for the grant. He isn’t in so I leave a message.
Downtown Winnipeg is much quieter than Toronto, not as colourful. We’re told there are some lovely old homes a block or so away but we don’t have time to see them. Our visit is limited to a few square blocks and the make-believe world being created in the Exchange district. The production manager, Ellen takes us on a quick tour. She explains how that night when they shoot the scene of Alice running away, which in my book took place near Cherry Beach, the crew has to quickly paint over the graffiti that cover the laneway where the poor girl will meet her end. They have got permission to remove the parking meters and to turn off one of the huge clocks on the bank building. Then while Alice is meeting her end in the laneway, a truck has 45 seconds to drive into the street with a fake fence to hide the contemporary buildings in the background. I like all this behind the scenes stuff. It doesn’t spoil the magic for me. Murdoch’s police station that was situated at the corner of Parliament and Dundas street is now transferred to an old office building. Ellen tells me how they looked all over to find authentic wooden doors and these are excellent, weathered and scuffed but no sign of modern bells or buttons. I can see why the choice was made to work in Winnipeg.
The set today is the John O’Neil tavern which actually existed on the corner of Parliament and Queen street. Under Michael’s direction, there is a total attention to detail and outside the tavern, the crew is busy laying down a wooden sidewalk. We’re used to seeing that in pioneer towns but in some of the streets of Victorian Toronto, they still existed, as did cedar block roads.
We go inside to the set of the tavern, which is lit in soft, orangey light. It’s warmer in here, we can actually take our coats off. We are behind the all-important monitor but I’m so used to watching live action, I focus on the “stage.” The takes are short, of necessity. A camera trolls slowly around the perimeter and a sound man, with a long mike across his shoulders like a modern day Atlas, follows. I’ve heard of big budget films doing dozens of takes but here the most I’ve seen is six or seven. How the actors do it, I don’t know. They play everything out of sequence, and as two books are being filmed simultaneously, they might have to switch the same evening to a scene that is supposed to have already happened. The continuity girl is crucial here, keeping track of the action to prompt to the director. She writes in the dark most of the time but keeps a note of which take he particularly liked so he will remember when he sees the rushes.
At regular intervals, a woman comes around with snacks, bottled water or sandwiches and muffins always available. Finally, it’s “lunch” time. It’s actually eight thirty p.m. and I’m dead tired and can’t take in any more. The extras file out to take a well-deserved break and we return to our hotel, the old Fort Garry which has the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on—a feather mattress is the secret.
More scenes in the tavern. This time a lively can-can dance. Flora Montgomery, an imported English actress, who plays Ettie, sings a plaintive old ballad that we hear several times over but which each time is still moving. For those moments, I forget about the cameras and the monitors and watch the show, watch that old world coming alive. This is the last time we will be here. They start too late tomorrow and we have to come back to reality.
I take one last look at the trailers with the names, MURDOCH and ETTIE in scotch tape on the doors. Hey, those are my characters. Amazing.
Maureen Jennings is the author of the Toronto Victorian mystery series featuring acting detective William Murdoch. There are five novels in the series, all of which are being filmed by Shaftesbury Films for Bravo Television. She recently finished a contemporary novel entitled Does Your Mother Know, set in The Outer Hebrides. She lives in Toronto with her husband and dogs, Jeremy Brett and Varley.
by Owen Magruder
As a young reader of mysteries I grew up on A. Conan Doyle’s famous detective. I remember that I was always fascinated not by the action or gruesome detail of Doyle’s stories but their cerebral content. The mysteries made you think. They did not bombard you with violence or graphic detail, but gave you the pieces of evidence as Holmes himself discovered them and allowed you, the reader, to solve the mystery with The Great Detective. The reader was engaged not by poring over scenes of sex and violence, but because of the magnitude of cerebral effort it took to stay abreast of the unfolding mystery. I have little doubt that these fictional challenges led me directly into the challenge of scientific mysteries where I spent the greater part of my life.
But now, after 40 years of trying to solve scientific mysteries in academia, I can return to my first love, fictional mysteries. In so doing I have tried to create a mystery that challenges the intellect of the reader. As I walked with Holmes, so too do I try to create the atmosphere in which the reader will walk with Braemhor, see the puzzle from his perspective, and solve the crime simultaneous with this latter day Great Detective.
As you can tell from my name, my heritage is Scottish, though like a character in my book, my place of birth and native home is the U.S. Why then, some might asked, do I set the resolution of my mystery in Nova Scotia rather than here in the U.S. or in Scotland where the action starts? I write about what I know, and through travel I have come to know the maritime provinces, particularly of Nova Scotia, as exceptional places peopled by exceptional individuals.
Besides, Celtic mysteries pervade parts of coastal Canada and give the country a mysterious feel and background not easily found, to my way of thinking, here in the U.S. Lurking behind the day-to-day life there is the mystery of an ancient past complete with ancient mysticism and an ancient language.
So it was a simple task to start Mr. Nobody in Scotland and resolve it in a world of individuality, independence, and mystery, Nova Scotia.
One final note. Though I have borrowed the cerebral powers of Holmes, I have not borrowed his malady (his drug addiction), nor given Braemhor any of the character flaws that some mysterians think a modern day detective (private or otherwise) must have to garner a following among mystery readers. No, I firmly believe that if you give mystery readers an intellectual challenge, presented through a character of integrity and honesty, they will appreciate the opportunity to escape to reality rather than fantasy. Thus, my work is cozy. I hope you share my likes.
Owen Magruder, the author of The Strange Case of Mr. Nobody, was born and grew up on the Eastern seaboard. After serving in the Army in Korea, he entered academia where he spent the next 39 years teaching Psychology. Now retired, he lives with his wife of 46 years in a small village in upstate New York. The Strange Case of Mr. Nobody is published by Edmonston Publishing, Inc.
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