Sunday, 20 September 2009

Canadian Mysteries today - Louise Penny up for an award!!

This was supposed to be my Sunday Salon post, but I got sidetracked by sunny weather and took my daughter to the beach to look for things along the water's edge. I found some interesting rocks, and she collected lots of mussel shells. So I find myself today playing catch-up.
What I wanted to write about is the Canadian mystery scene. It was actually a new blog I just found, Crime Watch, that triggered this. I was fascinated to discover that he had posted about Canadian mystery writing! Here is the link to his post, and here is the link to the newspaper article by William Deverell in the National Post that he quotes from. William Deverell is a Canadian mystery writer, and a lawyer, and I thought his article expressed well the dilemma we have in Canada regarding mysteries: they are ignored by our judges and book committees and except for writing programs at universities, ignored by them also. Mysteries aren't worthy of literate discussion in Canada.

I find this sad. I realize this is the state with all countries and their 'literature' vs mystery books being written. The US and England do a great job of promoting the best in crime writing though - the Edgars, the Agathas, the Crime Daggers. Sometimes I base my mystery reading on the award winners! And on the whole, this is excellence in mystery writing. The article and post got me thinking: what do we have in Canada? And why do we wait for others to recognize what writing is good here? And why is it so hard to break out of the genre world into the book world in general?

I don't have all the answers, of course! I'm a reader, a writer, and a former bookseller. I know something of how publishers promote books, I know a lot about people who read mysteries. However, I do not understand why our media pays so little attention to our own crime writers. Very occasionally is a piece done on the more popular writers, like Louise Penny - I found her because there was story on her in one of our newspapers. This was after of course she had won the Anthony and Crime Dagger for the first in the series, Still Life.

So what do we have in Canada? The Arthur Ellis Award. Haven't heard of it? I'm not surprised It's never promoted in the papers, or in the media. There is no spotlight for crime writing excellence in Canada. However, as soon as we are recognized outside our borders, then suddenly there is a newspaper article, or a tiny piece (maybe) on CBC, our national radio/tv broadcaster (but this is not likely), on the author. Here is a link to the Arthur Ellis Awards, from the Crime Writers of Canada site.

And here is something: I went to Louise Penny's website to get a list of her books for you, and she is nominated for another award!!! The Cruellest Month has been nominated for The Anthony Award and the Macavity Awards! Dead Cold (out as A Fatal Grace in the US) won the Agatha award last year, and this year The Cruellest Month won it. But do we celebrate this in Canada? Is it announced in the media? No. I had to go to her site to find this out!!

We write very good mysteries. We write some excellent fantasy and science fiction. But our authors don't get respected or acknowledged within Canada, by the media or by the Canadian Literature establishment.

Here is the link to the Agatha Awards, which are given for the best mystery written in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Fans of Maisie Dobbs will be glad to know Jacqueline Winspear won for Birds of a Feather in 2004. So it is quite an honour for Louise Penny to win for two books in this category, in two years.

So I've decided that as well as reading and talking about mysteries from other countries, I'm going to talk about Canadian mysteries. I thought I would spotlight some of my favourite Canadian mystery writers. I do have to caution you here: I too, had fallen victim to the view that Canada doesn't have good mystery writers. I was wrong. It's taken me a while, but I can finally say (and very happily and proudly): We have a really strong field of mystery writers, some of whom are among my favourite authors now. Every week I will post on a Canadian mystery writer. In honour of Louise Penny's nominations, I'm going to be spotlighting her next week.

One last thing: mystery is in the air. Nymeth over at Things Mean Alot has a post yesterday inquiring about what a good mystery would be to start with. If you have a favourite mystery that meets some of what she is looking for (atmosphere, not too graphic, good characters and not every questioned answered) please go and leave her a comment with your suggestion.


Eva said...

I'm so glad you posted this! When I was making my pool for the Canada Challenge, I couldn't really find mysteries (except for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie). What would your top three Canadian mystery writers be?

(In case it helps, my faves include Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Laurie Russell, and Kate Ross)

Court said...

I'll be honest, I'm not typically a fan of mysteries for the most part. That said, there are some mystery authors that I do quite like, and I positively love Maureen Jennings' Murdoch books just for the fact that they are set in Victorian Toronto. Will be interested in seeing what other cool Canadian mystery authors there are.

Molly said...

Well, first of all, kudos for taking time out on Sunday for enjoying life and family. How I wish I lived close enough the water's edget to do that.

I have just recently fallen in love with mysteries - but I am not quite knowledgeable enough to know if I am reading an American, British, or Canadian author (or perhaps another international writer). I am just experimenting to find which ones I really enjoy so that I can read all of their works (this is a long process for me).

I have enjoyed reading your post - as well as Jackie's of Farm Lane Books, as you both introduce me to literary awards and the respective winners. I need to educate myself on these awards (and prize "long lists" and 'short lists') in order to increase the quality of my personal reading.

Great post!

litlove said...

I had a Louise Penney novel in my hands only a couple of months ago but put it down because I knew absolutely nothing about her. Have you read many of her books, Susan? I'd love a recommendation for where to start.

Susan said...

Eva: er, is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Canadian? I just went and checked, and you're right! Another book for my list!! and the Canadian Challenge, I think....

My top 3 Canadian mystery writers are:
Giles Blunt, Louise Penny, and a tie between Peter Robinson (semi-Canadian, will explain when I do my post!) and L.R. Wright. there are many others, though, that are so very good, so stay tuned this winter! lol

Court: Ooh, another new series for me to look for! I've seen them on TV - work colleague really likes them, but I haven't caught them yet. i didn't realize she was Canadian. I'll definitely try them, have just added her name to my To-buy list. I plan on writing about quite a few Canadian mystery writers, around 20, so this is a winter-long blog project! I hope I can find some that will interest you and everyone. It's fun to promote something Canadian!

Molly: I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! And I'm happy to share what I know about mysteries and awards. I'll be posting through the winter, once a week highlighting a Canadian mystery author. It seems from above that there are two authors already I didn't know about, to add to that list! lol One of the problems we have in Canada is that we have a lot of immigrant authors, and there has been an ongoing literary debate about how these books should be classified - Canadian/first country, or first country/Canadian? Because the country of birth does imprint itself on the psyche of a person. so some of our mystery authors even set their mysteries in their country of origin, even though they have immigrated to Canada - how much Canadian is in it? It's a debate no one really knows yet, but one of the problems we face in defining a Canadian book. I personally think everything a person is makes it a Canadian book - that is part of our experience, that immigrant experience (0r for our First Nations people, the aboriginal Canadian experience is still Canadian).

Sorry, I can't help it, between my English degree and working in bookstores, this was a topic that came up often!

And you have to read many types of mysteries to find the kinds that you like. Enjoy the discovery! I gave a list at Nymeth's post about mysteries about some of my favourite authors, so you could look there for some ideas too :-D Lots of people wrote in that day!

Litlove: see above, she is one of my favourite mystery authors! they are really good, cosy mysteries - they keep winning the Agatha because Louise Penny writes about the village of Three Pines, where the mysteries are set, so convincingly. I want to move there! The characters are really well-drawn too, and the mysteries are well-done. Still Life is the first one in the series. I'll post more next week about her! Thanks, Litlove!

JaneGS said...

Susan - wonderful public service post! You make a great point, and I am in the market for new mysteries so I will check out some of the Canadian authors you like and mentioned. Xmas shopping is on the horizon and many on my list are mystery readers.

BTW, I nominated you for a Let's Be Friend award. Visit my site for details and keep up the good work!

Cath said...

Funnily enough, I just picked up a copy of The Cruellest Month in a charity shop today. Delighted that I don't have to rely on the library for when I feel like reading it.

My latest 'crime' discovery is the Inspector Ghote books by H.R.F. Keating. :-)

Still loving your RL ghost stories... the two nautical ones were quite chilling!

Susan said...

Jane: Thank you for the award! That was so thoughtful of you. I'm glad I can help with finding you new mysteries to read! And your lucky gift recipients! My mother and I exchange new mysteries every year for our gifts. I already have a small pile started for her. What kind of mysteries do you enjoy reading? I'll come see if you've posted about any mysteries.

Cath: Oh, lucky you, much cheaper at the charity shop! It's set at Christmas, so if you can save it for December....and read it then, you can pretend you're in Canada! At least you'll get an idea of how cold our weather is!

I haven't read any HRF Keating yet. And there'll be more ghost stories! I'm almost halfway through the book, lots more to go! I'm thrilled you are finding them just a touch creepy/scary too. I wish I were there to read them to you in person! over cocoa....

Nymeth said...

Thank you so much for inviting your readers to leave me recommendations, Susan! Thanks to all the suggestions I got, I now have a nice mystery wishlist that will last me years :D I can't wait to start reading - and the first will be The Moonstone.

Susan said...

Nymeth: You know I am always happy to help a friend! :-D And, we all love books, so the more books you know people enjoyed, the better you will have of finding a mystery or two (I hope for more, of course!!!) that will become your favourites. Beginning with The Moonstone, of course. I do like that one also. *hug*

Diane said...

I'm anxious to read her new book: A Brutal Telling.

Table Talk said...

Louise Penny is a new name for me, but we have her books in the library, so I've just ordered the first one. Thanks for the tip.

Susan said...

Diane: I have to read The Murder Stone first, which has just come out in paperback. A Brutal Killing is set back in Three Pines, and I'm anxious also to read that one! What do you like best about the series?

TAble Talk: Oh good! I love sharing a good mystery with a good friend!....I'll be emailing you shortly. My bears have a surprise for your bears...

Emily Barton said...

I've thought for some time that Canadian writers, as a whole, get short shift down here in the States, but especially mystery writers. I'm eager to discover some good Canadian ones through you, and am already going off to see if we have any Louise Penny at our library. (What do you want to bet we don't?)

Susan said...

Emily: LOL I can't find her books in paperback at the library either, and she's our writer!! I hope you can find the first one. I'm glad I can help, I had no idea readers would be interested in new Canadian writers! Especially as our media are keen to present new literary fiction writers, and ignore any other kind of writers we have. *sigh* so I'm delighted at the response this post has received!!

I'll be emailing you later this weekend.