By Michael Murphy
Crime fiction being written by Ottawa authors!? Ottawa as a crime scene!? Fiction or reality? Is it something in the air or the water, or is it the inspiration and guidance of the local writers’ group Capital Crime Writers? Six of their members will explain it all at their panel discussion “With Criminal Intent” at Prose in the Park.
Ottawa is increasingly being used as a setting for crime fiction. The early, now classic mysteries tended to be set in stately homes or large cities such as London or New York. Over the past fifty years, however, mysteries have been increasingly set in smaller cities and towns. And readers have responded enthusiastically. After all, your hometown takes on a different atmosphere when a mystery takes place there. Local settings and intrigue appear in a new light. Ottawa is no exception.
Two local mystery authors who use Ottawa as a setting are Barbara Fradkin and Brenda Chapman. Fradkin writes the Inspector Green mysteries. Green has been described as impetuous and exasperating, a man “whose passion for justice and love of the hunt often conflict with family, friends and police protocol.” The first in the series, Do or Die, appeared in 2000. The tenth, None So Blind, was launched in 2014 and has been shortlisted for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. Fradkin has won the Arthur Ellis Award twice previously. Fradkin sees Ottawa as “a hotbed of crime writing, producing perhaps more talented, award-winning mystery authors per capita than any other city in Canada.”
Brenda Chapman writes the Stonechild and Rouleau series. Stonechild, a police recruit from a First Nations reserve, is used to surviving on her wits. Her boss, Detective Jacques Rouleau, struggles to keep her and their investigations on track. Chapman’s latest novel in the series is Butterfly Kills. Her previous book, Cold Mourning, has also been shortlisted for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. Commenting on Cold Mourning, C.B. Forrest (author of the Charlie McKelvey mysteries) described it as “deeply atmospheric and tightly plotted. Cold Mourning is Chapman’s sharpest mystery yet.”
Brenda Chapman is looking forward to Prose in the Park: “Prose in the Park is an excellent opportunity to meet some of our local crime writers and to discover crime fiction that is making its mark across the country and on the international stage. I am especially excited to be part of this event in Hintonburg because this is my community and one that I capture in the pages of my novels.”
Sometimes one feels the urge to escape one’s everyday environment and go somewhere new. Travellers can pick up a mystery about their destination and learn things that no guidebook can provide. Four Ottawa-based Capital Crime Writers who take readers to far-off destinations are Dave Whellams, Vicki Delany, R. J. Harlick and Erika Chase.
Dave Whellams, author of the Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Peter Cammon series, takes readers to such locales as the south of Britain, Canada and Washington, D.C. Writing of The Drowned Man, Library Journal said the novel “sweeps the reader away with its elaborate plot, insightful observations about human character, and genuine spy adventure.”
R. J. Harlick’s heroine, Meg Harris, lives in the wilds of western Quebec. But her remote location does not insulate her from the pain of life. Her nearest neighbour is the Migiskan Algonquin First Nations Reserve, and she becomes close with the chief of the reserve, Eric Odjik. Through her novels, Harlick introduces readers to the challenges facing First Nations people. But Meg’s investigations have not remained local, though involvement with First Nations people and their issues is an always present theme. Over the six books of the series, Meg’s adventures have taken her to Baffin Island in Nunavut and the islands of Haida Gwaii on the west coast, among other settings.
Vicki Delany situates her Smith & Winters series in the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. Who would think that murder would visit such a beautiful setting? Writing about Among the Departed, Kirkus Reviews noted that Delany “invigorates the cozy genre with an unsparing look at love in all its variations, including coming to terms with it the second time around.” Delany’s most recent work, Juba Good, has been shortlisted for a 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novella. Yet one more coup for the CCW!
Another practitioner of the “cozy genre” is Erika Chase, author of the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries. Lizzie Turner, a member of the Ashton Corners Book Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, investigates local crimes. Who knew that Ashton Corners was such a violent place? The first novel in the series, A Killer Read, was nominated for a 2012 Agatha Award. Her latest, Law and Author, is the fifth in the series and will be released in September 2015 by Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime.
These six Capital Crime Writers authors will come together on stage at 3 p.m. for the panel “With Criminal Intent.” Come and discover the wide range of mysteries being written today. Discover your next mystery here.
Capital Crime Writers brings together mystery/crime writers in the Ottawa area at every stage of their writing careers, from those just starting out—exploring the genre and putting those first words to the page—to those who have recently launched their third or fourth novel. Our monthly meetings alternate between a writing workshop and a guest speaker. If we have stirred your curiosity, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.