Canadian Mysteries


Canadian mysteries are not all alike, of course, but they do share a feeling of being not quite American, not quite British. While certain aspects of language and culture are familiar, detectives north of the border are just a little different from their American counterparts, from the structure of their ranks to how they work their system. The land itself is often almost a character, as Canada has much more open space than the U.S., and the population is so much less dense.

Three Canadian mysteries I would recommend:
From its creepy cover to its amazing portrayal of the unbelievable cold of an Ontario winter, Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow (2001) is a great thriller, featuring a detective who is seriously flawed, yet relatable. John Cardinal has secrets, yes, and problems at home, but his personal sorrows compete with his hunt for a serial killer murdering runaway teens. Further books in the series delve into Cardinal’s attempts to cope with his wife’s mental illness, his relationship with his father, the secret he hides from his daughter, and also the story of his partner, Lise Delorme. The stories are compelling, but the great characters are what really make this series stand out. Forty Words for Sorrow is followed by The Delicate Storm (2003), Black Fly Season (2005), By the Time You Read This (2007), and Crime Machine (2011).

The Calling (2009), by Inger Ash Wolfe, introduces DI Hazel Micallef, a very well developed character; Hazel has been the acting Commanding Officer in her small Ontario town, doing her best at 61 to stick it out long enough to foil the brass’ apparent plan to phase out the local police force. Divorced, Hazel lives with her mother, the former mayor of Port Dundas, a nice place, full of small town charm and local flavor. The peace of Hazel’s world of small crime and petty gossip is shattered with the brutal murder of an elderly woman. When another murder occurs just a few hours away, Hazel and her team work under the radar to track what they are beginning to believe is a serial killer with a strange and grisly plan. The Calling walks the line between the humor of Hazel and her mother (almost like a cozy), and the gruesome details of the crimes (here, the pacing and storyline make a great thriller). The Calling is followed by The Taken (2010).

For readers who prefer less gore to their murder, a trip east is in order; murderers in Quebec face the keen mind of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who lives in Montreal, but is often called to investigate in the quaint village of Three Pines. Gamache and the village make their debut in Louise Penny’s Still Life (2006). While many consider this a cozy series, with the village environment and lack of graphic violence typical of the sub-genre, Penny has created a complex character in Gamache and crafts psychologically rich tales with layers of history, emotion, and motive. As Still Life aptly illustrates, even a small village like Three Pines has room for a lifetime full of jealousy, greed, ill-will, and, of course, murder. Gamache first comes to Three Pines after artist Jane Neal is found with an arrow through her heart. Like a classic Agatha Christie, village life leaves plenty of suspects, and Gamache and his detectives delve deep into secrets to reveal the truth. Still Life is followed by A Fatal Grace (2007), The Cruelest Month (2008), A Rule against Murder (2009), The Brutal Telling (2009), Bury Your Dead (2010), and A Trick of the Light (2011).

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