Re: RARA-AVIS: Toronto fiction (and bookstores)

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 13 Sep 2004

At 03:07 AM 07/09/2004 +0100, you wrote:
>So - in the spirit of the upcoming Bouchercon - could
>anyone please recommend some of Toronto's crime
>fiction? It would be nice if we could come up with a
>nice little reading list. Despite it's size, T.O.
>doesn't seem to have a body of hardboiled or noir
>writing comparable to even medium-sized American
>cities... or am a wrong?

Sorry to be late on this. Death in the family has kept me preoccupied.

I don't think anyone mentioned Brad Smith's "All Hat" and "One Eyed Jacks". All Hat is more of a country noir, taking place in the horse-racing community west of Toronto, penetrating the good city itself as far as Woodbine Raceway in the north-west corner. One Eyed Jacks is set in the 50's, and gets downtown, recalling (for me at least) the era of the bank-robbing Boyd Gang. Boyd died in a hail of police bullets at an intersection in the city's west end.

Morley Callaghan wrote a dandy little noir novella in the 70's, but I cannot recall the setting. Maybe later. And there's a television series on now (something about Poor Tom, I've just chucked the paper so I haven't the details) based on a historical series of mystery novels that uncover the city's Victorian underbelly. The preview applied the noir monicker to that, though it may only be noir in the Jim Doherty sense (HA!)

They did mention that the books present the community as socially repressed, even for those repressive times. Upper Canada (Ontario) was run by an oligarchy of Scottish merchants and railroad robber barons into the turn of the 20th century. People knew and kept their places. What our American friends consider to be the boringly polite Canadian character is really a remnant of this repression. We value our "peace, order and good government," overlooking the fact that the quality of governance is so frequently defined by those in political power. Torontonians are only now coming to grips with the possibility that their police might be as corrupt as in any other big city force. The result is a tendency by authors to write bemused cozies. Underneath, the place seethes and I think that was best captured by Robertson Davies, though he was by no means a crime writer.

I would like to suggest, however, and in all false humility, Sap by John Swan, at least half of which takes place in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood. Also, Vern Smith's The Gimmick is a noir short published in Hard Boiled Love, which I edited over a year ago with Peter Sellers. Peter himself writes low-down noir shorts and some are clearly located in Toronto. His collection is titled Whistling Past the Graveyard. And finally
(and again,) 1978, a hilarious punk-noir by Daniel Jones set in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood (next to UofT), and published posthumously by Rush Hour Revisions.

Best Kerry

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Sep 2004 EDT