RARA-AVIS: Canadian Noir

From: Willow Arune ( pangarun@telus.net)
Date: 12 Apr 2007

Noir or not, there are some interesting murders happening north of the border.

My favourite is Giles Blunt. Already winner of awards, Blunt did a few teleplays for "Law & Order". One novel back in the late 80s - COLD EYE. Then, a shift to a small town in Ontario and John Cardinal, a detective with a small municipal force in Algonquin Bay (based on North Bay). More can be found at:


Compared with Sandford's Davenport, Cardinal is a tad more complicated and introspective. Each of the four titles seems to reach further and further, marking this as a series that will be one to watch. Good if not excellent writing, neat plots and wonderful characters.

Canadian publishers seem to have discovered mystery writers, even if the books are not generally available south of the line. Thomas Rendell Curran comes close to noir, with two titles thus far out for Inspector Stride of the Newfoundland Constabulary. Newfoundland was a separate Crown colony until it joined Canada in 1949 - bankrupt and destitute. The old "outports" were quaint but economically impossible, so most residents were "encouraged" to relocate to larger towns by Joey Smallwood, a premier with a canny wit. Stride has a past in run running, and that gives him an MG to run around St. John's.


In Quebec, not noir but Agatha Christie seems to power Louise Penny's two titles, with a third on the way. Weighed down with all sorts of awards (New Blood Daggar Award, Kirkus Review top 10, Dilys and more). she places her stories in Three Pines, Quebec, and her main character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Louie Howland, a former Little Brown editor, yacht designer and book seller put me on to Penny and he is a good judge of writing. A FATAL GRACE comes out on May 15th.

Big city stuff comes with an alcoholic judge (dismissed) and the Ellis Portal series of five titles by Rosmary Aubert. Hard to compare this to any American writer that I know of presently. Going back in time, the series of novels of William J. Coughlin come close. Comparing the two, we are so much more civilized...

We have detectives in small towns (Sechelt, B.C.) and large cities. Fortunately, the number of fictional murders far exceeds the number of real murders, making it harder to do noir. We are just not a noir country - far too polite and civilized. How do you have a mystery in rural Saskatchewan, where a 911 call might go something like this:

Caller: I wantta report a break in at my house.

RCMP: Is that you, Howie?

Caller: Yeah, Ross.

RCMP: They take much?

Caller: Only some CDs and a few old movies

RCMP: When did this happen?

Caller: I was down at the curling rink, ya know, eh. Had a few games and then came back...

RCMP : So Howie, you know who did it?

Caller: Well...

RCMP: Not Geoff again!

Caller: Yep

RCMP" He still workin' down by the coffee shop?

Caller: Yep. Since Sally left, he has nothin' to do and don't want to drive to Rosebud to rent movies. Damn it, he must be drinkin'; again.

RCMP Sure it was him?

Caller: Yep. He left his pick-up here - it won't start.

I mean, in places where you are in very small towns and miles from anywhere, it isn't that hard. Up here in Prince George, we have a criminal "organization" known as "The Crew", run by the Renegades and they bow to the Hell's Angels. They run the crack shacks. Theft is up to a Metis group run by two families. It is not a question of knowing who dun it, but only why. Take away those two groups and we would be almost crime free. Any murder is booze, Saturday night, and mainly Native.



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