Re: RARA-AVIS: Canadian Noir

From: Sandra Ruttan (
Date: 12 Apr 2007

On 4/12/07 2:09 PM, "Charlie Williams" <> wrote:
> That sure is a good case for having crime books set in Canada, but
> I'm not sure it follows that *noir* has a place there. At the risk of
> flaring up the old definition war again, I think noir is an idea
> rather than a subject. It's like a pair of coloured spectacles you
> put on and through which you experience the world in a certain way.
> You don't need a high percentage of murders to have noir going on. It
> helps, but you don't need that. You could set a noir novel in Canada
> no problem, as long as you have a doomed protagonist there and a set
> of circumstances that lend themselves to that kind of story. You
> could set a noir novel in Lapland. Or Lichtenstein.
> As for the Scots, they have an outlook that lends itself to noir. Not
> saying they all do, but it's certainly in evidence there.
> -----
> Charlie, I responded to the notion that the stats don¹t warrant Canadian noir
> (see the original post), but if we¹re going to go over to outlook, I strongly
> disagree as well. The real issue starts with the faulty perception that
> there¹s no crime in Canada. A tourist or exchange student gets murdered and
> the response from the shocked family is that they can¹t believe such things
> happen here.
> As far as having a protagonist and circumstances that lend themselves to noir,
> the issue isn¹t writing it, it¹s selling it. The idea we¹re too polite and
> civilized to have such an outlook is narrow-minded, at best.
The one manuscript I tried to sell that I squarely billed as Canadian Noir was rejected repeatedly for one primary reason: location. However, there was one Canadian publisher who asked for the full after reading the query. To convince you I didn¹t delude him, it included:

³A seventeen-year-old boy has died from an apparent gunshot wound to the head... The coroner soon reveals that the boy didn¹t die from the gunshot, but rather from an overdose of cocaine. Unexpectedly, an investigation into a break-in leads to a third body with a direct connection to their case: He is one of the victims of the gang beatings they were investigating.²

³The team is soon faced with more bodies of young girls....²

³Jack¹s strained relationship with his family is completely destroyed...²

I don¹t see any part of that that hints at cheery and light, and without boring everyone to tears talking about it you¹ve just got that and my word to go on, but the very comical rejection was, ³I read until I got to the first murder. I don¹t want to publish a book like that.²

Well, it was good for a laugh. I mean, I thought I did a pretty good job suggesting multiple unpleasant murders in the book in the query (although they are not described in an unnecessarily graphic manner) but I guess that publisher didn¹t realize murder actually meant killing someone.

In many ways, I still consider it the best thing I¹ve written, precisely because it was noir. It was exactly what I wanted to do with my writing. Nobody ever said I couldn¹t write, they just said I needed a better location. For my part, I¹m tired of reading of the same locations over and over again, and a good story is a good story ­ if the author does their job the setting comes alive for the reader and they don¹t need to rely on TV shows to fill in the setting gaps because everyone already has a visual image of NYC from Law & Order.

Just my 2 cents. Anyone who thinks all Canadians are chipper optimists lacking the disposition for noir need only meet me to have that delusion shattered.


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