Re: RARA-AVIS: Canadian Noir

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 12 Apr 2007

>Willow said: 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

Yes, we Canucks are such nice folks that most of us appear already to have died and gone to heaven. Wasn't it in a Sask. city that the cops were driving bothersome natives beyond the edge of town and leaving them to find their own way home? The practice was discovered when one froze to death. Mind you, I'm sure they were polite, helped the lad out of the cruiser, etc.

Morley Callaghan, famous for out-boxing Hemingway when they both sojourned in Paris, had a lovely noir novella in his bibliography. Hugh Garner wrote some good, dark revenge stories, and a hard-boiled cop series set in TO. Sportswriter Scott Young (and dad to rocker Neil) also wrote some hardboil set further north, as I recall. Peter Sellers and I managed to put out three anthologies of Canuck Noir a few short years back, including a classic by Canadian literary icon Sinclair Ross. We also published dark stories by Jean Rae Baxter, Matthew Firth and Brad Smith, each of whom have put out books of their own. Brad Smith's "All Hat" has recently been made into a movie shot in farm country west of Toronto.

Then there's that other Smith guy, Kevin- who shows up periodically in this RARA neck of the woods. James Powell, Bill Banker too. I've also reviewed books on my murderoutthere site by Daniel Jones (punk noir) and probably the darkest of current Canadian authors Ken Harvey, whose "Inside" is a classic of Canadian noir. George Elliot Clarke's "George & Rue" is as noir as they come.

We've also got at least a bit of a claim to Ross Macdonald, given that he grew up in Kitchener, about 50 km. northwest of Toronto, and his biographers say that the themes that permeate his work developed from his fatherless youth there.

As Atwood said, Canadian fiction is about survival. Not the transcendence common to most western storytelling. It's true that she was referring largely to survival in a hostile, physical environment, but it's the secrets hidden in quiet, close-knit communities that are darkest and most startling. Add a dash of crime to that theme and you've got noir in my books, including some by Atwood herself. It's just our mystery fiction that tries to maintain the myth of a kinder, gentler population with an oh-so-sensitive constabulary. In some I've seen we're so wonderful that villains must be imported from elsewhere
(guess where.) Noir appears more frequently in our "literary" fiction than our mystery "genre" output. Perhaps that legendary politeness masks confusion...and something darker.

Best, Kerry

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