Re: RARA-AVIS: Canadian Noir

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

At 07:22 PM 12/04/2007, you wrote:

>Unfortunately Mark, I made one other big mistake: RCMP. With all of the
>developments in the past year alone it would be easier to sell now ­ there¹s
>been more media focus on RCMP corruption, officers convicted of murder, etc.

Back in the 70's, when the RCMP were also the country's secret service, they were convicted of breaking into union offices and the offices of political parties, and arson, when they burnt down a barn where a meeting was scheduled for the separatist Parti Quebecois. It's a long history.
>The thing is, no organization or country comprised of human beings is
>perfect, or noir-exempt. Kerry rightly points to the Stonechild case is

Meant to ask too, how Colin Thatcher was these days. Getting by, so I hear.

>The ms isn¹t professionally edited but if you ever want to read it I¹ll send
>you a print out.

It's a tough go, Sandra. There is a reluctance to publish certain types of stories, and perhaps the publishers are right to be wary of books that won't find an audience in Canada. There's a willful ignorance at work, IMHO.

It's a more open society in the US, relatively speaking, people more honest about their motives
(get rich and be happy) and there is also that famous sense of hospitality. I'm always amazed at what complete strangers will tell me in bars when I go south, where at home you'd be lucky to get a smile let alone a conversation. In Canada there's more respect for authority, which makes positions of authority more susceptible to corruption and more attractive to the corrupt. About ten years ago the country's largest family fortune had originated with prohibition era bootlegging. Significant fortunes are now being built in similar fashion. It is estimated that marijuana is BC's biggest export. But we're too polite to talk about this stuff. Never know who's listening.

I had recently hoped to serve as editor for a book, very well written, nice gritty style, the narrative involving street gangs here in Hamilton. There's a long history of gang activity in this city. None of the larger publishers would touch it, probably because they felt there wasn't a market for it outside Hamilton. There's a lot of Canadians figure this city is exceptional for this type of thing. My Hamilton publisher wouldn't touch it because it wasn't their type of story. The book had almost been sold earlier in the US, but there the publisher wanted the location changed to Pittsburgh (another blue-collar steel town.) The writer didn't want to do that, so it still goes unpublished. Too bad. It was a good book, insightful and beautifully written. But it goes against the image so many Canadians have of themselves, and interest outside the country is minimal. I hear the same thing again and again.

I was thinking again about how noir fits into mainstream literature in Canada. Richler's Duddy Kravitz walking the fine edge, finding out his father is a pimp and having to compete with the local mobster for the real estate deal that finally makes his fortune. Then in Joshua Then and Now, Joshua's father is a professional thief, and he's gone on some jobs too, it appears. In St. Urban's Horseman, it's been so long, but doesn't the protagonist have dreams about the Mounties coming to get him? And there's Solomon Gorsky of course, based on the Bronfman's history. Then, in The English Patient, remember the Canadian was a thief? Didn't he also appear in Skin of a Lion? Richler described his work as satire, but he was showing how crime was woven into the fabric of Canadian society, and I think Ondaatje nodded in that direction too. Noir, in my opinion, but we don't seem to like the covers pulled all the way back. And so often in Canadian genre mysteries the villain is telegraphed- he's the one who's politically incorrect.

Best, Kerry

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