Monday, October 10, 2011


On this gorgeous Thanksgiving Day there’s much to be thankful for, especially if you’re a Canadian mystery writer.

I know, I know. The sky is falling. E-books and the erosion of the Indies and economic setbacks are hitting the book world hard. The book is dead. It is the end of literacy. Other people can and will talk about that.

But today I still feel that there’s a lot to be thankful for. When I first thought I might try my hand at writing half a lifetime ago, there were very few Canadian mysteries and few opportunities to get them published even if you had a drawer full of manuscripts (no names mentioned, but that might have been me). I knew that because before I was a writer, I was a voracious reader of mysteries and it was slim pickings if you wanted Canadian settings. So much so that I still remember my excitement in discovering Howard Engel’s Benny Cooperman books.

Turn the clock forward and these days roughly sixty Canadian mysteries are submitted in any given year to the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards. That’s just for best novel. There will be at least fifteen (and often more) first novels submitted, not to mention dozens of crime shorts, children’s and young adult mysteries and world-class non-fiction.

Next, there’s such a variety: like your crime fiction dark and brooding, you can have that. Cozy and light-hearted? No problem. Prefer a gay protagonist? You have many choices. Wilderness setting? We have great ones. Just pick your province. Perhaps the traditional police procedural is your slug of Scotch. You won’t be able to stop at one. Funny? You betcha. Maybe you need a private detective? You can have a deal on a fictional Canadian one. There’s a Canadian mystery series to suit everyone and when I say everyone, I really mean me. Happiness begins at home, you know.

I like British mysteries, crime novels set in the US, those gloomy Scandinavians dudes, and elegantly snide Europeans, but really, it’s great to be home.

I am thankful that I can explore Canada from coast to coast to coast, small towns, big cities, chunks of rugged shield or endless trees and never run out of home grown homicide, contemporary or historical.

I am proud that many of our Canadian authors are making it big in other countries.

This didn’t just happen. People worked to make it so. The Crime Writers of Canada has led the vanguard for twenty-five years. Volunteers on the executive have worked tirelessly to raise the profile of Canadian mysteries. Here in Ottawa, Capital Crime Writers has been helping authors hone their skills and learn about the business for more than twenty years with terrific results.

Mystery writers themselves have made every effort to meet readers through blogs (like this), library programs, signings in bookstores, workshops and more. Librarians have done their best to bring Canadian mysteries to their readers and mystery bookstores and general bookstores with mystery loving staff have done much to make sure your eyes light on Canadian mysteries. In the Globe and Mail there is much better coverage of Canadian mysteries than in the bad old days. Yes, review space is shrinking and it’s harder to find the crime reviews, but the chances are if there’s a new Canadian mystery, it will be reviewed by Margaret Cannon. Even ten years ago, that was not the case.

Finally more publishers have mystery lines: Even twenty years ago, the large, established publishing companies used to publish the bulk of the mysteries. Now Dundurn, NeWest, Touchwood and others have put some muscle into publishing in this favourite genre. My own publisher RendezVous Crime had a very extensive line of mysteries. It has now been absorbed into Dundurn and it looks like the RVP crime family has found a home there. Something else to be thankful for.

Are there holes in this fabric? Of course. Will we worry about them? Sure. But for today, I want to celebrate and be thankful for how far we’ve come in thirty years.

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves this spring, is brimming with names, no two the same.


  1. All very true and a great day to be thankful for mysteries and many other things.

  2. I am grateful for being shown the ropes by those at the vanguard of Canadian crime fiction. Generous, funny, inclusive, supportive. A terrific community of crime writers in this country. Thanks!