Monday, December 31, 2012


Here's to a Happy New Year!

I usually don't make New Year's resolutions mainly because I never keep them. However, I'm going to take the plunge this year. I resolve to work harder at writing and playing. How's that!

As I've taken on more tasks in my life, I'll have to be better organized and totally commited to a specific writing time each day. So, if you phone and I don't answer, I may be there but writing. So, please leave a message.

On the playing side, I resolve to never turn down an invitation from friends to socialize, unless it truly can't be helped. Part of the working harder has to be playing harder in order to keep the balance. And who wants a friend who keeps turning down invitations anyway?

So bring on the New horoscope says it's going to be a really good one. (And the National Post never lies!)

I've also decided on some changes to Mystery Maven Canada. When I started the blog a few years ago, I hoped it would offer information on the ever-changing publishing scene along with news about Canadian mystery authors, to my former customers and to authors alike. And, although there are always changes taking place in publishing, many of the debates are the old ones with very little new (except a ginormous merger or two)to add. Authors are busy being authors. Readers are keeping those authors busy by devouring their books and demanding new ones. I think it's time to revise what's happening on this blogspot.

So, starting in January, I will be posting once a week, on Fridays. It will most likely be me continuing as I've done all this time, or I may post a book review, or it may be a guest blogger. You won't know until you've clicked on the blogsite (okay, you'll know if you check my Facebook page). If you're a Canadian mystery author anywhere in this country and you have an event coming up, I'd be happy to post it on the events section. If you're coming to Ottawa, please let me know.

I hope this new format won't mean that MMC gets forgotten. I also hope it means one fewer thing on that To Do list...for everyone.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year with lots of mysteries to read!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


by Jill Downie
Dundurn Press

Detective Inspector Ed Moretti and Detective Sergeant Liz Falla have returned. This Guernsey Island pair of police officers was first encountered in Jill Downie's Daggers and Men's Smiles last year. And this time around, they're trying to figure out why financial advisor Bernard Masterson, also suspected arms dealer, came to visit the Channel Island, and more importantly, why he was murdered.

His body is found by the cook aboard his palatial yacht, Just Desserts, the morning after he'd given his entire crew the night off. Video footage shows Lady Coralie Fellowes, now a local but once a star of the Folies Bergere as the only visitor to the boat. Even more incriminating is the fact she disposed of a gun into the water beside the dock. When it's revealed her deceased husband had been duped by Masterson, she shoots to the head of the suspect list.

However, Fellowes is not the sole name on that list which includes Masterson's housekeeper, two Germans who are recent additions to the crew, a local doctor, and even a member of Moretti's jazz band. Add to the mix a retired, reclusive spy and some colourful locals, and the detectives have their hands full chasing leads but still coming up empty on why Masterson was there in the first place.

The island of Guensey is the main attraction of this series, so wonderfully depicted as the mystery unfolds. Detective Sergeant Liz Falla also stands out as a very real character, alert and savvy. Moretti's personal life entwines with the plot as we see him in the evenings with his main passion, playing jazz piano, and as his love life gets a new spark with the addition of a mysterious trio on the island.

Jill Downie has written a complex mystery that draws the reader in and, with increasing fervor, to the unearthing of a plot with international intrigue, and the more basic motives of love and revenge.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Getting ready to say goodbye to 2012!

I know, it's not New Year's Eve yet. But we're getting very close so I thought it would be fitting to look back on the year that's been turbulent in the publishing industry, what with more publishers, distributors, and bookstores closing...but has seen many positives on the output side.

Many Canadian mystery authors have had either another books in a series or a first novel published this year! And from all accounts, the sales are going strong. I won't even begin to mention names as I'd surely leave someone out. But you know who you are...and you, as a reader, know if your favourite author has hit the shelves this year.

So, in a world where changes are keeping folks on their toes, there is the stability of good books to read. And guess what, the coming year looks equally promising! I've seen some catalogues, talked to some authors, and I guarantee that readers will be thrilled with the new mystery lists this coming year.

Also a promising note, the fact that Ottawa's Books on Beechwood was sold and saved from the announced closure in 2013. That's fabulous news for readers and writers alike.

Now, your mission, and I hope you'll agree to it, is to get out there and support stores like Books on Beechwood, the independents that are fewer but stronger and determined to stay alive; support the Canadian mystery authors by buying their books and spreading the word to new readers; and, joining in the dialogue at blogsites like this one, at book events such as readings and signings, and by contacting authors to let them know if you think they've done it right.

We're all in this let's look forward to a New Year that's filled with the promise of marvelous mysteries!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Holiday reading!

Just in case your holiday reading includes this blog, I'd like you to take a couple of minutes to tell us about your favourite Christmas read. It doesn't have to be a mystery but of course, merry murders abound on the bookstore shelves this time of year.

My favourite, and it's one I re-read each year, is The Joyous Season by Patrick Dennis. Do you remember him? He wrote Auntie Mame, one of my all-time favourite romps.
Well we don't have the return of Mame of anything like it, but it is another fun and irreverant story (even though it deals with a family break-up at Christmas)taking place in the 1950's in the oh-so-wealthiness of New York. I guarantee it'll draw a smile from you, perhaps even several chuckles and of course, it's Patrick Dennis so the ending has to be a happy one.

Even though it's been in print for a few decades, it can still be found on-line.

A Joyous Season is my wish to you -- both for a warm and fuzzy reading experience and a happy holiday time of year.

Now, what's your choice?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Friday, December 21, 2012


I was right!

Forgive me while I gloat. But, I was right in my Monday blog when I said bookstores would survive. How did I know? (a question asked on Facebook) Mostly because I have faith in the power of the book and those who are dedicated to placing them in the hands of readers.

But also, partly because while I was in Victoria, B.C. a couple of weeks ago, I stopped by two large independents in the area to sign books -- Munro's and Bolin's. Both are thriving! They're large, filled with books, and in the case of Bolin's, a wide variety of complimentary items -- and best of all, filled with shoppers. I was told last night that sales figures for the area are among the highest in the country.

What makes it work there? I don't have an answer except, I'm sure it's a combination of those ingredients I mentioned. Along with readers who want traditional books.

The good news closer to home is the last minute reprieve for Books on Beechwood in Ottawa's New Edinburgh community. It was announced this week that someone (some three actually) have purchased the store and it will not be closing, as planned, in January. Yay!!! What great news for the readers and writers in Ottawa.

The next announcement was that After Stonewall, the gay and lesbian bookstore in Ottawa, also scheduled to close, has also been bought and will re-open in the new year with a new vision, which will include an art gallery.

This is a wonderful high to start the holiday season with and it re-inforces my belief that paper books are here to stay! Let's all do what we can to support them and make it a truly wonderful and positive year of the book!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


A special thanks to readers!

Writing is a partnership between writer and reader. Each brings their past along for the ride. I had a touching experience this weekend that reminded me once again that good things happen when we pay due respect and attention to each other.

I received an email from a reader who is a lover of mysteries and had been enjoying one of my books until he reached a graphic, heart-wrenching murder scene involving children. At this point he threw the book in the garbage and in the email chastised me for the gratuitous, sensationalist, and largely irrelevant scene.

Writers love to receive emails from readers, and although most of them are laudatory, even the critical ones can be very helpful in honing our craft. When we write, we know what we are intending to say, but it is readers who tell us what we actually said. When I receive a critical email I generally thank the reader for their observation but don’t attempt to explain “but what I really meant was…” Words have to stand on their own, and if a reader misses the author’s intent, it is the author’s fault for not communicating it effectively. This is a difficult and humbling but crucial lesson for authors to learn.

In this case, however, I decided to try to explain. Perhaps it was the image of that particular book in the garbage, perhaps it was the obvious distress of the reader. Perhaps it was the fact that 20 children had just been massacred two days before. Or perhaps it was that the reader’s accusation cut too close to the bone for me as a child psychologist.

So I wrote back about the difficulty I had in writing the scene, which was actually based on true events that had haunted me as a psychologist for years. I wrote about its purpose in explaining my detective’s character and his relationship to another major character and also its connection to the overall theme of PTSD in the book.

This prompted him to write about his own experiences and to examine why he had reacted as he did to the scene. I do think it was the worst possible weekend to read that scene, but that too is context that an author can’t control. After an exchange of emails, he took the book out of the garbage and plans to finish it. I don’t know whether he will enjoy it (if enjoy is the right word for a gritty, gut-wrenching book) but I felt much better. The gap between our perceptions had been bridged, we both understood a little better what we had both brought to that scene and how it influenced its meaning for us.

Writing mysteries has its risks. We write about strong emotions and events – rage, terror, despair, human brutality – which can touch readers in powerful, unexpected ways as they relate it to their own experience. I don’t want to shy away from this, because it is why I write. Not simply to entertain but to share an emotional journey. But it’s humbling to be reminded that once my words are out there, the journey the reader takes with them is his alone.

Most of the time, we never know how our words are taken. For this opportunity, and for his willingness to share, I would like to thank this reader, and all the readers who take the time to write us authors with their thoughts. You are our mirrors, you tell us what we have said, and without you we are just tossing meaningless words into the wind.

Merry Christmas, Happy Whatever, and may the new year bring peace, joy and all good things.

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. The ninth, The Whisper of Legends is due in April. And, her Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched last year.


Armchair Traveller

Is there anything more spectacular than the Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories? A world Heritage site and a National Park Reserve, it has some of the most incredible natural diversity and scenery in the entire world. Miles and miles of wilderness with canyons, whitewater, waterfalls, hot springs, lazy, meandering flat water, and ragged glacial mountains. It is home to caribou, grizzlies, swans, eagles, mountain goats and sheep. Brilliant pink wild flowers cling to its gravel shores, while alpine meadows and jagged spruce forests rise up the slopes around it.

Why am I going on like this? Because this is the setting for my next Inspector Green novel. Yes, that’s Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green, the inner city boy who loves crumbling asphalt and diesel fumes, and who struggles to learn the suburban “dad” skills of mowing the lawn and firing up the barbeque. Inspector Green is going on the Nahanni.

Only one thing could possibly pry him loose from his safe urban world and send him up into one of the last true wildernesses on earth. One of his children has disappeared. His spirited, independent daughter Hannah has gone on a wilderness canoe trip down the Nahanni with a group of friends, and they have failed to show up at their take-out point.

Canoeing the Nahanni has always been a dream of mine, but with the tight timeline of this book and with this summer (not to mention this year’s budget) already spoken for, I will have to content myself with researching from afar. Luckily I have been on a wilderness rafting trip in the Yukon, a very different river and a raft instead of a canoe, but at least I have scanned the distant slopes in search of mountain sheep and watched a grizzly prowl along the gravel shoreline in search of food. I have seen the wild flowers and heard the rush of river current. Along with my research, those memories will have to do.

Does it work? We'll all find out when the new Inspector Green novel, The Whisper of Legends, is released in April, 2013.

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. The ninth, The Whisper of Legends is due in April. And, her Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched last year.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Don't give up on bookstores!

The sad news in Ottawa last week was the impending demise of yet another independent bookstore, Collected Works. The store is up for sale at $1 and if no buyer, or infusion of cash, presents itself before Christmas Eve, the store will close. That’s the third one for this city, this year. Nicholas Hoare closed earlier in the year and our other wonderful indie, Books on Beechwood, will follow suit in January.

A columnist in the morning newspaper seemed to think this was inevitable, what with the electronic world taking over our lives. But, you know what? I don’t agree. I truly believe there will always be a place for bookstores and although the numbers will not be great, those that remain will be serving a faithful clientele, one that could even see growth as this fascination with all things electronic whittles away to the norm and readers look back to the ‘good old days’. Even vinyl LP’s are making a comeback!

Did you turn on your radio this morning? Remember when that new gadget, the television was supposed to obliterate radio? Television was also seen to be the undoing of newspapers, too although they’re still around. I know, many are hurting, some have closed and others are cutting back…sounds like a pattern, doesn’t it? But will they totally disappear? I doubt it. Community newspapers, at the very least, will survive. And I that radio will always be with us. As will bookstores.

Flying home from Victoria the other night, I noticed several passengers continue reading their paper books while others of us had to shut down their e-readers, iPads and smart phones in preparation for landing. It’s those unforeseen advantages that are out there and will aid in the future of books.

I subscribe to the newspapers, have my radio on for much of the day, watch some television at night, read a book on my iPad when traveling, and have stacks of books throughout the house…many of them with bookmarks part way through them. These can co-exist!

So far this morning I have read the newspaper and read a few chapters of a paper book while enjoying my second espresso, before starting to work. And, this past weekend, I bought a book, a manual on how to use my iPad!

Long live the book!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Writing at Christmas.

Although my new book, Read and Buried, takes place at Christmas, there's another type of Christmas writing that's on my mind this morning. That's the annual ritual known as the Christmas letter.

I'm not an email greeting type of person. I love sending and receiving cards by old-fashioned snail mail. That goes for any occasion (and as my son will attest, I send cards for every possible event), but especially now as Christmas approaches. Since childhood, I've looked forward to the mail in anticipation of cards each day. I was indulged by my parents who allowed me to open anything that looked like a card and I guess that fueled the obsession.

These days, I rush to check the mail as soon as I hear the noisy closing of the mailbox lid. Every evening, I take a few minutes to look through the accummulated cards. And, I spend a long time reading and re-reading the annual Christmas letters that come from afar. What better way to stay in touch with family and friends, even though it is the Reader's Digest version of life.

I want to know what has happened during the year, what joys and sorrows have touched their lives, what matters enough for them to share it with me. I don't mind a form fact, that's what I send these days, although I do personalize each with specific questions and replies. I'm hoping those on my Christmas list also enjoy the annual 'catch up' letter. And, since I haven't heard otherwise, I'll continue writing them.

This year I'm down to the wire. My week's time-out in Victoria has pushed everything back by a week. I loved having an early Christmas out there, and although letter writing was on my list of things to do, there was never the opportunity. So, it's now or never.

Fiction writer turns to non-fiction. That's this morning's task. But it's more a pleasure because to me, a letter written on paper that arrives in the mail means so much more.

Call me old-fashioned. But send me that letter, please!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Editing 101 Continued

In a blog not too long ago, Linda talked about her editing process which included retyping the manuscript. My fingers grew tired even thinking about such a challenge and I knew I’d never do that. But I realize why I must edit at least four times before I even send the words off to the ever patient and always helpful members of my writing group.

For my first book, Cut Off His Tale, I had an outline. I knew who the killer was and what rationale he use to justify the murder.

Then, because some of my critiquing group, notably Barbara Fradkin, claimed it was more fun for the writer and later for the reader if you winged it, I tried that method. For a type A Virgo it was a challenge because it forced me to wait until the synopses clicked in my brain and inspiration arrived. This frustrated me but I did find that I liked the unexpected twists and turns that happened.

At times I worried that it wouldn’t work out, that I couldn’t knit the strands together. It did eventually coalesce into finished form. Once I had that I read through to see if it hung together. It more or less did but ghosts of ideas partially explored or incorporated and then erased lingered. Because it took almost a year to write the ending turned out to be much stronger than the beginning when I’d been feeling my way and I had to go back and beef up the beginning.

Once I reached that stage I worked through unifying the text, checking time sequences, names, ages, all the things that need to be attended to if I was to persuade a reader to suspend belief.

Then I began honing the manuscript, eliminating cliches, passive voice, redundancy. For guidance when doing this I rely on Theodore Cheney’s, Getting the Words Right: How to Rewrite, Edit and Revise. In the last part of his book he deals with figurative writing and while I understand simile, metaphor, analogy and personification I have never quite understood metonymy but probably use it along with hyperbole and allusion without realizing that I am.

Three times through but it wasn’t ready for inspection. At that point I checked the beginning and ending of chapters, questioned the pace, the tension and asked whether or not I’d resolved all the issues without rushing to a conclusion. When those questions were answered to my satisfaction it went out to my critics. When it returned there was more work to do and then, finally, the manuscript was ready to go to the publisher.

Is there any easier way or is this the way all writers prepare for the end?

A member of the Ladies Killing Circle, Joan Boswell co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit to Die, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and, Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. The latest in the series, Cut to the Bone, was published this month by Dundurn Press. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto and Ottawa with two flat-coated retrievers.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Bloody Victoria: The Woman Who Did

On the Queen’s birthday celebration in May 1896, an overloaded trolley car collapsed a bridge, killing over fifty people in British Columbia’s capital. Victoria has a rich history beginning with the HBC, the Royal Navy, and a few gold rushes. Hundreds of heritage buildings have been preserved in this Inner Harbour mecca. At midnight, standing on a wood-bricked street under a glowing lamp post, you can travel back in time or even begin a historical mystery.

Maps are step one. Many streets have changed. In 1896 Victoria was razing its old “Birdcages” and building the storybook Parliament that awes tourists today. The iconic Empress Hotel locale was James Bay, a polluted wen with soap-factory effluvium rainbowing the water. Across the harbour was the Songhees Reserve, not million-dollar condos. Sealing ships still plied their shrinking trade. The Navy Pacific Fleet was making the transition from sail as the bluejackets came to town to raise hell.

Horse-drawn traffic kept to the left. Gaslight had arrived, but electricity was new. Retrofitted plumbing went boxed up the outside of older houses. There were callboxes for the police and a few hundred wealthier families on the switchboard. Fancy-lady parlours thrived, but poor girls still delivered ten-penny knee tremblers in the alleys.

The police department had moved to the renovated City Hall, but a new prison stood out on Tolmie. As for money, there were common fifty-cent pieces as well as twenty-five-cent shinplaster bills and a few American silver Morgan dollars or gold eagles. I got Tess of the D’Urbervilles right, but missed the fact that the Hound of the Baskervilles had not yet arrived in print. Cocktails included the Blue Blazer and soda fountains sold Tin Roof sundaes but not David Harums (post-1900). The Woman Who Did title came from Kingston’s Grant Allen’s bestseller of 1895. Just what she “did” might surprise you.

A reprint of an 1897 Sears catalogue served for clothes, medicine, furniture, timepieces, spectacles, and canned goods. St. Ann’s Academy had the nuns I needed but not the lovely grounds today nor the additions. The dingy, filthy morgue, tucked into a market downtown and deplored by the coroners, has been gone for a century. The Daily Colonist, formerly the British Colonist and today’s Times Colonist was on line. I read about the accident and its aftermath, the corpses laid like cordwood on Captain Grant’s lawn and the inquest that night as the jury traipsed from the morgue to an overcrowded funeral parlour. At the page bottom was a tiny ad for repairing watches soaked in sea water.

I consulted old phonebooks for businesses in Chinatown. Coloured firemaps recorded even opium factories, legal at the time. I can still walk Fan Tan Alley. But not at night.

Fig newtons had arrived, a great snack “When Strolling Through the Park One Day.” Motion pictures in NYC were in the conversation as were the first autos. Sobranie cigarettes and Burberry overcoats? And the Queen’s daughter, Empress of Germany, was called Vicky. The telegraph hummed, and steamers were passing sailing ships, but how much did it cost to go to Seattle? Bicycles aka “wheels” had just arrived, carrying postmen delivering mail. Slang was a puzzling mixture of British, Canadian, and American words. New York novellas by Stephen Crane and a period detective story in the Daily Colonist led me to “out of sight.” People were “chewing the fat,” “going steady,” putting on “glad rags,” and talking about “plutes” and “rats.” Crawling babies were “ankle biters.”

Writing the first book in a historical series is like giving birth to an elephant. Everything’s easy and familiar once Jumbo has arrived. Can’t wait to start the next one!

Lou Allin's latest book is Contingency Plan from Orca, a Rapid Reads novella. Coming in April is the third entry from Dundurn in her Canada's Caribbean series, Twilight is not Good for Maidens, featuring RCMP Corporal Holly Martin. A serial rapist stalks the beach parks of southern Vancouver Island.

Visit Lou at her blog at

or website at

She welcomes mail at

Saturday, December 8, 2012


By Hilary MacLeod
Acorn Press

Hy McAlister and the eccentric villagers at The Shores are back again in a quirky tale, this one set at Christmas. If you’ve read the first in the series, Revenge of the Lobster Lover, you’ll already be familiar with the colourful characters that inhabit this forgotten part of the Eastern coast.

This time, the legacy of a local abandoned house, Wild Rose Cottage brings into play a tale of mystery, tragedy and eventual release. A family traveling from Dawson Creek, B.C. makes the cross-country journey to claim the family home of Rose, wife of Fitz, and mother of Jamie. Their tale is one of abuse and sorrow but eventually encompasses the inhabitants of this outport.

There’s another newcomer to The Shores and her story is also one of quilt and secrecy. She’s Const. Jane Jamieson of the RCMP, unhappy at her new posting, but eventually her reserve is whittled away by the sad tale of Rose’s family.

And then there’s Hy, comfortably ensconced in the community, directing the Christmas pageant and just as unsettled about her relationship with local Ian Simmons; her friend Lili and husband Nathan; the elderly Gus; and, the interfering Moira…all return in this tale of greed and guilt. With a healthy dose of gusto.

Hilary MacLeod splits her time between Ontario and PEI. She manages to skillfully blend the dark side with the light, threading humour in characters and dialogue through the serious tale of human foibles and tragedy. This is the third book in The Shores series and an offbeat story for the Christmas holidays.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Let's hear it for inventive booksellers!

On Sunday as I waited for my train from Toronto to Ottawa, after a successful book signing event at Sleuth of Baker Street with five mysterious and murderous colleagues – Rick Blechta, Joan Boswell, Melodie Campbell, Vicki Delany, and Barbara Fradkin …and then a double book launch with Joan Boswell the next day – a hectic but fun weekend – where was I? Oh, yes, I read in the paper about a book store that dispensed books from a machine for $2 each.

It seems (I’ve forgotten where it was) this store owner enlisted a friend to devise such a machine. He’d attempted several different creative methods for selling them, one of which was out on the sidewalk, all in the cause of encouraging people to buy books and more importantly, read.

These were not the latest Peter Robinson hardcover, of course. These were older titles that sometimes accumulate in the back room of a store and eventually demand something be done with them or they will overtake the already crowded space. His idea became such a popular stop, especially after devising the book dispenser, that he has ended up supplementing the earlier selection of forgotten books with new titles he buys specifically for this bargain corner.

Clever fellow, and dedicated to the world of books, too. Maybe it will take off in corner stores around the country just as the, ‘leave a used book on a park bench’ idea has.

Who says there’s not a market for paper books anymore!

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
A KILLER READ, also available at your favourite bookstores and online.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I love my book club. And I expect if you're like most of the women I know, you love your book club too.

What's not to love? Here we have a group of women who enjoy reading, researching and discussing books. All kinds of books. One year my club read only Orange Prize winners. Another year we concentrated on mystery and spy novels. Still another we read exclusively from the European renaissance period.

I first met the women in my book club fifteen years ago when I was invited to speak about Canadian crime novels at one of their meetings. When, at the end of the meeting, they invited me to join the club, I jumped at the chance. How could I not? Here was a group of intelligent, articulate and intensely curious women. These gals question every assumption and it's made for some fine and heated arguments over the years. We’re mostly retired now, former teachers, a CBC executive, a librarian and a senior public servant. Without the tyranny of day jobs, we can get together in the afternoon over a cup of tea and fancy cakes. But being retired doesn't mean the discussion or arguments are any less intense. The hostess often prepares handouts and a list of questions and God help anyone who hasn’t read the book.

We've been through a lot together, my book club and I. We've lost members to cancer and heart disease and supported one another through family tragedies. These women turned up in force for my launch of Locked Up, and they bought dozens of books to give away as gifts.

One curious thing about book clubs is that they're almost always the domain of women. I wonder why more retired men don't join or form book clubs. Maybe they do, only they call them something else. My husband has a group of friends who meet for lunch once a month and call themselves The Gentlemen's Lunch. When I ask what they talk about, he says, "Oh, books mainly." But when I suggest it might be a book club, he looks horrified. Book clubs apparently, are only for women.

Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted appeared in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.

Monday, December 3, 2012


What Makes a Good Mystery?

Since I am a much better reader of mysteries than a writer I feel somewhat qualified to throw my oars into the water in giving my opinion about the qualities of a good mystery. We may all have our particular settings or styles or the love of blood or lack thereof in our mysteries I think we can all unite on one thing. A good mystery requires a good story.

Maybe that is the basic element of any book in any genre, even in non-fiction. The story has to get our attention and make us want to read more. For mystery books there has to be some element of the unknown that we are promised will be revealed if only we hang around long enough. Or even if we know 'who dun it' how the perpetrators are brought to justice or not may be enough to hold us fast to our seats and keep us turning the pages.

But how the story is told and the definition of the main characters are close behind in terms of factors that make up a good mystery. Style, pace and plot development are keys to ensuring that the reader is not just entertained, but engaged along the way. The sub-genres of mystery start diverging here, particularly around style which tends to involve detailed and sometimes flowery descriptions in cozies or technically detailed forensic talk in police procedurals. But they all come back together when it comes to the flow of the story. Good mysteries in all forms have a rhythm that somehow just seems right. Great mystery writers have the 'Goldilocks' touch: not too fast, not too slow, just right!

Great characters are another key to great mysteries. We all remember the giants like Poirot or Miss Marple or Rebus or any number of great cat writers. But I find that it is actually the sub-cast of characters that separate the great from the good. And it's not usually the person or persons who get killed that are the most interesting. It's the Corporal under the Sergeant, or the old friend who always shows up with advice or a bottle of scotch at exactly the right time.

But what really sets the mystery category aside from all other writing is the added characteristic of surprise. Every mystery book has a few twists and turns but a great mystery book has an absolutely brilliant surprise. It may be that the butler didn't actually do it, but he was certainly involved in helping the less than legitimate heir bury the bodies. Or an unheard of relative who surfaced just after the will is read or… you get the picture.

Reading a great mystery book is like having a candle to light the way down a dark and unfamiliar hallway. You don't know what you are going to find down there, but you just have to go and see for yourself.

Mike Martin is the author of The Walker on the Cape, a Sgt. Windflower mystery.