Friday, August 30, 2013


Something new!

It's time to give Mystery Maven Canada a bit of a new look. Not in the design but rather the content. I'll continue with the reviews of new mystery and crime novels, hopefully every second week, although the timing is flexible.

What I'm adding is, on alternate Fridays, interviews with Canadian mystery and crime writers from across the country (and beyond, when they choose to stray!). There are a lot of other blogs out there doing this but my thought is, the more exposure the better.

So, on Friday, September 13th, the first interview will be posted. I hope you'll visit regularly and get to know your favourite authors a bit better, and also, find some news ones to try. I'll also continue with occasional guest blogs by authors, particularly when a new book is due.

Don't worry about leaving comments -- I know it's hit and miss these days. You're welcome to send me an email at if there's a comment you're dying to make (I'd love to hear from you) or if there's a particular author you want to make sure is on my list.

I hope you'll enjoy this new feature! I know I will love getting to know more about my guests and the wide variety of books being written by Canadians. Excellent books, I might add! You might also want to visit the website for the Crime Writers of Canada association where you'll find invaluable information about just this topic.

Happy reading!

Friday, August 23, 2013


By Jack Batten
Thomas Allen Publishers

Crang is back and he’s as gutsy, smart-mouthed, and clever as ever.

It’s been a few years, twenty it says on the book flap, since the Toronto criminal lawyer known by one name, Crang, graced the mystery bookshelves. And the hiatus hasn’t tamed him in any way. Who else would impersonate a judge, break into his client’s house, and then do it again?

He has a reason. Crang’s latest client has taken off before a court date for sentencing, stiffing him for $75,000. Good reason for the above-mentioned actions, I’d think. When he finally does catch sight of this grow-op fugitive, Grace Nguyen, she’s deeply embedded in another get-rich scheme and not about to place nice and follow Crang back to court.

As he follows the trail through a mobster’s home and to a ceramics museum, Crang is aided by various wise cracking sidekicks: from the slightly sleezy Maury, who is a retired independent burglar; his live-in companion, Annie who has a lot better sense than Crang, most of the time anyway; some elderly gents with a penchant for sleuthing; and various colleagues from the legal world in which he travels.

Along the way, someone dies, surprisingly not Crang, schemes are thwarted, and justice prevails. Somewhat.

If you like your crime with an edge that’s tinged with sarcasm and smart remarks, the Crang mysteries by Jack Batten are for you. There’s a lot of jazz info, one of Crang’s passions, that’s sure to delight music lovers. And the reader takes a tour of Toronto, comparing neighbourhoods, and indulging in some tasty meals. There’s a lot going on in Take Five along with a very smart mystery.

Friday, August 16, 2013


The Book of Stolen Tales
D.J. McIntosh

My first impression after finishing The Book of Stolen Tales was, what an incredible amount of research, what a vivid imagination, and what a great writer! I enjoyed the mixture of history and adventure in her first book, The Witch of Babylon but this, her second in a trilogy, gripped me from the start. Might be partly because of the notion of ancient books and the quest to recover them. Whatever the reason, this is a book I couldn’t put down.

We meet New York art dealer John Madison, several months after his earlier adventure where he barely escaped with his life and tattered reputation. This time, he’s asked to travel to London to bid at an auction on a rare seventeenth century book of Italian fairy tales, on behalf of a mysterious purchaser. He’s successful but before delivering his purchase, he gives into temptation and opens the book. He’s been forewarned though about the book’s dark history and the dire consequences that might befall him. Foolish man!

It turns out the purchased book is not a series of five within one cover as stated, but only one.Next thing we know he's confronted by a mysterious, perhaps even a bit magical, dark stranger who manages to steal the book. From that point, Madison’s life is filled with fear and anger, as he pursues not only the stolen copy but the other four books also, in order. He travels to Naples, where the writer had lived, to meet the person who consigned the book to auction. Here we’re treated to wonderful historical images and tales of long ago.

He meets up with a mysterious woman who, it turns out, was the actual seller of the books. However, she had stolen them and her life is in danger. Her intermediary is murdered and, she and Madison are forced to evade several pursuers as they continue the chase together.

The Book of Stolen Tales is a weaving of fairy tales, examining the same tale as presented or re-told through the ages, becoming what we loved as children. It’s a tale of strange disease that leads to death and draws the U.S. army into the fray. There are dark and dangerous islands, moments of total terror for the two, and a breath-taking ending.
D.J. McIntosh, who lives in Toronto, is currently working on the third book in this trilogy of historical thrillers. The Globe & Mail asks if she's the next Dan Brown. She doesn't have to be. She's D.J. McIntosh. Write it down.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Standalones vs. Series
by Vicki Delany

There are, basically, two types of mystery novels: standalones, in which characters appear once, never to be seen again, and series, in which characters feature in book after book.

As a reader as well as a writer, I am torn as to which I prefer. I believe that in real life a person, unless they’re a secret agent or bodyguard to a crime boss, has only one great adventure in them. Police officers will tell you that the job’s pretty boring most of the time, and crimes, even murders, are mundane things, easily solved.

A standalone novel gives the protagonist that one opportunity to achieve great things; to have that grand adventure; to meet the everlasting love of their life; to conquer evil, once and for all. In a standalone, the characters face their demons and defeat them.

Or not.

My first books were standalone novels of suspense. In Scare the Light Away the main character confronts, for one last time, the debris of her traumatic childhood. In Burden of Memory, the protagonist faces down the ghost of a past that is not hers, but is still threatening what she holds dear.

I then switched to writing series books, but returned in 2012 with a standalone gothic thriller, More Than Sorrow, about a woman attempting to recover from a Traumatic Brain Injury caused by an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The focus of the novel is on Hannah Manning’s attempts to recover her life while she experiences visions and fears she is losing her sanity. Her inability to explain where she was and what she was doing (even to herself) when a woman disappears, puts her in the cross-hairs of an old enemy.

Not a story line you could drag out over a series of books. How many old enemies can a woman realistically have?

As Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale says. “In a standalone the reader has no safety net. The reader knows it is possible the main characters may die. You can assume in a series they will not.”

Now I’m back to Constable Molly Smith, Sergeant John Winters and the town of Trafalgar, B.C. with the sixth book in the series, A Cold White Sun.

Series novels present different problems. The central character, or characters, confronts their demons, but they do not defeat them. Their weaknesses, all their problems, will be back in the next book. In each story the series character stands against, and usually defeats, someone else’s problem or society’s enemy, but she or he moves only one small step towards the resolution of their own issues, if at all.

It can be a challenge to keep the main character interesting and growing and changing (and not dying) but to do it so slowly that the reader’s interest in the character can be maintained over several books and several years.

In the Constable Molly Smith novels, set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia, Molly is haunted by the death of her fiancĂ©, Graham. It was a meaningless, preventable, tragic death and, even in her grief, Molly knows that returning to the small town in which she grew up and becoming a cop won’t help her to make sense of Graham’s death. But she does anyway, and as the series unfolds, Molly is able to confront the gulf that Graham’s death has left in her life and, eventually, move on. By the time we get to the sixth book in the series, A Cold White Sun, Molly has put Graham’s death behind her, and said her good-byes. Now she has a new man in her life, Constable Adam Tocek of the RCMP. But new problems arise.

`Was Tony flirting with her? He certainly was. It felt nice. He was a good-looking guy; he obviously found her attractive. He was a good skier. What could it hurt? She thought about Graham, her fiancĂ©, dead for almost five years now. She thought about Adam. She thought about putting in a twelve-hour night shift and how she’d feel following that.
“I won’t be here until around one.”
He gave her a huge smile. “What a coincidence. So will I. Probably hanging around at the top of Hell’s Vestibule.”
“Molly, are you coming? I’m starving!” An exasperated Glenn said.
“I’m coming. Don’t be so impatient.” They carried the laden trays to their table.
Molly Smith knew Tony’s eyes were following her.
A Cold White Sun by Vicki Delany

Which do you prefer, standalones or series?

I suspect that, like me, you’ll vote for both.

Vicki Delany’s latest book is A Cold White Sun from Poisoned Pen Press. If you’d like to read the first chapter, please go to: Vicki can be found on, and twitter: @vickidelany. She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (

Saturday, August 3, 2013


By Janice MacDonald
Ravenstone (imprint of Turnstone Press)

One of the things I like best about Janice MacDonald’s Randy Craig mystery series (besides the fact that she’s a darned good writer) is how much the series is about Edmonton.

In this fifth book, she doesn’t disappoint as the historic Rutherford House is the setting for what starts out as an Evening of Illusion, a special event put on by the Friends of Rutherford House as a fundraiser, and ends up as murder. It’s not as if Randy Craig goes looking for dead bodies but it happens and this time her contract job helping to create a virtual website to celebrate the 100th birthday of the House brings her into the killer’s trajectory. From there, the chase is on and Randy’s own home suffers some consequences. But that won’t stop her quest and while doing research for the website, Randy also finds clues that lead to the murderer.

There really is a Rutherford House, adjacent to the grounds of the University of Alberta. Try googling it and get further immersed in its history and sights. However, MacDonald provides enough background, starting the original owner of the house, Alexander Rutherford, who founded the university and was at one time, a premier. She takes us on a tour of the house, being preserved and restored by the Friends, providing a cultural history for those of us who might not be able to visit any time soon. MacDonald excels at interweaving these aspects along with a good puzzler.

We also get to travel to the provincial Archives, to Fort Edmonton and of course, stroll (sometimes sprint) through the university campus.

This is truly a Canadian mystery and as I’ve noted elsewhere, Janice MacDonald should be given an award from Alberta Tourism. It’s also a riveting tale that will appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.