Now back from three lovely weeks in Canada, I can confirm that British Columbia – or at least the fraction we saw of its expanse (four times that of the UK) – is breathtakingly beautiful. We divided our stay between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with lots of time spent on ferries, water-taxis and seaplanes, and my abiding memory will be the blue of the seascapes and the American Olympic mountains to the south.
In my previous post I mentioned Munro’s Books, a famous bookshop in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Thanks to a tip from Cathy Ace, the Welsh-Canadian crime novelist, I subsequently found my way to Chronicles of Crime, a mystery bookshop run by Frances Thorsen on Fort Street. If you’re a crime fan and are ever in Victoria, you MUST visit this wonderful bookshop, which is an absolute treasure-trove and an excellent place to meet other crime aficionados. Frances also ships overseas (time to sit on the credit card)…
I spent a couple of happy hours browsing the bookshelves, which are helpfully and imaginatively categorised.
As a tourist, I obviously made a beeline for the Canadian section, and picked up some reading to help me get a feel for different parts of this vast country.
Louise Penny’s Bury the Dead (2010) – Quebec City, Quebec (on the lower right of the map). This is the sixth instalment in the acclaimed Inspector Gamache series, and provides a fascinating insight into the tensions between French and English-speaking parts of Canada. Set during a freezing winter in the heart of old Quebec, the novel has a great sense of history and place, and Gamache is a well-drawn investigative figure. However, with three major plot-lines, I felt there was too much going on in the narrative, and the writing style grated in places. I’m new to the series, and might benefit from going back to earlier books.
Anthony Bidulka, Amuse Bouche (2003) – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (left of centre on map). I very much enjoyed this first novel in the Russell Quant series, whose highly engaging P.I. (‘cute, gay, with a nose for good wine and bad lies’), is based in the city of Saskatoon in the Canadian plains. I’ll definitely be chasing up the other Quant novels in due course.
Stanley Evans, Seaweed on the Street (2005) and Seaweed on Ice (2006) – Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (far left on map). These novels were the find of the trip for me. I’d not heard of the author before, who started writing this series in his seventies (there’s hope for us all yet). Set in downtown Victoria and in the coastal areas surrounding the city, it features Silas Seaweed, a Coast Salish (First Nations) neighbourhood cop, whose investigations illuminate the traditions of Canada’s aboriginal communities and the difficulties they face in modern life. Well-written and with a wry sense of humour, they capture Victoria perfectly and were a pleasure to read while staying there. The second novel, Ice, which opens with the disappearance of an elderly Jewish immigrant, can also be added to my research database – a happy bonus.
So now I feel like I’ve made a modest start on Canadian crime fiction, although there’s clearly much more work to be done! I’ll be browsing the Crime Writers of Canada website, which has a wealth of useful resources, for more in the near future. I think I’ll start in the Canadian crime novels by region section…