There are fine distinctions, so say the genre purists, between crime fiction, detective fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, and here we go lumping them all in together, but on another level, books are just books, and is there any novel that doesn't have an element of mystery at its core? So forgive us, is what I mean, as we suggest the must-have titles to reading this spring (which is rapidly moving toward summer, when mystery novels somehow seem most vital).
The Corpse With the Sapphire Eyes, by Cathy Ace
About the book: It's Cait and Bud's wedding weekend and for the first time she feels like a bride—or at least, she's supposed to. But then the rain won't quit, the supposedly romantic Welsh castle feels creepy, and there's a dead body on the stairs.
What first appears to have been the untimely, unfortunate, and accidental death of their wedding choirmaster quickly reveals itself to have been a murder. And when a series of mysterious events occur around the castle, Cait, Bud, and Cait's sister Sian tackle the case of The Corpse with the Sapphire Eyes, attempting to solve the mystery before another sinister event can ruin their destination wedding.
Why we're taking notice: Cathy Ace writes, "They say 'write what you know,' so a short, plus-sized Welsh woman, who’s quite bossy, fits the bill!" To our mind, there are not enough short, plus-sized Welsh sleuths out there. Ace's most recent Cait Morgan mystery, The Corpse With the Platinum Hair, was recently shortlisted for the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.
True Believers, by Michael Blair
About the book: Business is slow for Burlington, Vermont, private investigator John "Hack" Loomis, so when Loomis's assistant Connie Noble asks him to look into the disappearance of her friend, Belle Ryerson, Loomis agrees. Belle went missing after attending a meeting of a local UFO group run by a charismatic psychiatrist who treats people who believe they've been abducted by aliens, and also by a disarmingly beautiful woman who claims to be in contact with an alien mother ship. As Loomis's investigation takes him and Connie to the edge of the lunatic fringe and beyond, they find themselves in danger from people far more frightening than true believers.
Why we're taking notice: Aliens! Plus, Michael Blair was celebrated for his early works (shortlisted for the the 1999 Chapters/Robertson Davies Prize and the 2001 Quebec Writers’ Federation First Book Prize). In his latest, according to The Montreal Review of Books, "Blair fashions a convincing tale of gullibility and greed, leavening his story with his trademark sly humour."
A Pitying of Doves, by Steve Burrows
About the book: Why would a killer ignore expensive jewellery and take a pair of turtledoves as the only bounty?
This is only one of the questions that piques Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune’s interest after a senior attaché with the Mexican Consulate is found murdered alongside the director of a local bird sanctuary. The fact that the director’s death has opened up a full-time research position studying birds hasn’t eluded Jejeune either. Could this be the escape from policing that the celebrated detective has been seeking? Even if it is, Jejeune knows he owes it to the victims to solve the case first. But a trail that weaves from embittered aviary owners to suspicious bird sculptors only seems to be leading him farther from the truth. Meanwhile, Jejeune is discovering that diplomatic co-operation and diplomatic pressure go hand in hand. With two careers hanging in the balance, the stakes have never been higher for Inspector Jejeune. And this time, even bringing a killer to justice may not provide the closure he’s looking for.
Why we're taking notice: Reviewer Sarah Weinman wrote of the first installment of Burrows' Birder Murder series that, "While Jejeune may not be too enthusiastic about his profession, it’s easy to be enthusiastic about Burrows’ first mystery, and I’m looking forward to more fowl play in the future." We are very excited that the future is now.
The Sicilian Wife, by Caterina Edwards
About the book: The Sicilian Wife is both a literary novel and a mystery. Fulvia, the Mafia Princess, must be a dutiful daughter or the family will be dishonoured. Though she eventually escapes and makes a new life in Canada, she is betrayed and then her husband is murdered on the Sicilian coast. The police Chief investigating the case is Marisa, who faces a station house of skeptical men as well as confronting Fulvia's uncle, the boss of bosses. Interweaving folk tales, classical allusions, and recent Italian history with the conventions of the detective story in this powerful new novel, Caterina Edwards uses the literary noir to question the very possibility of justice and free will.
Why we're taking notice: With the literary world gripped by mania for Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, readers will be keen to read more fiction about recent Italian history.
Ruined Abbey, by Anne Emery
About the book: It’s 1989. The Troubles are raging in Ireland, bombs exploding in England. In this prequel to the Collins-Burke series, Father Brennan Burke is home in New York when news of his sister’s arrest in London sends him flying across the ocean. The family troubles deepen when Brennan’s cousin Conn is charged with the murder of a Special Branch detective and suspected in a terrorist plot against Westminster Abbey. The Burkes come under surveillance by the murdered cop’s partner and are caught in a tangle of buried family memories.
From the bullet-riddled bars of Belfast to an elegant English estate, Ruined Abbey combines a whodunit with a war story, love story, and historical novel, while exploring the eternal question: what is fair in love and war? It all starts with a ruined abbey.
Why we're taking notice: Emery has won multiple awards for her Collins-Burke series (including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel in 2007 for Sign of the Cross), and this new prequel provides new insight into its characters.
The Night Thief, by Barbara Fradkin
About the book: Simple country handyman Cedric O’Toole relies on his organic vegetable garden to supplement his meager income, so he’s upset when vegetables begin disappearing. After several futile attempts to protect the garden, he stakes it out one night with his shotgun and spots a shadowy figure running into the woods. Cedric follows and finds a young boy living rough on his land. The boy has never been taught to read or write, and no one has reported him missing. No stranger to childhood neglect himself, Cedric takes the boy under his wing and tries to find answers. Who is the mystery boy, and why is he hiding in the woods?
Why we're taking notice: In conversation with 49th Shelf, Sarah Weinman named Fradkin as a writer who "cast[s] big long shadows" over the CanCrime genre. The Night Thief is Fradkin's third book in the Cedric O'Toole series, part of Orca Books' Rapid Reads series of "quick, engaging reads by bestselling authors."
Disappearing Act, by Dayle Campbell Gaetz
About the book: At age 20, Leena O'Neil walked away from her old life. Anything to avoid becoming a lawyer like her mother and older sister, Georgia. Three years later, Georgia contacts her, convinced that her husband is trying to kill her rather than divorce her. Reluctantly, Leena agrees to help. But the stakes go up when Georgia’s husband, Mark, is murdered. Now she wonders if the person who killed Mark is out to get Georgia as well. Armed with several online courses in criminology and investigative strategies, Leena considers herself "almost a private investigator" and she sets out to uncover the truth.
Why we're taking notice: Another book in the Rapid Reads Series. CM Magazine writes, "Disappearing Act will appeal to a wide audience. The high interest topic, relatable protagonist, and gripping plot will be of interest to reluctant readers, English language learners, and strong readers looking for a quick read."
Safe as Houses, by Susan Glickman
About the book: Liz Ryerson believes that Hillcrest Village, her Toronto neighbourhood, is quaint and quiet, but stumbling over a corpse while walking her dog dissolves that illusion for good. When she realizes that she actually knew the dead man, a real estate broker who appraised the building she co-owns with her philandering ex-husband, she becomes obsessed with solving the crime. The more instability is revealed in her life, the more she needs to find out who killed James Scott—and why. Retired Classics professor Maxime Bertrand is delighted to play Watson to her Holmes. For Liz, the investigation is a way of asserting control in a world she no longer recognizes. It is also a means of proving to herself and her children she is not in retreat from life but can grow and change. For Maxime, it's a way of becoming re-engaged in life after his wife's death. Neither of them anticipates the possibility of real danger, despite police warning them to stop meddling in criminal matters. In Safe as Houses, novelist Susan Glickman explores her own Toronto neighbourhood, imagining how a confrontation with murder might peel away its veneer of security and civility. She also shows, through her warm, witty and wise depiction of everyday life, what is worth saving.
Why we're taking notice: Glickman's first novel was a book of the year by the National Post, and won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. She has also been celebrated for her poetry and writing for children. No doubt, good things will come about her having turned her hand to suspense.
The Devil's Making, by Sean Heldane
About the book: Victoria, 1869. The ramshackle capital of British Columbia, the last colony in North America, where a few thousand settlers aspire to the values of the Victorian age while coexisting beside the native Indians that vastly outnumber them. That peace is challenged when a mutilated body is discovered: Dr. McCrory, an American alienist whose methods include phrenology, Mesmerism, and sexual-mystical magnetation.
Chad Hobbes, recently arrived from England, is the policeman who must solve the crime. At first it's assumed the murderer was a Tsimshian medicine man, Wiladzap, who has already been arrested. It would be easy for Hobbes to let Wiladzap swing for the murder, but his own interest in an Indian woman causes him to look at the case in more detail. And once he does, he discovers that everyone who knew McCrory seems to have something to hide.
Why we're taking notice: Published by a small Irish press, The Devil's Making was the surprise winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 2014.
The Heart of Hell, by Alen Mattich
About the book: Autumn 1991. Civil war has broken out in Yugoslavia with Croatia’s declaration of independence, and former secret policeman Marko della Torre is set adrift. Department VI, the internal investigations unit, is now in a state of paralysis as Belgrade struggles to maintain its hold as the region’s centre of power. When the body of a young woman, identified as American agent Rebecca Vees, washes up on the shores of Italy, della Torre is summoned by U.S. authorities. He is the last person to have seen Rebecca alive. Her two colleagues have also been found shot dead on an island in Croatia, and della Torre is coerced into locating the man they think is responsible: the corrupt and unscrupulous Zagreb cop, Julius Strumbic. Forced to navigate Yugoslavia’s bloody civil war in order to track Strumbic’s whereabouts, della Torre has to decide whether he will warn his old friend or give him up to the Americans to save himself.
Why we're taking notice: This is the third installment in Mattich's Marko della Torre series. "Mattich's real genius lies in his ability to inject moments of high comedy into this gripping thriller," writes Misha Glenny of the first book. Sounds good to us.
Black Tide Rising, by R.J. McMillen
About the book: It’s been a year since retired cop Dan Connor formed an unlikely partnership with ex-criminal Walker, to find Claire, a missing marine biologist. And it's been a year since he fell for her. Now he finally has the chance to enjoy both his retirement and the relationship as he travels up the Pacific Northwest coast of British Columbia to meet her in the remote village of Kyuquot. But when Dan stops for a visit with the lighthouse keepers of Nootka Island, he finds himself pulled into yet another case involving a missing woman. But this time he discovers the mutilated remains of a sacred totem and an unsettlingly large pool of blood.
With the unexpected yet welcome arrival of Walker, the sighting of three known criminals in the area, and the discovery of a young boy's lifeless body, Dan is thrust back into active duty. Once again he must rely on his own logic and Walker's wisdom and detailed knowledge of the area to solve the case while lives hang in the balance.
Why we're taking notice: McMillen's first novel was praised for its evocative setting on the Pacific Northwest coast, and readers are anticipating this new title, second in the series.
Editor's Note: Yes, Sherlock. There are actually eleven books on this list. We are not terrible at math, we just love books. We are unabashed.
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