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Vicki Delany Selects Uniquely Canadian Crime Books
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Vicki Delany Selects Uniquely Canadian Crime Books

By 49thShelf
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Canadians are busting out all over the world of crime writing. Both in Canada and around the world you can find our intrepid sleuths solving crimes, getting into trouble, sorting out the bad guys (sometimes not!) and occasionally having fun. But whether home or away, they bring something uniquely Canadian to the stories they have to tell.
Cecilian Vespers

Cecilian Vespers

A Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
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Father Burke appeared ready to burst into song, or at least into chant, as he tacked Saint Thomas’s words to a bulletin board at the entrance to the building. He said, simply: "Let our work begin."

 

"Our work" was the inaugural session of the new Schola Cantorum Sancta Bernadetta, under the directorship of the Reverend Father Brennan Xavier Burke, BA (Fordham), STL (Pontifical Gregorian), STD (Angelicum). The schola was a kind of choir school for grown–ups, who would be learning or relearning the traditional music of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant and Renaissance choral music had been largely shunted aside over the past thirty years. For the church, the cataclysmic event of the 1960s was the Second Vatican Council, popularly known as Vatican II. It was a meeting of bishops and theologians from around the world, called together by Pope John XXIII for the purpose of opening the windows of the church to the modern world. When you open a window, fresh air may blow in, but something else may get blown out. In the opinion of Father Burke, the great musical heritage of the church went out the window after Vatican II. In setting up his schola cantorum, he intended to do his part to recover what had been lost.

My law firm, Stratton Sommers, had done the legal work for the schola, but my involvement went far beyond that. My family and I— my estranged wife Maura, son Tommy Douglas, and daughter Normie — had been privy to Father Burke’s anticipation, his anxiety, and his all–night planning sessions as he worked towards the realization of his dream. It was a lot of work but we were happy to assist in any way we could. We knew that if he succeeded in establishing the school, he would be making a permanent home in Halifax. Burke had spent much of his childhood in Ireland, most of his adult life in New York, and the past few years here in Nova Scotia. By this point we felt wedded to him, for better or for worse, and I know the lights would dim if he walked out of our lives. Not surprisingly, then, I was on hand for the introductory session.

"Now, Father, be mindful of the possibility that others in the group may have, em, views that differ from your own." The gentle warning came from Burke’s pastor, Monsignor Michael O’Flaherty, a slight, white–haired priest who spoke with a lilting Irish brogue. "I know this is your show, but a bit of advice from your elders may not go amiss. Just remember to be patient, forbearing, courteous, and open to the variety of —"

"Michael," Burke interrupted, "when have I ever failed to be patient and forbearing?"

The older priest—who really was patient and forbearing, and who answered to "Michael" or "Mike" as cheerfully as to "Monsignor" — sent me a knowing glance, which I returned. He knew as well as I did that when the meek inherited the earth, Father Brennan Burke would not be among those on the podium taking a salute.

"Besides," Burke was saying, in a clipped Irish voice that could never be described as lilting, "these people know what they’ve signed up for. The fact they are here says to me that they have certain views on the Mass and on music that accord with my own."

"Oh, I wouldn’t make that assumption now, Brennan. Not necessarily. Just keep caution in mind, my son." Michael turned to me. "Any advice for him, Monty, before he goes up there?"

"Somehow I suspect my words would be wasted, Michael," I answered.

We had reached the gymnasium of St. Bernadette’s choir school, where the schola had its headquarters and the students were already gathered. Monsignor O’Flaherty and I took seats in the back. Burke went to the front of the gym and took his place at the lectern. Tall, with black eyes and black hair threaded with silver, Burke was a commanding figure in his clerical suit and Roman collar. He faced his inaugural class of just under sixty students. They were priests, nuns, friars, and a smattering of laymen and women from all over North America, Europe, and Japan. The term was originally intended to begin in September and wind up before Christmas. But, owing to the meddling of the priests’ housekeeper, Mrs. Kelly, the notices and registration forms were several weeks late going out. The housekeeper, who had never quite approved of the worldly Father Burke and was not skilful enough to mask her disapproval, wrongly believed the papers had to be seen and endorsed by the bishop. By the time Burke discovered the error and set her straight in a blast that nearly blistered the paint off the walls, he had missed a number of publication deadlines. The first session had to be delayed, throwing the whole year’s schedule off.

But the big day had arrived. It was Monday, November 18, 1991. Burke began his opening address: "Welcome to the first session of the schola cantorum. I am Father Burke, and I look forward to meeting each of you when we begin our work this afternoon. Your presence here suggests to me that you are looking for something deeper, something richer, something more, shall we say, mature than the liturgy and music you may be encountering in your home parish. I have heard the term ‘do–it–yourself Mass’ and that pretty well —"

"The phrase ‘do–it–yourself ’ raises a red flag to me, Father! It suggests that you disparage anything but the old, conservative liturgy that held sway before the Second Vatican Council." The speaker was a heavy–set woman of middle age, with a large wooden cross hanging from a strip of leather around her neck.

"Well, you’re right in part. There is much that has crept into the church today that I disparage. But people have the wrong idea when they blame Vatican II. None of that was envisioned by the Council—"

"Oh, I think you’re being too kind there, Father, too kind altogether." An elderly priest struggled to his feet with the aid of a cane; he faced Burke, then turned to address the crowd. "In fact we can put the blame squarely on the Second Vatican Council for destroying the very essence of Catholic worship; some would say the very essence of Catholicism itself."

The first speaker was back before Burke could respond. "So some liturgical practices are not as good as others? Is that what you’re saying, Father Burke? Are you admitting you’re an elitist?"

Many a schoolteacher would have envied Father Burke at that moment; he may have been under siege, but he had the attention of every student in the room.

"We are members of the Roman Catholic Church," Burke countered. "That is not an institution founded on relativism, moral or otherwise. We need look no further than Saint Thomas Aquinas, who speaks of degrees of perfection. Gradibus in rebus , gradations in things. Thomas says some things are better, truer, finer than others. And that is certainly true of music. When you compare Mozart with, well, some of the tripe —"

"I was right," the woman asserted. "An elitist. Well, that approach leaves out great segments of our community, I’m afraid, Father. Not everyone can appreciate —"

"Who’s being an elitist now?" Burke snapped. I was surprised he had held his temper this long. "I refuse to talk down to my congregation, as if the people are simpletons who ‘don’t get’ the great music. I refuse to insult their intelligence with childish, jaunty, sentimental little tunes —"

"So we’re going to be stuck with all the old music? I thought we were going to dialogue and workshop together to create some music of our own. There’s a group of us here who have been sharing ideas for some new compositions for the Mass."

Burke’s customary deadpan expression gave way to one of horror. How had someone who proposed composition by committee found her way into his schola, a bastion of traditional music?

He eventually got back on track and continued his address. The vast majority of the group were attentive and silent, but he was going to have his hands full with the disgruntled minorities in the student body. If things proved dull in the criminal courts, where I spent most of my days, I’d make a point of dropping in to the schola to observe the fireworks!

 

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Why it's on the list ...
When a controversial Catholic Priest is murdered in a church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, musician Monty Collins and priest Brenden Burke investigate. This course of action takes them to Europe and into the Vatican itself. Emery's novels are rich with the true voice of Nova Scotia, and Cecilian Vespers examines Canadians' conflicted opinions over the role of religion in the modern world.
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A Green Place for Dying
Why it's on the list ...
Where else do Canadians go in search of peace but the wilderness. Harlick's protagonist, Meg Harris, has fled her wealthy family and her alcoholism to settle on the 40 acre property in the wilderness of West Quebec. In the fifth novel in the series, Harris is compelled to seek justice for the daughter of one of her friends—a First Nations girl who has gone missing—when the police seemingly don't care. What could be a more Canadian story right now?
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Sundowner Ubuntu

Sundowner Ubuntu

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
In every book in the Russell Quant series, Bidulka takes his Saskatoon-based PI character on a romp around the world. Handsome, charming, intelligent, passionate, friendly, in every place he visits Quant is prepared to be awed and amazed. He loves travel for the love of it, and to meet people and to learn about their lives. Quant is anything but the stereotypical North American tourist. In Sundowner Ubuntu it's Africa's turn to charm, and to be charmed by, Russell Quant.
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Gold Web

Gold Web

A Klondike Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
In this the fourth of the Klondike Gold Rush series, international intrigue comes to Dawson City, Yukon, in 1898 as various parties scheme to wrest control of the gold-rich territory from Canada. Dawson City in the Gold Rush was a truly Canadian place—a Wild West town under the firm control of the North-West Mounted Police. So strict was law-and-order that firearms were banned outright in town, businesses were closed for "the Lord's Day" and one could (and people were) jailed for the use of vile language. No shoot outs on the Main Street at high noon in this frontier town.
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47 Sorrows

47 Sorrows

A Thaddeus Lewis Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
Kellough's Thaddeus Lewis series is Canadian history as "ordinary" Canadians lived it. No battles, no politicians or generals, just people struggling to build a life out of untamed wilderness. 47 Sorrows is a wrenching novel of the plight of the Irish immigrants fleeing famine in their homeland who arrive in Canada by the tens of thousands, bringing with them the dreaded "ships fever" that overwhelms the small communities of Kingston and Toronto and puts both residents and new-comers to the test.
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Beautiful Lie the Dead

Beautiful Lie the Dead

An Inspector Green Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: eBook Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
Inspector Michael Green is an Ottawa police officer. He's a good cop and a good family man. He's has no problems with alcohol, and although he was divorced long ago, he's now in a happy, stable marriage and has a young child. He has no demons to struggle with, and even gets on (most of the time) with his colleagues and superiors. He is, in short, a pretty Canadian guy. And, because Fradkin's novels aren't littered with Green struggling to overcome addiction, or a boss out to get him, he can concentrate on what he does best: being a homicide cop in Canada's capital.
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April Fool

April Fool

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
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Excerpt

Nick the Owl Faloon is sitting beside a stone fox by the name of Eve Winters, who is apparently some kind of shrink. They’re scoffing up fresh-­caught sockeye, sharing a long table with four couples from Topeka, Kansas, who are up here on a wet spring holiday. In spite of all the happy talk, the Owl picks up there is an edge to this dinner, the men regretting they brought their wives along. A fishing extravaganza that put them back a few yards each, and they bring their wives when they’d rather get plotzed and bond.

Though square, they are nice average people, and Faloon hopes they’re well insured so he’s not going to feel bad about the coming night’s entreprise risquée, his plan to whack their rooms out. Two weeks ago, while here on a previous dining experience, he made a clean play for the master key, slipping it off its hook long enough to wax it. He also checked a typical room, there was no nighter to secure the door from inside, just a security chain.

“And are you a sports fisher too?”

It’s Eve Winters, she has finally become aware of his existence, maybe assuming the little owl-­like creature to her left ­can’t possibly be as boring as the other guy beside her, a condominium developer with a spiel of corny jokes. She is somewhere in her thirties, very tall and slender, ash blond, looking in good health — she has done the trail, Faloon overheard her say that, six gruelling days. Sports fisher, she’s politically correct, a feminist.

“No, ma’am, I run a little lodge down the hill. Less expensive than this here establishment, but to be honest my food ­isn’t as good.”

The Owl is speaking of the Nitinat Lodge, which is on a back street in this two-­bit town of Bamfield without much of a view, and mostly gets backpackers and low-­rental weekenders. The Breakers Inn, looking over the Pacific Ocean, survives on its summer fat and still, in March, gets the fishers from Topeka or Indianapolis. And the way these tourists are spending tonight, that’ll pay the chef’s salary for the month. Faloon had to lay off his own cook for the off-­season.

“But I would imagine you have a more exotic clientele.” Eve Winters says in a clear, liquid voice, maybe so her other seatmate can get the point. She has marked down the condo developer as a chauvinist bore, with his story about the fisherman and the mermaid. What is interesting about this guy, to Faloon anyway, is that adding to the bulge of his size forty-­eight kitchen is a thick moneybelt.

Faloon tells Eve Winters how he bought his small lodge a year and a half ago, and how he caters to hikers mostly; he likes vigorous outdoorspeople, finds them interesting. That gets this lovely creature talking about her six days on the West Coast Trail with three friends. He enjoys the refined way she expresses herself: “I had a sense of eternity out there, the wind in the pines, and the wild relentless surf.”

It ­isn’t easy to concentrate on tonight’s job, Operation Breakers Inn, because he feels a little hypnotized by the soft grey eyes of Eve Winters, who ­doesn’t take on sharp outline, she’s like an Impressionist painting. The Owl, who is starting to wonder if he needs his eyes checked, senses her aura, a silver haze floating about her head. No makeup, but none needed, her face tanned gently by the wind and whatever sun you get this time of year on the West Coast. Dressed casually, jeans and light sweater.

Hardly anyone does the trail so early in spring, when it’s still a swamp. This has meant a near-­zero occupancy rate at the Nitinat since last fall, and by now, the final day of March, he is two months behind in his mortgage payments. His financial adviser, Freddy Jacoby, also his fence, warned him, you’ll get three months’ business max, maybe four if it ­don’t piss in June. The Nitinat Lodge was his retirement program, cash in on the tourist trade, accommodate wayfarers in the middle of what turned out to be nowhere or, more accurately, the western shore of Vancouver Island — you can only get here by logging roads or the local packet freighter, the Lady Rose.

Eve Winters says she supposes he’s walked the West Coast Trail many times, and he replies no, not once, and it’s one of his greatest sorrows. A skiing accident prevented him from pursuing his passion for the outdoors, he gets along with two pins in his right leg. That ­isn’t the honest truth, which is that the Owl ­doesn’t like walking more than he has to. Faloon is an easy person to talk to, he brings people out — he’s curious by nature, an information-­gatherer. So he urges her on about how she found Bamfield “unspeakably funky” and stayed on for a week after her three girlfriends left on the Lady Rose.

What Faloon finds unspeakably funky about Bamfield, permanent population three hundred and something, is that it’s almost useless to have a car — you take a water taxi to go anywhere, an inlet splits the town in two, and the terrain on this side is sort of impenetrable. This is the pretty side, though, West Bamfield, with its boardwalks rimming the shore, resorts and craft stores, eye-­popping beaches a stroll away, but East Bamfield has the only saloon. The most attractive thing about the town, though, is the RCMP detachment is a couple of hours away by boat or car, in Port Alberni.

The lady lets drop that her full title is Dr. Eve Winters, and according to the card she gives him she has a Ph.D., her angle being something complicated, a “relationship analyst.” He gets the impression he’s supposed to have heard of her. And maybe he has, he remembers something in one of the papers, a weekly column with her picture, like Ann Landers. She’s not staying here at the Breakers, but renting a cottage down by Brady Beach. The Owl assumes, without asking, that Dr. Winters is alone there. The Cotters’ Cottage, locals call it, is owned by an old couple in East Bam.

“So tell me — is there any entertainment in town on a Friday night?”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Why it's on the list ...
If there is a more typical Canadian character in modern crime fiction than Deverell's Arthur Beauchamp, I don't know about them. A retired high-profile lawyer, Beauchamp lives on an organic farm on one of the Gulf Islands, surrounded by eccentric but well-meaning neighbours. In April Fool, Beauchamp's wife, Margaret, climbs an old-growth tree to save it from loggers. In later books, Margaret runs for the Green Party, and wins! And Arthur is off to Ottawa as a very unwilling (and opinionated) politician's spouse.
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The Gifted

The Gifted

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
tagged : women sleuths
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Why it's on the list ...
Teacher, mother, grandmother, widow and wife, Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn is a typical Regina woman, living a quiet life on the Prairies. Until murder intervenes, of course. Bowen's gentle, soft prose highlights salt-of-the Earth characters, the sort you meet in your own neighbourhood or at your children's school. Through 14 books over three decades we've watched Joanne age, find love and lose it, and then find it again. Her children have become adults, and then have children of their own. The Gifted is the latest in the series.
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