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2020 Arthur Ellis Awards Shortlists

By 49thShelf
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An amazing array of titles are up for this year's Arthur Ellis Awards, sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada. Congratulations to all the nominees. Check out the full list at


A Novel

From the award-winning author of If I Fall, If I Die comes a propulsive, multigenerational family story, in which the unexpected legacies of a remote island off the coast of British Columbia will link the fates of five people over a hundred years. Cloud Atlas meets The Overstory in this ingenious nested-ring epic set against the devastation o …

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They come for the trees.

To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls.

From the world’s dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort—a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia—to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth’s once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that it isn’t too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it’s Jake Greenwood’s job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them.

God’s Middle Finger

As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning’s group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she’ll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that’s replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she’s already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she’d made an exception today.

Despite the liter of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake’s hungover brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she’s woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction.

“Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral,” she says in a loud, theatrical voice. “You’re standing on fifty-seven square kilometers of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth.” Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they’re fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour.

“These trees act like huge air filters,” she carries on. “Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans.” On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses.

While Jake is free to mention the Earth’s rampant dust storms in the abstract, it’s Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering—the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world’s forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it’s her job (and jobs, she’s aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do.

Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island’s most senior Forest Guide and Jake’s closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn’t command a year’s salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral—which faith’s sacred structures weren’t designed with trees as inspiration?

Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it’s difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: “So how much would a thing like this weigh?” asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. “This reminds me of being a girl,” a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar.

While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir’s bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they’ve paid the Cathedral’s hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can’t escape the burden of how relaxed they’re supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it’s costing them to fail.

The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn’t she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch—the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world’s dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children—yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that’s missing from their lives. They’ve read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing.” They’ve listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they’re here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren’t mired in student debt and hadn’t embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she’d gladly be one of them.

When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed “Upscale Logging Camp” by the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Today, it’s artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s’mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake’s eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He’s wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can’t afford a screen in her staff cabin—her student loan interest payments don’t leave her enough for Internet access—she seldom recognizes the resort’s famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they’ve forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her.

After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour’s grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: “Many of the Cathedral’s trees are over twelve hundred years old. That’s older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies.

“Like this one,” she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island’s tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named “God’s Middle Finger.” “This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet.” She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She’s laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she’s finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. “Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That’s twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree’s needled crown into the clouds.”

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An Uncle Chow Tung Novel
also available: Paperback

The first book in a gripping new Ava Lee spin-off series featuring fan-favourite Uncle Chow Tung and his ascendancy to the head of the Triad gang in Fanling.
Hong Kong, 1969. The Dragon Head of the Fanling Triad has died and there is a struggle to replace him among senior members of the gang. Normally, the Deputy Mountain Master is next in line, but this one is weak and ineffectual and has only survived because of the protection of the Dragon Head. Up to this point, the Fanling Triad has operate …

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"Authentic, disturbing and unbearably tense, Hideaway will leave you reeling." --Shari Lapena, #1 internationally bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

Gloria Janes appears to be a doting suburban mother and loving wife. But beyond her canary-yellow door, Gloria controls her husband, Telly, as well as seven-year-old Maisy and her older brother Rowan, through a disorienting cycle of adoration and banishment.

When Telly leaves, Gloria turns on Rowan. He runs away, finding unlikely refuge with …

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I could tell by her face. She knew what I’d done. The school counselor had said he wouldn’t tell Gloria, but one glance at my mother and I was sure she’d gotten a phone call. When I walked down Pinchkiss Circle she was standing in front of our house holding a hammer and a piece of wood. As I got closer, I could see she’d painted a single misspelled word right in the middle of it.
I wasn’t expecting that.
The whole meeting with the counselor had been no big deal. That was what I’d thought, anyway. He wanted to talk about the change in my “family structure,” which meant Telly walking out on me and my little sister last month. Gloria had tried to hide it, but once our neighbor Mrs. Spooner noticed Telly’s truck was gone all the time, everyone soon found out. “Rowan, I know school’s almost over,” the counselor had said, “but I want to end on a positive. You’ve been upset, that’s clear, but some people do really construc­tive things with their anger.”
I didn’t know what he meant. Was I supposed to build something? Tear something down?
Then he asked if I had “good buddies to lean on.”
I shook my head.
“Boys to pal around with?”
I shook my head again. The fact was, I didn’t have a single friend. Besides Darrell, an older kid who lived a few houses up from us on the circle. Sometimes he’d invite me over for a soda, or to see his motorcycle.
The counselor leaned forward, put his elbows on his desk. He was wear­ing a skinny purple tie. It matched the purple frame on his glasses. “What about the future? What do you dream about?”
“At night?” I asked. I didn’t mention how he’d just ended three of the last four sentences in prepositions. That would really bug Mrs. Spooner. She was also my language arts teacher.
“No, in general. What are your aspirations?”
I told him I wanted to fix my skin. Maybe that would help me find some “good buddies to lean on.” People were afraid I was contagious. Even the teachers never came too close. Well, besides Mrs. Spooner. The only person who actually liked my spots was Maisy. Ever since she was little she’d thought there was a map growing out through me. That I was the key to some trea­sure. Sometimes when Gloria said mean things, I’d find a tiny note on torn paper under my pillow. “You ar beeutifell.” Even though it was weird for Maisy to say that to her brother, I kept every one.
“What other things? What makes you happy, Rowan?”
I didn’t tell him my idea of getting on a train and going back to find Gran. Which was impossible now, because Gran was dead. Instead I told the counselor about my dream of hitting a home run. Having that bat in my hands, swinging it as hard as I could, and striking the fat round ball out of the park. The crowd always leapt up from the stands and screamed and roared.
“Do you imagine that a lot?” he said.
“Yeah. I do. All the time.”
“Maybe we should start a team in September. Get uniforms. I could coach.”
I stared down at my hands. There was a neat white island over the bottom part of my thumb.
“The school might fund it.”
“Still,” I said. He thought I was worried about money. “I don’t think it ’d work.”
“Why not?”
I shrugged. I didn’t mention that in my dream I was the only one on the team. And I certainly didn’t mention that when I looked down at the bat it was often a blur of red. Bits of bone and broken teeth. Sometimes in my imagination the ball was just a ball, but most times it was a head. Sound of a melon smashing as the swinging bat tore it straight off. My stomach filling up with satisfaction.
Mrs. Spooner always told me I had a creative mind.
“Well,” the counselor said, “at least you’ve got a supportive mom. Even with your dad gone, she’s on your side. We’ve got to count our blessings, right?”
“Yeah.” I nodded and smiled. “I’m pretty lucky. You won’t tell her about what I took, right?”
“Stole, you mean.”
“Stole,” I whispered.
“I’ll have to think about it, Rowan. Leave it with me.”
I’d thought that meant he wouldn’t call. But as I got closer to home, Gloria was staring at me. One foot up on the steps leading to the front porch. Maisy was nowhere to be seen. She’d already walked home from school with her friend Shar. She could be out playing, or she could be hiding away. She was like that, vanishing at the first sign of trouble.
“Get over here,” Gloria said.
I dragged my feet.
“I’m at the end of my rope with you. Do you know that? The very end of it.” She spoke in a low growl. Gloria never yelled outside.
I looked down at my sneakers. They were covered in a fine film of dust from our driveway. “Sorry,” I said.
“Sorry? Sorry? That’s all you got to say? I’ve never been so ashamed. Grabbing chocolate bars out of some teacher’s purse? Like you don’t get enough to eat at home? And everyone nosing around in our business. That woman, that, that Mrs. Spooner, and now some school counselor calling me. Talking about Telly running off. Because nothing ever went wrong in their perfect lives.”
“I said I was sorry, Gloria.”
“Oh, buddy boy. You’re going to be sorry.”
I expected her to walk up our driveway and stop at the bottom of Pinchkiss Circle. I thought she’d make me stand beside the rain gutter so our neighbors could see the sign. But instead she went in the opposite direc­tion. She strode across the fresh green grass and stepped into the woods.
As I followed behind her I noticed Maisy, tucked into the furthest corner of the deck that was built off the side of our house. Our dog, Chicken, was snoring beside her. She watched me with her blue eyes, her round face frowning. I knew what she was thinking. Don’t go. Don’t go in there. I waved, made a weak attempt at a cartwheel to make her smile. Then I ran to catch up with Gloria.
When I entered the woods, my heart sped up a bit. I called out, “Isn’t this the wrong way, Gloria?” As far back as I could remember, Maisy and I had called our parents by their first names. Gloria said it was modern, pro­gressive. Our mother was always Gloria. And our dad was always Telly.
She ignored my question, just kept marching forward, her new blond hair bouncing, the sign jammed into her armpit. I had to rush to keep up. One of Gloria’s steps was two of mine. We went further and further into the woods.
“This is just dumb!” I yelled. “Someone’s supposed to see me, aren’t they?”
She snickered, said over her shoulder, “You know, lots of wolves live in here.” Her voice was cheerful.
I laughed. “I’m thirteen, Gloria. That dumb stuff doesn’t scare me anymore.”
She swept past branches and stomped over mossy logs. Gloria had thick legs. “Telly almost caught one once. Enormous ugly thing. Fur all stuck down. They like to hunt when it’s dark.”
“So?” I said.
“Green eyes show up first. Then you hear them sniffing and scratching.”
“Oh.” A squirt of sickness shot through my guts. Around me the shad­ows were long and narrow.
After a lot of walking, Gloria stopped. The trees had grown thicker and the ground was spongy under my feet. She turned in a slow circle, then lifted the sign. Dug a nail from her pocket and fixed it to a trunk. Three hard slams with the hammer. “Stand there,” she said.
“That’s what I said, didn’t I? Under your sign.”
I didn’t understand why we were in the woods. Weeks ago, Gloria told us about a girl she saw outside the front door of Stafford’s department store. Apparently, the kid had taken a baby soother because her brother was crying. As punishment, her mother taped construction paper to her T-shirt with a message that read, “Do not trust me. I rob stuff.” I thought Gloria was going to do the same thing. So the neighbors could gawk. “This doesn’t make sense. Nobody lives in here.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s just trees, Gloria. And squirrels.”
She looked me right in the eye. “Wait and see, mister,” she said. “No-body don’t mean no-thing. Try not to breathe when you hear one of them. They’ll smell you a mile away.”
Then she left me standing under the sign. She wound her way back through the trees, and I could hear her humming a tune. The notes of her music vanished just seconds before she did.
I stood there, waiting. My stomach groaned. It had to be dinnertime by now. Gloria was probably cooking noodles or heating up a can of soup. Any moment, she’d be back. She’d find me exactly where I was and realize I wasn’t bothered one bit. And who ’d win then? Wolves? What a joke.
But she never appeared. Water from the swampy ground seeped through my sneakers. My feet itched but I didn’t reach down to scratch. I kept leaning against the tree as the afternoon passed and the light changed. I had to pee, badly, but I knew any second she’d be there. Each time I heard a branch snap or leaves rustle I’d squint in her direction, but I didn’t see her. Gradually color seeped away. Shadows expanded and consumed the ground. I watched. Soon, she’d return. The woods turned grayer and grayer. Soon. Then, in a single long breath, all my eyes could see was black.
Realization made my skin turn cold. She wasn’t coming back for me. She’d left me for the night. Why would I ever have believed she’d stick me out in the road with that sign? She’d never purposely give the neighbors something to talk about. Not Gloria. She didn’t want me to feel embarrassed about grabbing a few chocolate bars. She wanted me to feel afraid.
And she’d succeeded. In the pitch black, I was too scared to twitch. To breathe. To think. I had no idea which way was east or west, or how I’d get home. I patted the gnarly bark of the trunk behind me. Reached up to feel my THEIF sign, just in case I’d accidentally gotten turned around. My heart clacked loudly, but my ears strained to identify every sound. Plants uncurl­ing, insects crawling, small animals under the dead layer of leaves. Burrowing toward me. So much noise inside the silence.
The darkness grew darker.

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The Last Resort

The Last Resort

A Novel
also available: Paperback eBook

NAMED ONE OF 2019’S BEST BEACH READS BY Oprah MagazineNew York PostPopSugarThe Globe and Mail
FEATURED IN Us Weekly • ParadeHollywood ReporterChatelaine

“Marissa Stapley’s writing is a gift.”—Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a …

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also available: eBook

When financier Paul Carignan is hit by a stray bullet and killed in Beaufort, Quebec, the town leaders seem reluctant to investigate. Running out of patience, his teenage sons, Jack and Noah, take justice into their own hands--and kidnap the locals they suspect are responsible. Things soon erupt and the boys find themselves besieged in their house with their captives. In the middle is their mother, Catherine, not sure which side to take. For Tom 'Brooder' Doran, Beaufort's Deputy Chief of Police …

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Blood Ties

Blood Ties

also available: Paperback

Country handyman Cedric O’Toole finds his life turned upside down when a stranger named Steve shows up at his farm, claiming to be his brother. Steve believes they have the same father, and he is on a quest to find him, as Cedric’s unwed mother took the secret of their father’s identity to her grave.
Together Steve and Cedric embark on a hunt for answers. At every turn, people seem to have secrets: the police officer who investigated a suspicious death years ago and who is now the chief …

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The Goddaughter Does Vegas

The Goddaughter Does Vegas

also available: Paperback

Gina Gallo is a mob goddaughter who doesn't want to be one. She's left her loopy family behind to elope with Pete to Vegas. Except that eloping may be a mortal sin in an Italian family. Between that and some weird deliveries and suitors, Gina's nerves are frayed. Vegas is full of great acts, but one impersonation is real: Gina has a crime-committing double whose activities are making Gina front-page news. Gina has to track down this fiendish fraud before the police catch up with her. And, of co …

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The Grey Sisters

The Grey Sisters

also available: Hardcover

Two years after a deadly plane crash, best friends D and Spider head into the mountains to face their grief. A gripping psychological thriller for fans of The Cheerleaders and Sadie.

D and Spider have always been close friends, and they are further united in their shared heartbreak: they both lost siblings in a horrific plane crash two years earlier. A chance sighting of a beloved cuddly toy in a photograph of the only survivor spurs D to finally seek closure. She and Spider and their friend, Min …

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It was nothing really. Her ears closed up and then she felt a discomforting pressure like a rough, heavy hand on the top of her head. She tried swallowing repeatedly to equalize the pressure in her ears and then rummaged in her bag for some gum. She didn’t find any. Instead, she discovered Floppy Monkey stuffed down at the bottom with a spare pair of thick woolen socks.
D must have snuck him into the bag and kept Floppy Giraffe with her. They were ancient stuffed toys knitted for them at birth by their Nonna. They normally lived on the bookshelf, but not when the girls were sick or one of them was traveling solo. Kat smiled to herself. He was almost as good as having her twin sister sitting right there beside her, and she wished she could cuddle with him unnoticed for a minute but that was unlikely. She touched her fingertip to her lips, pressed a kiss onto his poor worn head, and hid him away again.
It was a small plane, and the twenty-eight kids and two teachers filled it completely. That was half of the tenth grade; the other half were building houses for low-income families, but she’d done that in grade nine and quickly realized that she wasn’t compatible with power tools.
Next to her, Jonathan interrupted the contemplation of his heavy book and swept his gaze around the crowded airplane. “G-force,” he said, staring at her with his amber eyes. His heavy-framed glasses magnified them hugely. It was unsettling, like looking at a praying mantis close up. Funny how, even though he and his just-eleven-months-older sister, Spider, shared an undeniable family resemblance — same eyes and brows, same strong features and dark hair — Jonathan hadn’t grown into his face and body yet. It was as if he was wearing a skin suit a few sizes too big and it made him ungainly and awkward. Spider was the opposite of that, sure and graceful in her movements. “You know, gravity.”
Kat grunted. He was always saying weird things and then not explaining them. This time though, he continued. “But are we going up or down? Roller coaster?” He moved his hand in a wave motion and pursed his lips.
She had no answer, nor could she be sure he was even talking to her. More like at her. Spider always said Jonathan was on his own trip, and barely noticed other people. He even referred to them as humans for chrissakes, as if he were from outer space or something. And being so smart, he’d gone straight from eighth grade into tenth — their grade. It was something he never let any of them forget.
Still, they’d all grown up together on the same cul-de-sac and Kat got him, or at least more than most.
“Is your seat belt on?” he asked, poking at her upper arm.
She lifted the corner of her shirt to show him and returned her attention to the thick notebook open on her lap. It was her idea book, stuffed full of images and clippings. Everything and everyone she drew inspiration from. At the moment, she was totally in love with Mexican floral embroidery and Yayoi Kusama’s crazy polka dots. Sometimes when she was snuggled under the covers in her bed, she saw flowers and butterflies imprinted on everything. A glorious world of movement and color.
The plane dipped, propelling her stomach into her neck.
Two rows up, she could see the back of Henry Chen’s tousled head, John Brewster’s hand high-fiving him. The noise of chatter washed over her, transforming the cabin into an even smaller space.
Surely they must be getting close? She estimated they were somewhere near Spectacle Lakes. Her Nonna had told her that they were so blue they were like a slice of heaven.

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