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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


also available: Paperback Audiobook

Mysterious murders, shadowy figures, and high school. Life can be hard, death can be harder.

Cole Harper is dead. Reynold McCabe is alive and free. Mihko Laboratories has reopened the research facility and works to manufacture and weaponize the illness that previously plagued Wounded Sky. People are missing. The community has been quarantined. What deal did Eva strike with Choch? Who will defeat Reynold and Mihko? Time is running out.

This is the final novel in David A. Robertson's The Reckoner tr …

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The Missing Millionaire

The Missing Millionaire

The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him

In December 1919, Ambrose Small, the mercurial owner of the Grand Opera House in Toronto, closed a deal to sell his network of Ontario theatres, deposited a million-dollar cheque in his bank account, and was never seen again. As weeks turned to years, the disappearance became the most "extraordinary unsolved mystery" of its time. Everything about the sensational case would be called into question in the decades to come, including the motivations of his inner circle, his enemies, and the police …

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Ambrose Small’s city is still here in pieces. You can find his mansion on a leafy Rosedale street or walk by the trio of skyscrapers he knew so well at King and Yonge. In his day, they were a source of civic pride, among the tallest buildings in the British Empire, and they housed banks and railway offices. A century later, one is a hotel, while the other two are office towers filled with financiers and lawyers, with a mattress shop and pharmacy at street level. His theatre on Adelaide Street was torn down before the Depression, and now there is a glass banking tower in its place, a building so tall that no matter where you are, there it is, pointing to the spot where the story begins. The Grand Opera House.

Ambrose Small knew everyone had secrets. People might say they liked highbrow theatre, but he knew they’d be happy enough to sit in a dark room with a thousand strangers watch­ing a pair of likeable goofs singing ditties of the old country. As the ringmaster of one of Canada’s most powerful theatre networks—headquartered at the Grand Opera House—Small made his millions by catering to humanity’s desire for cheap escape. In 1919, when he was fifty-three years old, he sold it all for $1.75 million. The next day, he vanished from the theatre, never to be seen again.

The people who knew what that Toronto felt like, what it sounded and smelled like, are nearly all gone. The horse manure, coal dust, and factories have disappeared too, but the lilacs and chestnut trees bloom every spring, and the sewer pipes still snake below the ground, so ancient that they sometimes rupture, the past bubbling to the surface. But never Ambrose. Never the solu­tion to the mystery.

If he had been nicer, a theatre critic once said, maybe they would have looked harder for him. A hundred years have hardened the image of Ambrose Small into a vengeful, petty businessman—and he was that, certainly—but there are details buried in newspaper stories that make him seem more of a human being and less of a caricature. He had trouble sleeping. He had a hangnail problem.
Ambrose didn’t crave the spotlight like the actors on his stage. He built hidden rooms at his theatres, paid for indiscre­tions with secret accounts, refused to open his books when he was sued, and grew richer on backroom bets that left no trace.

Like any good theatre man, he knew that audiences love a mystery. When I imagine Ambrose Small, he is laughing at me for thinking I could know him, for thinking I can know how this ends, for thinking this ever ends.

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The Billionaire Murders

The Billionaire Murders

The Mysterious Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman

A top journalist crosses the yellow tape to investigate a shocking high-society crime.

Billionaires, philanthropists, socialites . . . victims. Barry and Honey Sherman appeared to lead charmed lives. But the world was shocked in late 2017 when their bodies were found in a bizarre tableau in their elegant Toronto home. First described as murder-suicide — belts looped around their necks, they were found seated beside their basement swimming pool — police later ruled it a st …

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Wrong Turn

On the morning of Friday, December 15, 2017, family, friends, and colleagues of Barry and Honey Sherman woke, shook off sleep, and set about their normal routines. But for some, a nagging thought persisted. Something was amiss. An email not returned, an empty desk in the executive office, a vacant seat at a charity boardroom table. At 50 Old Colony Road, in Toronto’s suburban North York, snow was softly dust­ing the ground, melting quickly on the heated driveway and obscuring any footprints that may have been made on the front lawn or unheated steps over the previous two days.

It had been cold, ten degrees below freezing, and as the sun rose behind clouds, it promised to be another grey, wintry day in Canada’s biggest city. Many of the people who owned homes on the street had already flown south to escape the cold weather, so it was not unusual at this time of year for a house in the neigh­bourhood to be quiet. At the rear of the house was an outdoor pool, long closed for the season, a tennis court surrounded by a fence, and two patios. In a basement underneath the tennis court, stretching north on the property, was a lap pool rarely used by the homeowners. In front of the house, one vehicle was parked on the circular driveway, a light gold Lexus SUV that was ten years old. Judging by the snow lining its fenders and windows, it had been there at least overnight. Beside it, on the left, was a long bed of snowball hydrangeas, their withered brown flower heads perked up by little hats of fresh snow. A ramp to the right of the Lexus led down to a closed garage door that opened into a six-car underground garage nestled in the basement of the house with utility and recreation rooms on the ends closest to the road, and the lap pool at the far north end.

At 8:30 a.m., two people arrived on a clockwork schedule: a cleaning lady on her regular Friday visit, and a woman who came twice a week to water the plants in the home. The cleaning lady parked in the centre of the circular drive. The woman who came to water the plants trudged along the street, passing the large For Sale sign at the curb. The house had been on the market three weeks with an asking price of $6.9 million. Just the day before, a Toronto magazine had revealed publicly for the first time that the property was for sale: “Pharma Titan Barry Sherman is selling his modern North York mansion.”

Inside 50 Old Colony, the woman watering the orchids and other plants filled her can and went from room to room. The cleaning lady got busy as well. Hanukkah had begun the previ­ous Tuesday evening and included in her assigned duties today was helping Honey prepare potato latkes, which she would cook later that day at the home of one of the Sherman children. The main floor was 3,600 square feet, anchored by a grand entrance topped with a chandelier and a curved staircase heading up to the second floor. The six-bedroom house, including the expan­sive lower level, was well over 12,000 square feet in total.
Both women began their chores on the main floor. While they were working, a phone rang. The cleaning lady followed the sound into a powder room, where she found an iPhone lying on the tiled floor. By the time she picked up the phone it had stopped ringing. When she moved upstairs, she noticed that the bed in the master bedroom had not been slept in and that the room was unusually tidy. Normally, on cleaning day, the bed was unmade and clothes from the night before were casu­ally strewn on the bed or a chair. The cleaning lady busied her­self dusting surfaces and picture frames.
Around 10 a.m., Elise Stern arrived. Dark-haired, with a thin, angular face, Stern was a twenty-year veteran real estate agent who shared the listing for the house with Judi Gottlieb, who was the senior realtor on the file. Just the other day, Gottlieb had shown the house to two men who struck her as odd ducks. But in her business you met all kinds.

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The Court of Better Fiction

The Court of Better Fiction

Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty
also available: eBook

2020 Arthur Ellis Award, Best Nonfiction Crime Book — Shortlisted
In its rush to establish dominion over the North, Canada executed two innocent Inuit.

In 1921, the RCMP arrested two Inuit males suspected of killing their uncle. While in custody, one of the accused allegedly killed a police officer and a Hudson's Bay Company trader.

The Canadian government hastily established an unprecedented court in the Arctic, but the trial quickly became a master class in judicial error. The verdicts were de …

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On December 6, 1921, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal William Doak arrested a young Inuit male named Alikomiak a few miles inland from the northeast coast of the Northwest Territories. Alikomiak was accused of murdering his uncle, the final blow in a series of retaliatory killings between rival families. He did not resist arrest and went willingly with the RCMP officer to the Tree River detachment.

The police outpost had no holding cell, forcing Doak to detain Alikomiak in the barrack’s storage shed. Doak was not a large man, but he towered over the prisoner, who was “quite young, short and [of ] very slight build.” Alikomiak’s cringing obedience soon earned Doak’s trust and he was given free run of the small detachment, performing menial tasks to appease his captor.

As the first feeble signs of spring arrived in 1922, Doak’s subordinates were all otherwise engaged, leaving him alone to supervise the accused. On March 31, Doak threw his sealskin long boots at a sleeping Alikomiak, then pointed to their fraying soles. He mimed a stitching motion, an implicit order to repair the boots. When the Inuit captive finished resoling the first boot, he showed it to Doak. The enraged corporal threw the boot back at Alikomiak. “I had not done it right,” Alikomiak later said, adding, “I was mad and did not feel good inside.”

The next morning, Doak used the rare moments of privacy to sleep in. His service revolver was within easy reach, holstered and draped over the bedpost near his head. Just before sunrise, Alikomiak went into the “unlocked Police store house” and took a rifle and four bullets. He crept into the barracks and saw “that Doak was still asleep … on his right side with his face to the wall.” Alikomiak moved to the left of the cook stove ten feet from Doak’s bed. He raised his rifle and fired once, hitting Doak in the left buttock.

The corporal awoke with a scream. He tried to sit up, but was in too much pain. Rising onto his left elbow, Doak looked at Alikomiak and shouted, “What is the matter with you?”

Alikomiak bolted out the door, but he paused to look through the window near the wounded man’s bunk. He saw that “Doak had turned in his bed with his legs hanging over the side and his head against the wall. He was groaning and his eyes were sometimes open.” Blood flowed from the corporal’s mouth and Alikomiak knew “he was close to dead.”

The Inuk returned to the sleeping quarters. He lifted Doak’s legs onto the bed and covered him with a blanket. Doak eventually lost consciousness and was dead before the sun cleared the horizon. According to police, Corporal William Doak would not be the only man Alikomiak killed that day.

He was arrested later that afternoon by Constable Daniel Harrison Woolams at a seal camp seven miles from the Tree River detachment. He did not resist arrest, asking only to change his boots before surrendering to police.

Alikomiak made a full confession through an RCMP translator. In his statement he recounted the killing in graphic detail, including Doak’s final words. That confession would be the sole evidence against Alikomiak in the trial that followed.

There are several glaring inconsistencies in Alikomiak’s account, irregularities that investigators, the prosecutor, jurors, and the judge failed to notice at the time and that all legal scholars studying the case have failed to notice in the decades since. One of the most obvious was that only two people were in the room when Doak was killed: the victim and the perpetrator. Alikomiak could not speak a word of English and Doak knew nothing of the local language.4 Throughout his incarceration the two had communicated exclusively through hand gestures. So, how could Alikomiak possibly have known what Doak said in the moments before he died?

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The Forest City Killer

The Forest City Killer

A Serial Murderer, a Cold-Case Sleuth, and a Search for Justice
also available: eBook


Recently featured in:

  • The New York Times
  • Bustle
  • Quill & Quire
  • Booklist
  • Publishers Weekly
  • CBC
  • Toronto Star

A My Favorite Murder recommended read

“A must for true crime fans.” – Booklist

“A truly impressive account of this dark chapter in [Ontario’s] history . . . Not just a sharp work of investigative journalism, The Forest City Killer is a poignant portrait of children and young people whose lives were cut short in horrific circumstances and a clarion call for long overdue …

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October 9, 1969. Dawdling around the back roads of Oxford County in a pickup truck, Ron Kiddie and Pete Kingma were on a duck-hunting excursion. They were two young guys, rifles in the back, gum in their mouths, listening to the radio and talking shit as they bounced along hills and uneven asphalt. It was uncustomarily warm out, so they rolled down their windows to catch the breeze. The sun was low in the sky. With a little time left before dinner, they stopped to check for birds under the gleaming new concrete bridge over Big Otter Creek. It was shouldered by two hills and two curves — a great dark, low hiding place for water fowl. Ron pulled over next to the narrow bridge. Walking across the short expanse, they each took a side, Ron on the north and Peter on the south, leaning over the guardrail as far as they could.


“Hey Peter,” called Ron. “Come see this.”


Peter checked for traffic before crossing over. On this road, with the sharp turns and steep incline, they were hidden and trapped if a speeding automobile came over the hill.


“There’s a body,” said Ron, pointing down.


Peter looked. “Oh, that’s just a dummy.” To prove his point, he went and got his gun out of the truck to look down through the scope. As he squinted, he became very still and then slowly looked up at Ron. “There’s a ring on her finger,” he muttered.


Without hesitation, Ron skidded down the steep banks of the creek to find out what was going on. “I can see [pubic] hair,” he shouted, as Peter followed. “And a vaccination mark on her arm!” On the edge of the water, he stumbled and accidentally stepped in the water. “Well, I’m wet now,” he said, turning his head and looking back. “I better wade in and see before we call the police.”


He felt the frigid water creeping up his legs as he pushed through the muck, the soft creekbed beneath his boots. He could see goosebumps on her flesh, her face floating just beneath the surface of the murky water. Her chin was tilted up, as if she were calling out for help. Her left arm and breast protruded from the shallow creek, naked white in the fading fall sunlight, and her right hand floated in a fist, her young finger decorated with a black Alaskan diamond ring. 


In a sleepy London, Ontario, neighbourhood, fifty-year-old OPP Detective Dennis Alsop had just sat down to dinner. He was grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading out again to pick up his fifteen-year-old daughter Daphne, who would soon be finishing up at her ballet class.


The phone rang and he answered.


“They found her.”


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Murdered Midas

Murdered Midas

A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise
also available: eBook Hardcover Paperback
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A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it
On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The murder became celeb …

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