Going Criminal

Going Criminal

Chad Pelley Nov 9,2010

Discover Atlantic Canada’s Crime Fiction Scene

When most people think of Atlantic Canadian literature, two genres come to mind: culturally focused non-fiction, or contemporary literary fiction like that of Lisa Moore and Michael Crummey. However, a long-standing, although overshadowed crime fiction scene is getting more of a spotlight than ever in 2010, particularly thanks to Pamela Callow’s and Anne Emery’s spring releases, Damaged and Children in the Morning respectively, and the highly anticipated fall forays into the genre by CanLit icon Michael Winter and critic-favourite Allan Donaldson.

Crime Fiction Highlights from 2010

Anne Emery’s 2006 debut won Canada’s best-known crime fiction award, the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel, and she has been writing at a diligent pace ever since, having released a novel a year since 2006. The Chronicle Herald has said, “She dares to challenge those readers who are so fond of anticipating the outcome of the plot.” In the spring of 2010, she released her latest novel, Children in the Morning (ECW Press), the fifth book in her Monty Collins series, and the Globe and Mail has called it her best so far. Children in the Morning has also earned her an invite to the prestigious International
Festival of Authors, which unites over 100 writers from twenty countries for eleven days of readings, interviews, round table discussions and award presentations.

Anne Emery

The summer of 2010 also saw Pamela Callow burst onto the crime scene with her thriller, Damaged (Mira books), in which a young woman, haunted by the death of her sister, throws herself into her new career at a high-powered law firm. Before long, heroine Kate Lange “finds out how far she would go to stop a serial killer.” Callow describes her protagonist as an “ordinary woman, a woman who suffered heartbreak, who struggled with her career, who couldn’t afford to buy the alarm system she needed for her house because her plumbing was leaking.” She wanted to write about “an ordinary woman who has to face her darkest fears.” New York Times bestseller James Rollins on Damaged: “Lightning paced, innovative, topical, and most of all, frightening.” Callow was invited to the fifth annual ThrillerFest in New York City in July.

Pamela Callow. Photo: Florian Kuchurean

Highly anticipated Fall Forays into Crime Fiction

This fall has seen two highly acclaimed authors “go criminal” for the first time as well.

Known as one of the freshest voices in the country, multi-awardwinning Michael Winter has had a remarkable career to date, winning over not only readers and critics, but earning the awe of writers across Canada as well. More impressive than the diversity of his books to date is how he manages to re-invigorate whatever genre he is working with. In continuing with this groundbreaking trait of his, his latest book is a work of “documentary fiction” called The Death of Donna Whelan (Penguin Canada), in which he has pieced together the actual transcripts and court testimonies of the real–life murder trial of Donna Whelan: a woman stabbed thirty-one times by, her friends and family felt, an abusive boyfriend. The course of justice “takes many unpredictable twists and turns before the truth is finally revealed,” and Winter “preserves the nuanced voice of each witness.” The Death of Donna Whelan, like his innovative 2000 breakout journal-a-clef novel, This All Happened (House of Anansi), promises to be another unforgettable
mark on the face of Canadian literature.

The fall of 2010 also marked Allan Donaldson’s foray into crime fiction. His 2005 debut novel, MacLean (Vagrant Press), was a harrowing, literal day in the life of a shellshocked, alcoholic WWI veteran searching for booze and a birthday gift for his mother. It made the Globe and Mail state, “This book merits a media frenzy,” and that it did. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Donaldson’s follow-up novel is a venture into “literary mystery.” The Case Against Owen Williams (Vagrant Press) tells the story of Owen Williams, a quiet soldier stationed with a garrison of conscripted men dubbed “the Zombies,” who are unwilling to serve overseas. When a teenage girl is found dead in a gravel pit after a dance, Owen Williams was the last person reported to have seen her. What follows is a novel that “explores the circumstances of a wrongful conviction and the gaps in the justice system that allow it to flourish.”

The quality and diversity of these four books are certainly evidence enough that there is an established and budding crime scene here in Atlantic Canada.