Canadian reading pleasures 2

Now back from three lovely weeks in Canada, I can confirm that British Columbia – or at least the fraction we saw of its expanse (four times that of the UK) – is breathtakingly beautiful. We divided our stay between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with lots of time spent on ferries, water-taxis and seaplanes, and my abiding memory will be the blue of the seascapes and the American Olympic mountains to the south.

Evening view from the Vancouver Island ferry as it threads its way through the Gulf Islands

In my previous post I mentioned Munro’s Books, a famous bookshop in Victoria on Vancouver Island.  Thanks to a tip from Cathy Ace, the Welsh-Canadian crime novelist, I subsequently found my way to Chronicles of Crime, a mystery bookshop run by Frances Thorsen on Fort Street. If you’re a crime fan and are ever in Victoria, you MUST visit this wonderful bookshop, which is an absolute treasure-trove and an excellent place to meet other crime aficionados. Frances also ships overseas (time to sit on the credit card)…

Chronicles of Crime. The armchair in the foreground is very comfortable

I spent a couple of happy hours browsing the bookshelves, which are helpfully and imaginatively categorised.

Yes please!

As a tourist, I obviously made a beeline for the Canadian section, and picked up some reading to help me get a feel for different parts of this vast country.

Copyright Lonely Planet

Louise Penny’s Bury the Dead (2010) – Quebec City, Quebec (on the lower right of the map).  This is the sixth instalment in the acclaimed Inspector Gamache series, and provides a fascinating insight into the tensions between French and English-speaking parts of Canada. Set during a freezing winter in the heart of old Quebec, the novel has a great sense of history and place, and Gamache is a well-drawn investigative figure. However, with three major plot-lines, I felt there was too much going on in the narrative, and the writing style grated in places. I’m new to the series, and might benefit from going back to earlier books.  

Anthony Bidulka, Amuse Bouche (2003) – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (left of centre on map). I very much enjoyed this first novel in the Russell Quant series, whose highly engaging P.I. (‘cute, gay, with a nose for good wine and bad lies’), is based in the city of Saskatoon in the Canadian plains. I’ll definitely be chasing up the other Quant novels in due course. 

Stanley Evans, Seaweed on the Street (2005) and Seaweed on Ice (2006) – Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (far left on map). These novels were the find of the trip for me. I’d not heard of the author before, who started writing this series in his seventies (there’s hope for us all yet). Set in downtown Victoria and in the coastal areas surrounding the city, it features Silas Seaweed, a Coast Salish (First Nations) neighbourhood cop, whose investigations illuminate the traditions of Canada’s aboriginal communities and the difficulties they face in modern life. Well-written and with a wry sense of humour, they capture Victoria perfectly and were a pleasure to read while staying there. The second novel, Ice, which opens with the disappearance of an elderly Jewish immigrant, can also be added to my research database – a happy bonus.

So now I feel like I’ve made a modest start on Canadian crime fiction, although there’s clearly much more work to be done! I’ll be browsing the Crime Writers of Canada website, which has a wealth of useful resources, for more in the near future. I think I’ll start in the Canadian crime novels by region section…

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34 thoughts on “Canadian reading pleasures 2

  1. So glad you enjoyed your trip, Mrs. P. And those is so much wonderful Canadian crime fiction to dive into that I know you’ll have a lovely time exploring it. That bookshop looks heavenly!!

    • Yes, the bookshop was heavenly (there’s an alternative career plan if ever I saw one!). Vancouver and Victoria also both had a west-coast vibe that I liked very much. They were very nice places to be 🙂

  2. Sounds wonderful Mrs P – if I ever do make it out there, I will definitely make sure I pop in (might be tough getting me out again of course …) – thanks.

    Sergio

    • I highly recommend, Sergio, although it’s a bit of a dangerous environment for the purse. Frances kept on pointing out that she could ship me books and so not to worry about my luggage allowance (she gets out-of-town visitors who hoover up boxfuls to be sent to them back home).

  3. Hello Mrs. P. Thought I’d write and tell you that I finished reading Plan D on my e-reader just before I left China for a short holiday in Australia. Quite an interesting book and whilst reading I was trying to compare this to some of the work by Phillip Kerr and his German detective Bernard Gunther but failed. Whilst I enjoyed Plan D knowing how bad things were for the average person in the DDR and having lived in West Germany during the ‘cold war’, I struggled with the general thrust of the story. However, I read the book and perhaps if I got a similar book to read, I am sure that I would find this easier on the brain-cells.

    • Thanks very much for your feedback, John. I sense that Plan D was an interesting but not exactly enjoyable reading experience for you!

      I think there’s a little bit of Bernie Gunther visible in Wegener the police investigator, but there’s also a kind of craziness and surreal edge to his depiction that goes beyond what you see in Kerr’s books. In terms of the storyline, the closest novel for me was Harris’ Fatherland – I’d go so far as to say this is the GDR equivalent, although not quite as polished in its intent (Fatherland has a clearer and perhaps more serious historical purpose).

      Do you live in China, John? Hope you have a good holiday in Australia.

      • Hello Mrs. P. Yes I live and work in NW China which is interesting in itself. One of my students enjoys detective novels but when I asked her about them, she told me that they are all in the Chinese language, nothing in English.

        Thinking about this it conjures up a picture of a Chinese equivalent of Wegener the police investigator who wants to do the right thing but has to watch his or her back because of the political situation but it could really be a good story.

        I use my e-reader because of the cost of postage for books plus it’s easier to keep all my books in one little reader – currently have about 300 loaded with space for another 4500! I’ll certainly try and get Harris’s Fatherland.

        It’s nice to be back in Australia but of course I always come at the wrong time of the year – winter – but it’s nice to see blue skies, breath in fresh air and see the ‘roos bouncing down the road; yes I come back to the countryside. I’m fortunate to have a VPN in China so I can go on line and watch the BBC via iPlayer. I am so taken by the wonderful series Insp Montalbano and other wonderful productions that really only the BBC can put on with no commercial breaks.

        Thanks once again, it’s very good to read the reviews that you provide – a great service

      • Thanks, John. Living in China sounds like such an interesting experience, though I can imagine having access to some ‘home comforts’ such as crime fiction on e-reader and BBC iPlayer is good. We have some friends who lived in Beijing for a while and were lucky enough to be able to visit them there: it was an amazing two weeks (not least because I had last been there backpacking in 1990…quite a few changes since then).

        I know very little about Chinese crime fiction. I’ve read a few contemporary novels by authors who have Chinese heritage but live elsewhere (Qiu Xiaolong and Diane Wei Liang), and have a translation of some 18th-century magistrate stories by Robert van Gulik (who went on to write the Judge Dee series) on my TBR pile. Must get to that soon!

        The Wiki entry on Chinese crime fiction provides a little more information about Chinese crime fiction in translation (although most of the ones mentioned seem to draw on Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Dupin as their models, rather than on Chinese traditions).

  4. Hello Mrs P. This is a great entry – but maybe I am biased? So pleased you enjoyed your time in my adopted country… and hope you’ll maybe come back one day. Thanks for the shout-out…I am terribly proud to have been mentioned, and am delighted that you enjoyed the unique experience that Frances’ bookstore offers. As a Vice President of the Crime Writers of Canada (BC/Yukon Region) all I can do is encourage your followers to investigate Canadian crime fiction for themselves. Yes. http://www.crimewriterscanada.com/ is a great place to start. There’s a surprising depth and breadth of authors here. We might only be 33 million people dotted across an enormous land mass, but a lot of us, clearly, think about, plot, create and read crime fiction. Happy reading – and thanks for taking the time to find out about, read and feed back on Canadian crime fiction. Much appreciated.

    • Hi Cathy – thanks, and yes, I’m absolutely sure I’ll be back. In fact I’d be on the next plane if it weren’t for the vicious jet-lag and the small matter of work!

      I’m incredibly impressed by the range and depth of Canadian crime fiction, and will do my best to focus on some further examples on the blog. The Crime Writers of Canada website is a fantastically useful resource: I like the way you can search for books in different ways, and hopefully those (like me) who are relatively unfamiliar with Canadian crime will go and take a peek.

      • On behalf of the Crime Writers of Canada members and administrators, who keep the systems up to date, THANK YOU! I certainly hope people find the website enjoyable and useful.
        Good luck with the jet-lag (oh, and the work!).

  5. Mrs. Peabody – I’m so glad you had an enjoyable Canadian visit. You did indeed find a treasure with Chronicles of Crime – I’ve done a number of book events there and Frances and her team always go all out (one time she even dressed up as a character from a Russell Quant book). Thank you for giving this attention to Canadian crime writers. Next time head on down Saskatchewan way, the Land of Living Skies!

    • Thanks, Anthony. I’m glad that my visit has prompted me to start exploring Canadian crime, and especially enjoyed reading about different parts of the country in the three novels I read while out there. I liked the way you flew the flag for Saskatoon 🙂 Hopefully I’ll get there at some point. So many places to visit, so little time!

      Now I’m all intrigued: which character did Frances go for and is there pictorial evidence? I think we should be told…

  6. I read Bury the Dead a while ago and felt (like you) that it had too much going on, even though it was also fascinating. If you can track down some of the earlier books, let me know please!!!

  7. Welcome back! So glad you had a wonderful time, but with that beautiful scenery and Chronicles of Crime, how could anyone not? Gosh, it’s all I can do not to go get on the next train heading northwest to British Columbia. (My mother loved it there, especially museums and Indigenous art and culture.)
    I’ll add Stanley Evans to my TBR lists. Had not heard of him but the books sound right up my alley.
    It must be quite an adjustment to go from the seascape of Vancouver back to work — but Wales has its coastal beauty, too, so it might be fine.

    • Hi Kathy! Nice to be back! I did miss the blog while I was away.

      Yes, the bookshop and its location were a winning combination – a fantastic part of the world. And yes, do try out the Evans series if you get the chance – it was a real pleasure to chance upon it while browsing the Chronicles of Crime bookshelves. That’s one of the advantages of being in a real, live, local crime bookshop – you’re much more likely to find those sorts of hidden treasures than online.

      Our lovely coastline and an ice-cream sundae beckons this weekend, so there are compensations to the end of the holiday 🙂

  8. Hello Mrs. Peabody! Thanks for your kind words about the Crime Writers of Canada website. (I’m the Executive Director of CWC.) If you ever have any questions re crime writing in Canada, do give me a shout. info@crimewritingcanada.com Oh, and if you ever get to the Toronto/Hamilton area, let me know! We’d be delighted to introduce you to some of our eastern authors (Including me…I write a comic mob caper series.)
    Many thanks again for taking the time to mention us. Great blog site.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Melodie – I’ll certainly get in touch if I’m ever down Toronto way! Reciprocal thanks for the website – it really is a great resource. If I have further questions about Canadian crime writing, I’ll be knocking at your door…

  9. Hi Mrs. P! Glad you had such a great time. Victoria is the home of my heart. I am pleased you love Stanley Evans’ books as much as I do. I want to live in a cedar log cabin with Silas! There’s also ‘Seaweed Under Water’ and ‘Seaweed on The Rocks’. It’s a shame they seem to be very hard to get hold of outside of B.C., but that certain large Internet bookseller which shares the same name as a river in South America has them.

    • Thanks, Nola. Yes, I’d spotted that they were online at a ‘certain place’… It really is a great series and it’s a shame that the novels are not more widely known. They really do evoke Victoria well: we were staying on Johnson Street which is mentioned copious times, and made me feel as if I could bump into Silas at any moment 🙂

  10. Glad you had a great time & brought some interesting books to our attention. Nothing to do with your trip, but did you listen to tonight’s Front Row, 7/08. All about book translators, absolutely reverting. Brings up some really interesting points! Do try & catch it.

  11. Mrs. P, as always, a lovely post. I loved the photo of the bookshop and would love to go there someday. I wish we still had a crime fiction bookshop anywhere nearby.

    I read the first two in the Louise Penny series, did not like the first especially, but liked the 2nd a lot. So I am thinking I will keep going with the series. I also liked Amuse Bouche. But Stanley Evans… I don’t think I have heard of him. One to add to my list.

    • Thanks, TracyK. I don’t have a crime bookshop particularly close to me either, but if I did, I would probably take up residence.

      Interesting to hear your mixed reaction to the Penny series. I liked the one I read enough to try another, but not enough to try again should that one not prove to my liking. Perhaps I’ll give the second one a go.

      Frances was saying that Stanley Evans is well known locally and has done well in BC (possibly nationally). I’m not sure why he’s not better known beyond Canada as it’s a really good series in my view (and I’m subtracting the added value of my having read the books in Victoria when I say that).

  12. It sounds and looks like a wonderful trip, Mrs. P, and thanks for the Stanley Evans recommendation. I just want to add my opinion of the Gamache series by Louise Penny: I enjoyed the first three in the series and read them in a fairly short span of time. They give a lot of background about Gamache’s history with the police department, which I appreciated. Good to see you in my blog reader again!

    • Apologies for the late reply, Rebecca – I’ve just pulled your comment out of my spam folder, where it had gone for no good reason!

      Thanks for the extra comment about the Gamache series. As I was reading number 6, I definitely had the feeling that reading the earlier ones would have been beneficial. There’s clearly a lot of background and it would have been helpful to have had a better idea of this in advance. That having been said, I didn’t feel completely at sea: Penny did a good job of establishing his character for me as a new reader who had jumped into the middle of the series.

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