Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's A Mystery

Here is the column that I wrote for the National Post's online Arts blog, Afterword. I wrote it when I was Past president of Crime Writers of Canada, but I am now Past Past! (Oh and PS, I did tell you that I won the Short Story category mentioned here, right?)

I believe what I said in the column - and I am still puzzled about why we appear to love other countries' books over our own. What do you think? Make a comment here or email me ( I'd love a discussion! 
It’s a mystery to me why Canadians aren’t more aware of the proliferation of homegrown writers in the crime genre. Next to romance, it’s the most popular field in terms of book/ebook purchases, not just in Canada, but worldwide. Fictional mysteries run the gamut from dark and gritty to cozy. They feature trained professionals or amateurs caught in a dangerous situation as heroes or heroines. Often the topics included in the stories are a reflection of our societal concerns and fears. There’s a puzzle to be solved and, perhaps more enticing, the bad guys are usually punished. Non-fiction crime gives us insight and information about national and international injustice, from a Canadian perspective.
On Thursday, April 19, I became a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Awards for excellence in mystery and crime writing published in the year 2011. This is a huge honour for me and my fellow nominees. Some of the biggest names in Canadian mystery appear on this list. For instance, in the category of Best Novel, you’ll see Louise Penny, Peter Robinson, Alan Bradley, William Deverell, and Robert Rotenberg. If don’t really recognize some of these names and you didn’t know about the Arthur Ellis Awards, I hate to tell you: you haven’t been paying attention to the Canadian scene, and you’re not alone.
So why don’t Canadians know more about our own writers and the highest award for our authors of mystery and crime? First, a little help from Jack Bumsted, from the Whodunit Mystery store in Winnipeg (
“The Canadian literary canon does have a problem with the thriller [mystery/detective] in that it does not recognize the genre as a legitimate one for important writing.” He goes on to say that, “The historical invisibility of the Canadian thriller before the 1960s is a complex product of a colonized culture.”
Fortunately, things are beginning to look rosier as we move away from that old colonized cultural perspective. Mystery has emerged as a genre that is often very “literary”; that is, “important writing”. Just sample a few of the books on the Arthur Ellis shortlist and I think you will agree.  The phenomenon of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has caused readers to sit up and pay attention to crime books. Someone recently stated that the “Canadians are the new Scandinavians” because our authors have become internationally beloved.
The CBC has pursued many of our national authors for television programs (think Murdoch Mysteries), because it’s also the most popular genre in that medium too. Anansi, a well-respected Canadian literary publisher, opened an imprint for mystery.
The National Post, last year, became the media sponsor for Crime Writers of Canada (CWC), and therefore the best source for what’s new in the genre.
CWC’s mission is to raise the profile of mystery authors in Canada. One of the ways of doing that is through awards for excellence: hence, the Arthur Ellis Awards.
Seems to me there is a crime wave in Canada, of the write kind. And I think that this is a good thing. So pay attention, Canada, and you’ll be treated to puzzles, wild rides, thrills, justice, and, in general, important writing.
Catherine Astolfo
Past Past President, Crime Writers of Canada
Post a Comment