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Canadian Mystery Novels

As I promised on today’s Calgary Public Library Zoom presentation, here’s my arbitrary list of novels set in Canada, to get you started. These are books I happened to stumble upon and they tend to reflect my more recent reading. I’m sure I’ve missed a number of great writers that you’ll discover on your own.

Many of the books are in your local library and you can request ones that aren’t. The books are listed by author name. I don’t always specify book titles. Sometimes I’ve read a later book in a series, while you might want to start with book # 1.

Since I’m a westerner, I’ll travel from west to east on this cross-Canada journey.

British Columbia

William Deverell – Legal mystery series written by a former lawyer. Clever and witty writing that portrays the ‘hippie’ character of Salt Spring Island.

Beverley McLachlin – another retired lawyer writing a legal mystery series, this one set in Vancouver. McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of Canada, grew up in Pincher Creek Alberta, and wrote an interesting memoir. I enjoyed Full Disclosure, book # 1 of her mystery series, and look forward to discussing the sequel, Denial, with my book club in February.

J. G. Toews, Lucky Jack Road (book 2 of her mystery series) – set in Nelson, BC, another ‘hippie’ setting I enjoyed, both on the page and in my travels.

Dave Butler, Full Curl, book 1 of environmental mystery series featuring a national park warden who deals with conservation issues. Book 1 is set in Banff National Park, Alberta.

The Prairies

Jayne Barnard, The Falls series set in Bragg Creek, AB

Dwayne Clayden, Brad Coulter police thriller series set in Calgary, AB, written by a former paramedic and police officer.

Alice Biena, Female PI series with lots of Calgary setting.

David Poulsen, Cullen and Cobb series set in Calgary.

Garry Ryan, gay detective series set in Calgary.

Randy McCharles, Peter Galloway series takes us to the Calgary Stampede and northern Alberta.

Candas Jane Dorsey, The Adventures of Isabel, postmodern style, insight into LGBTQ life in Edmonton.

Sharon Butala, Zara’s Dead, fiction based on a 1962 murder that took place in Saskatoon, SK.

Gail Bowen, long-running Joanne Kilbourn series set in Regina, deals with the challenges of a middle-aged woman and her family.

Helen Humphreys, Rabbit Foot Bill, literary mystery based on a 1947 Saskatchewan murder, which raises questions about mental health issues.


Vanessa Farnsworth, The Haweaters, based on an 1877 murder committed by the author’s ancestor. A good look at pioneer life on Manitoulin Island.

Giles Blunt, police detective series set in northern Ontario.

R. J. Harlick, Ottawa region series deals with indigenous issues. One book in the series is set in the Northwest Territories.

Randall Denley, Payback, book # 2 of a series: well-crafted whodunnit set in the Ottawa Valley.

Maureen Jennings, November Rain, book # 2 of a historical mystery series set in Toronto by the author of Murdoch Mysteries, which became a hit television show.

Katrina Onstad, Stay Where I Can See You, not a traditional mystery novel, but beautifully written and crafted with insight into domestic abuse and class conflicts in contemporary Toronto. Winner of the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Novel Set in Canada.

E.R. Yatscoff, firefighter series set in Niagara Peninsula, written by a former firefighter.


Louise Penny, popular Inspector Gamache series mostly set in Three Pines, a fictional village outside of Montreal, and featuring an interesting and sometimes quirky cast of recurring characters. A dark take on the British cozy.

Atlantic Canada

Joan Hall Hovey, And Then He Was Gone, suspense with paranormal aspects, set in New Brunswick.

Kevin Major, One for the Rock, Two for the Tablelands… This series could go to infinity. Dry humour and great Newfoundland setting.

Mike Martin, A Perfect Storm, Book # 9 of a series featuring an RCMP officer living in rural Newfoundland. I enjoyed the book without having read the previous eight in the series.

Clearly, there are many more Canadian stories, including novels by authors I’ve heard about but haven’t yet read. Time for me to remedy this!

Join me online tomorrow at the CPL

I’m excited about my Calgary Public Library online event tomorrow night, Wednesday, Jan 26th.

Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories

Mystery novels are fun to read, but crime fiction set in Canada teaches us about our country. Join Calgary mystery author, Susan Calder, in a lively conversation with Margaret Hadley, University of Calgary Instructor Emerita of English. They’ll discuss how Canadian crime novels portray our unique characters, regions, history, and contemporary life.

There’s still time to register If you don’t have a CPL card, you can contact the Calgary Public Library.

Canadian Mystery Novels, eh?

At last year’s Ontario Library Association’s online conference, I sat on a panel about novels set in Canada. The moderator divided the topic into three parts–Canadian characters, settings, and stories–and asked each panelist to discuss one of the sub-topics in relation to one of our novels. To my relief, I was assigned setting, which I considered the easiest of the three. The other two stumped me. When I create characters, I think of them as people, not Canadians, and my stories lean toward the psychological, rather than events particular to Canada.

I chose Ten Days in Summer, the most Calgarian of my novels, to illustrate how I include specific setting details and how they shaped the story. The novel takes place over the ten days of Calgary’s annual Stampede Festival, when the whole city goes wild-west. People wear cowboy hats and boots to go shopping. Beer tents and free pancake breakfasts pop up everywhere. I explained how I looked for opportunities to set scenes at Stampede happenings. Paula, my sleuth, first encounters two of the suspects while she’s watching the parade that launches the festival. She later meets one of them in a sports pub featuring an inflatable football player wearing a bandana. Paula’s Stampede clothing style is to wear a different coloured bandana each of the ten days. Does that make her uniquely Canadian?

No, but it does make her Calgarian. I realized the characters in my mystery series naturally reflect the people who live in Calgary. In Ten Days, there’s a wannabe cowboy. I have several Calgary friends who own horses they board on acreages outside the city and ride on weekends. When I lived in Montreal, I didn’t know anyone who did this. Many characters in the series, including Paula, have moved to Calgary from elsewhere. Through its history, Calgary has attracted newcomers during its periodic boom times. In contrast, other locales might be characterized by the absence of family and friends, who have left for greater opportunities. The type of people in any story tells us as much about the place as its landscape. 

I still don’t see Paula and friends as particularly Canadian, although readers outside of Canada might notice behaviours I simply see as ‘normal’. Maybe Canadian novel characters tend to be remarkably polite. 

Reflections on Canadian characters got me wondering about the third aspect discussed on the panel, uniquely Canadian stories. I find these most noticeable in historical mystery novels, especially ones that fictionalize a real murder from our country’s past. In Ten Days in Summer, I had fun making up a crime related to a lessor known fact of Canadian history. King Edward VIII, who famously gave up the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, was a wannabe cowboy. When he was Prince of Wales, he bought a ranch in southern Alberta, which he visited with his wife after his abdication. My research suggested the Duchess of Windsor was less than enthralled with life on the range. I wove that into an imagined crime that played a small, but pivotal, role in the Ten Days in Summer murder.  

I have read Canadian mystery novels that deal with contemporary events and issues that are uniquely Canadian. Since the time of U.S. Prohibition in the 1920s, our long and friendly border with the United States has prompted cross-border crime that continues today. Disputes over pipelines and clean drinking water on indigenous reserves have resulted in fictional murders. 

People generally read mystery and thriller novels for entertainment, and in the process learn much about a country’s people, place, and stories. When I travel, I like to read novels set in the location I’m visiting. But I also read to learn about myself and my own country.   

I became so intrigued with the subject of uniquely Canadian characters, places and stories that I pitched the idea for a Calgary Public Library program. They’ve now scheduled the topic for Wednesday, January 26, 7-8 pm, as part of the CPL’s Books and Ideas series. I’ll be interviewed by Margaret Hadley, a former instructor of Detective Fiction at the University of Calgary. I expect we’ll have a lively conversation. You can register for the program here with a CPL card. Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories | Calgary Public Library ( Non-members are welcome and can email or call the library at 403-260-2600. 

Hope to see you there, eh?   

Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories

My first writing project for 2022 is to prepare for my Calgary Public Library Zoom presentation on Wednesday, January 26, 7-8 pm. Here’s the topic description:

Mystery novels are fun to read, but crime fiction set in Canada teaches us about our country. Join Calgary mystery author, Susan Calder, in a lively conversation with Margaret Hadley, University of Calgary Instructor Emerita of English. They’ll discuss how Canadian crime novels portray our unique characters, regions, history, and contemporary life.

Registration is now open on the CPL website Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories | Calgary Public Library ( If you don’t have a CPL card, you can contact the library by phone 403.260.2600 or through their website: Everyone welcome.

Hope to virtually see you there.

Happy New Year!

I hope you’ve had a happy and healthy holiday season. Mine was quiet this year. For the first time ever, Will and I were on our own. We still went through our usual rituals — decorating the house, baking gingerbread cookies, buying presents, filling stockings. We also did lots of Skyping and Zooming with family and friends, which almost felt like the real thing.

Knowing this quiet period lay ahead, we got in some excitement before Christmas, with an almost four week holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Highlights were beaches, pools, daily sunshine and highs of 30 degrees Celsius, numerous walks, delicious fresh fruits, restaurant meals with great food and ocean views, and visits with a friend who lives there year-round and Will’s sister, who joined us for one of the weeks. Mexico’s relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, strict protocols, and outdoor lifestyle made us feel comfortable there.

We returned to Calgary on December 16th, in the midst of a snowstorm and plunging temperatures. At the airport, I was randomly selected for my second PCR test in three days. The tests were set up by the airport exit. The administrators all wore parkas because the outside doors constantly opened, letting in freezing air. At home, I had to isolate for a couple of days while waiting for the test result (negative). This wasn’t a hardship when there was unpacking and laundry to do, it was cold outside, and I now had an excuse to send Will on all our errands.

The cold temperatures persisted through much of the holidays and show no sign of letting up. Will and I had talked of rejoining our fitness centre after the holidays, but Omicron is now making this unwise. This prompted me to finally look up Zumba classes on Youtube. I found a Christmas-themed one I like. This week, I’ve tried to get the 30 minute workout in most days, and sometimes twice. I plan to look up a new program each week. Continuing with online Zumba is my New Year’s Resolution.

Best wishes to you for a happy and healthy 2022.

Starting a New Novel – it’s scary

One thing I discovered when I began writing novels thirty years ago — I can’t write from an outline. After a few failed attempts, I learned my natural process was to start with some basic ideas for people, locations and storylines, add an inciting event, and then develop the characters and plot in the course of writing. This makes starting each novel a leap in the dark.

Last month I plunged into the fourth book of my Paula Savard mystery series. In addition to not outlining, I have a bad habit of doing something different with each book. The first one was an amateur sleuth mystery; book #2 was a classic whodunnit. Book #3 added multiple narrators and two timelines. All three introduced a dead body in Chapter One. Book # 4 doesn’t. 

I didn’t realize why this new story had to start this way until I was a couple of chapters along. At the end of book #3, Winter’s Rage, Paula is so rattled by the story events that she vows to never get involved with another homicide case. Paula needs to be tricked into it for there to be a book # 4. From the start I could see a problem. How would I sustain reader interest without a corpse?

My initial plan was to repeat the style of Winter’s Rage, with a narrator other than Paula relating a past storyline. This backstory would have a murder early on. I circled the idea (procrastinated) by writing this backstory as a short story, but it didn’t work as fodder for my novel. I couldn’t see its  relevance to the main plot I had in mind or that a past murder would make up for the main plot’s meander out of the gate.

Well, I’d stalled long enough. Time for the leap into the novel. I wrote Chapter One, by hand sitting out on my patio enjoying Calgary’s warm fall weather, and continued with Chapter Two. Then an idea hit. I’d insert two secondary viewpoint narrators, two detectives, who know something is going on that Paula doesn’t. Through them, readers would see murder lurking and get into the suspense of Paula becoming involved despite herself.

I hoped.  

The approach worked for me and held my interest through the subsequent chapters. Now I’m 1/4 way through the manuscript and planning to add a fourth narrator, Isabelle, an erratic character established in previous books. One of my detective narrators is also a regular in the series. It helps that I already know these two characters well, but I feel a pressure about finally giving them voices and worry this will mess with how readers and I had pictured them before. Isabelle and both detectives will work at cross purposes with Paula to complicate the plot.   
The story feels like it’s beginning to gel. I’ve outlined the next four chapters and expect they’ll lead to a corpse around the novel’s midpoint. I’m almost sure who the victim will be. The killer is probably one of three suspects and there might be a second murder later in the book.

This discovery stage used to be my favourite part of writing novels. With my first books, I let the stories go wherever they wanted and fixed them up later. This required a lot of fixing. But from experience, I’ve developed a sense of pacing. In this current novel first draft, I’ve rewritten and cut scenes that didn’t work or slowed the story down before moving forward in the plot. This makes writing first drafts harder and they take longer. Now I find the next stage, revision, more enjoyable than the excitement of leaping to an unknown place. Maybe I’m just getting older. 

Over the years I’ve read writing advice books and heard many writers talk about their writing process. I’d estimate the split is about 50/50 between novelists who outline and us “pantsers,” who fly by the seats of our pants. There’s a third group, a minority sometimes called “quilters,” who write scenes they later assemble in order. I don’t understand them, as my process is linear. Although I find myself thinking of part-scenes for the chapters coming up, so perhaps I’m learning to quilt a little. 

I have to take a short break from the manuscript now. Drat! Now that I’ve got the beginning in place I’m less scared and I’m excited to see where the story and characters are going.                       

Books on Sale

Until December 26th, my four novels are on sale in e-book format for $1.50 USD through Smashwords Smashwords – About Susan Calder, author of ‘Winter’s Rage’, ‘A Deadly Fall’, ‘To Catch a Fox’, etc.

I also discovered that Smashwords created a cool Tag Cloud for me, using keywords for my novels. The one on their website looks better than this:

Susan Calder’s tag cloud

alberta murder mysteryalberta murder mystery novel 2021 baby boomer girlfriends calgary stampede literature calgary woman sleuth calgary woman sleuth mysteries canada insurance adjuster crime fiction storycanadian author detective seriescanadian detective romantic suspensecanadian professional investigatorcontemporary urban amateur sleuthcults and mental illnessfather daughter estranged family relationshipsfemale heroine whodunitfemale investigator whodunit suspense booksfemale sleuth in canadian mysteryhoarders and familyinsurance adjuster crime fictionmother and daughter estrangementpostpartum psychosisrecovery from psychosisrepressed memory and false memory controversysisters in blended familiessuspense set in canada and californiawomans search for truth