Oh Canada …Cultural Colonialism and Canadian crime authors …

Recently, J. Kingston Pierce wrote a widely shared column in Kirkus Reviews about how Canadian mystery authors are usually forced to set their books in the US if they want to sell. This is a subject close to my heart — I graduated with a degree in Canadian Studies many decades ago, and have always been concerned about the Americanization of our culture.

It was a topic that several of the authors on my new Rogers TV show talked about. Rick Mofina, for example, said he was asked to change the protagonist of his first novel from Canadian to American and agreed, but he’s often wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t. Same with Linda Wiken, Brad Smith, and Mary Jane Maffini. (I was asked by an agent to make my character, Mike Ellis, American but pointed out that at the time the book is set, Americans couldn’t legally travel to Cuba.)

Frankly, I don’t see how Canadians can develop a cultural identity that the world might actually be interested in if we keep pretending we’re not who we are. If we can’t tell our own stories, who can?

We’ve seen this kind of thing before with television in Canada, and shows that were filmed here that were made to look as if they weren’t.  Luckily that’s changing with wonderful TV shows like Flashpoint, King, and Continuum, and I say, luckily, because I think this kind of cultural colonialism starts to influence our views of ourselves, and not in a good way.  

At one time, our disdain for our own “Canadianness” extended so far that the cast of a variety show filmed in Halifax was under strict orders not to mention that fact in case it offended people in Toronto.

Since I do feel so strongly about this, I’m  very pleased that Pierce returned to this topic with a blog post that celebrates some of the Canadian authors who’ve made the conscious decision to keep our characters Canadian. His newest blog post is entitled “O No Canada — Snooping Out Crimes North of the Border (Part II).”

I’m proud to see people I know and respect as writers getting credit, like my pal, John McFetridge, our own Louise Penny, Giles Blunt, and Gail Bowen. And I’m absolutely delighted to see my own name on the list.

Pierce writes:  “In my last column, I looked at some of the difficulties facing today’s Canadian crime novelists as they seek attention for their works beyond the precincts of their own nation. American publishers are often leery of taking them on, their fiction has trouble achieving notice amid the contesting torrents of U.S. and U.K. mysteries and thrillers, and international readers don’t necessarily find Canadian settings “exotic” enough to be interesting (unlike the frosty, rolling reaches of Scandinavia).

“Some of the best-recognized crime-fictionists living north of the U.S. border—Peter Robinson, Linwood Barclay, J. Robert Janes and Owen Laukkanen among them—don’t commonly set their tales on their home turf. However, there remain plenty of made-in-Canada authors with easily discernible links to the land of maple leaves, Molson and moose. Recently, I asked several novelists and critics from Up North to help me assemble the following list of contemporary Canadian mystery-makers whose tales you ought to sample, if you haven’t already…..

“Peggy Blair. Blair is an attorney in Ottawa, Ontario, whose first mystery novel, The Beggar’s Opera, was released earlier this year in the States. It finds a Canadian detective traveling to Havana, Cuba, intent on saving his marriage—only to wind up being the last person spotted in company with a young beggar bound for a morgue table. The investigation falls to Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, who’s already beset by ghosts of unsolved murders past and fears that dementia will claim his life as surely as it did his grandmother’s. Blair’s sequel, The Poisoned Pawn, is already out north of the border, and finds Ramirez flying to Ottawa, where he’s supposed to nab a priest in possession of pornography depicting Cuban children. ‘Blair’s writing is intelligent, sharp and finely paced,’ says Montrealer Jacques Filippi, author of the blog The House of Crime and Mystery. ‘Her stories are dark but dashed with hope: they concentrate on the human condition—as much for the dead as for the living—with great sensitivity and a well-timed sense of humor.””

The blog is too long to reproduce all the great plugs for the other authors he mentions, so please click on the link, and even better, share it, talk these authors up, and buy their books. And let me send a huge  shout-out to Jacques Filippi, who I consider one of the finest “curators” of writing talent there is, for mentioning my series. What an honour it is to be classified among “Canadian” writers.

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