Monday, February 19, 2007

Imagining Toronto the Damned in the (not damned) National Post

An article I wrote for Reading Toronto (called "Imagining Toronto the Damned") is excerpted in today's National Post. Since the Post (with permission; I should have asked for the by-line since most of the text is reproduced from my original post) excerpted my text verbatim, I don't suppose there's any problem -- other than recursion -- with me quoting myself again here. A note: the list of noir/mystery novels is far from complete (I left off Morley Callaghan's Strange Fugitive (1928) for example -- a book described as Canada's first urban novel).

Pity I posted only the first half of the article last week, without getting into why Toronto is a setting for so many noir novels. But then, that's a chapter I'm working on in the manuscript, and it remains far from complete. In general, though, cities are easily associated with chaos, anonymity, danger, and the service of our visceral compulsions. Their anti-pastoral character makes them a natural setting for moralistic tales. Is the trope outdated? Despite a surge in 'American Gothic' novels, the city remains the focus of many of our darkest fantasies. More to come.

The City

National Post

Published: Monday, February 19, 2007



Amy Lavender Harris has a fascinating post on on the surprising library of Toronto murder mysteries.

''Who'd have thought Toronto the Good could produce such a hearse-load of dark fiction? Since turning to Toronto literature full-time a little over a year ago, I've come across more Toronto-based murders, mysteries and thrillers every week,'' she writes. ''A demon that tears the throats out of hapless transit riders at Eglinton West subway station. A severed hand in the Don Valley, once attached to a member of the Law Society. Royal Ontario Museum mummies with the urge for a snack (not to mention your soul). Mobsters who put the con in your King West condominium. Psychic schizophrenics. A shambling, flesh-shedding thing emerging from the wading pool in the neighbourhood park.''

''Try Graham McNamee's Acceleration (2003) or Tanya Huff 's Blood Price (1991); Huff also writes about a romance writing vampire who lives in a downtown condo and the ROM's escapee mummy. Suburban horror? Try Linwood Barclay's Bad Move (2004) or Hugh Garner's classic Death in Don Mills (1975). Victorian murder mysteries? Maureen Jennings' award-winning Detective William Murdoch series. Punk noir? Daniel Jones' 1978 (1999). Class commentary and crime on the same page? Vivian Meyer's Bottom Bracket (2006) and Pat Capponi's Last Stop Sunnyside (2006).

Ms. Harris --find out more at --is kind enough to post her list of mystery/detective/noir novels set in Toronto:

- Ackler, Howard, 2005. The City Man (a pickpocket gang in 1930s Toronto).

- Rosemary Aubert's Ellis Portal mystery series, largely about a disgraced former judge who finds himself living in a shack in the Don Valley before finding redemption in selfless acts. Free Reign (1997), The Feast of Stephen (1999), The Ferryman Will Be There (2001), Leave Me By Dying (2003), and Red Mass (2006).

- Baker, Nancy, 1993. The Night Inside. Toronto: Viking. Later re-released as Kiss of the Vampire.

- Toronto Star writer Linwood Barclay's Bad Move (2004) and Bad Guys (2005). New York: Bantam.

- Batten, Jack, 1991. Blood Count. Toronto: Macmillan.

- Brady, Liz, 2001. Bad Date. (A Jane Yeats Mystery) Toronto: Second Story Press.

- Anti-poverty activist Pat Capponi's Last Stop Sunnyside (2006), featuring a group of rooming house residents to work together to solve the murder of their friend.

- Carpenter, J.D., 2001. The Devil in Me. (A Campbell Young Mystery). Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

- Deverell, William, 1995. Street Legal: The Betrayal. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. (Deverell is the creator of the CBC Street Legal series.)

- Gibson, Brian, 2004. Bleeding Daylight. Thornhill: Oubliette Press. Set largely at York University.

- Gordon, Alison, 1995. Striking Out. Toronto: McClelland &Stewart. See also: Safe at Home (1991).

- Green, Terrence M., 1996. Blue Limbo. 1988. Barking Dogs. New York: St. Martin's Press.

- Holmes, Michael, 2000. Watermelon Row. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press. An excellent, if exceptionally violent, novel about how easy it can be to slip into skid row.

- Tanya Huff 's witty and suspense- filled Vicki Nelson series featuring a female ex-cop and a romance-writing vampire: Blood Price (1991), Blood Trail (1992), Blood Lines (1992), Blood Pact (1993), and Blood Debt (1997). Huff 's Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light (1989) is also set in Toronto.

- Maureen Jennings' award-winning Detective William Murdoch mystery series set in Victorian Toronto, including Vices of My Blood (2006), Night's Child (no. 5, 2005), Let Loose the Dogs (no. 4, 2002), Poor Tom is Cold (no. 3, 2001), Under the Dragon's Tail (no. 2, 1998), and Except the Dying (no. 1, 2001, a novel which won a commendation from Heritage Toronto).

- MacKay, Scott, 2003. Old Scores. (Detective Barry Gilbert series) St. Martins Minotaur. See also: Fall Guy (2001) and Cold Comfort (1998).

- McFetridge, John, 2006. Dirty Sweet. Toronto: ECW Press. Sex and violence in Toronto's real estate market.

- Meyer, Vivian, Bottom Bracket (2006). A fun, fast-paced crime novel set in Kensington Market. The protagonist is a thirty-something female bicycle courier.

- Moritsugu, Kim, 2003. The Glenwood Treasure. Toronto: Dundurn. Light-hearted mystery set in Rosedale.

- Rehner, Jan, 2003. Just Murder. Toronto: Sumach. Rehner teaches at York University.

- Swan, John, 2004. Sap. Toronto: Insomniac Press. Classic noir.

- Eric Wright's Charlie Salter mystery series, including The Last Hand (2002), The Night the Gods Smiled (1984; winner of the City of Toronto book award), Smoke Detector (1984), Death in the Old Country (1985), A Single Death (1986), A Body Surrounded by Water (1987), A Question of Murder (1988), A Sensitive Case (1990), Final Cut (1991), A Fine Italian Hand (1992), and Death By Degrees (1993).

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