Tag Archives: mystery

The Queen of Crime

Very few of us are what we seem.” Agatha Christie

Before your James Pattersons and your Patricia Cornwells, your M.C. Beatons and your Gillian Flynns, there was Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie wrote what we would call today “Cozy Mysteries”. She wrote them before the term even existed. She pretty much invented and popularized the genre. The elements of a “cozy” mystery remain popular today: Not much “on page” violence or sex, the setting: a small quaint village, preferably seaside, or someplace exotic, like a train or Egypt, and the most important element: an amateur sleuth. Maybe we could call her books “proto-cozy”?

Agatha Christie is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling author of all time, and ranks third in the world for the most widely published books, behind The Bible and Shakespeare.

Agatha Christie, surrounded by some of her 80-plus crime novels.

Her 1926 novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” was voted “best crime novel ever” by the 600 members of the Crime Writers Association in 2013, and her novels “And Then There Were None” and “Murder on the Orient Express” remain favourites to this day.

There has been a sudden surge of interest in Ms. Christie’s writings again. As this recent Globe and Mail article points out, the BBC has greenlit seven new television productions over the next 4 years, Kenneth Branagh is remaking “Murder on the Orient Express” with himself as Poirot, “Twin Peaks” co-creator Mark Frost is developing a new Miss Marple series, and “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes is working on “Crooked House”. That’s a pretty decent resumé for someone who passed away over 40 years ago.

In addition to being a novelist, Agatha Christie wrote 19 plays, which may be one of the reasons she was chosen for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s “Master Playwright Festival” in 2017. Running from February 8-26, there are a number of interesting productions and showings around the city related to Agatha Christie and her life and work.

You can see the whole line-up at RMTC’s website.

The Millennium Library is hosting three free movies related to Agatha Christie during the Festival.

You can start things off by watching the PBS documentary “The Mystery of Agatha Christie”, hosted by David Suchet on February 14.


Then you can check out a Miss Marple mystery, “Murder She Said” on Wednesday, February 15th.


On the following Tuesday, February 21, you can see the late great Sir Peter Ustinov as Hercules Poirot in “Death on the Nile”.


All movies start at 6:30 pm and are in the Carol Shields Auditorium of the Millennium Library downtown.


‘Tis the season to be reading!

Thanks to Mother Nature, it’s finally feeling pretty Christmassy outside. Inside the library, we’ve got you covered for seasonal romance and mystery. I’ve spent the past few months ordering all sorts of Christmas goodies for our readers, including stories with ho-ho-hot rogues, magical mistletoe, paranormal presents, and cozy Christmas sleuths. The current offerings provide something for every taste, so get comfy under a blanket (or mistletoe!), pour yourself a cup of something hot (alcoholic or not!), and check out the books below.

Making Spirits Bright by Fern Michaelsmaking-spirits-bright

This swoon-worthy collection of novellas hits the holiday sweet spot. In the title story, singleton Melanie McLaughlin dreams of adopting far more than she frets about her empty love life, but everything comes together when she’s offered two children orphaned by a terrible car crash and twinkle-eyed Bryce Landry steals her heart along with his offer to give the kids “the best Christmas ever.” Elizabeth Bass cooks up a tear-jerker in “Runaway Christmas” as spunky Texas teen Erica, trying to get back on track after her mother’s death, decides to spend Christmas with a family friend in Brooklyn. Rosalind Noonan’s “Home for Christmas,” a tale of a single mother falling for a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan, is sure to tug the heartstrings. Nan Rossiter’s “Christmas on Cape Cod” delivers a dog-lover’s dream.

Fields Where They Lay by Timonthy Hallinan fields-where-they-lay
It’s three days until Christmas and Junior Bender, Hollywood’s fast-talking fixer for the felonious, is up to his ears in shopping mall Santas, Russian mobsters, desperate holiday shoppers, and (’tis the season) murder, in this sixth entry in the Junior Bender Holiday Mystery series (after King Maybe). The halls are decked, the deck is stacked, and here comes that jolly old elf. Junior Bender, divorced father of one and burglar extraordinaire, finds himself stuck inside the Edgerton Mall, and not just as a last-minute shopper (though he is that too). Edgerton isn’t exactly the epicenter of holiday cheer, despite its two Santas, canned Christmas music, chintzy bows, and festive lights. The mall is a fossil of an industry in decline; many of its stores are closed, and to make matters worse, there is a rampant shoplifting problem. The murderous Russian mobster who owns the place has decided it takes a thief to catch a thief and hires Junior–under threat–to solve the shoplifting problem for him. But Junior’s surveillance operation doesn’t go well: as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are dead and it’s obvious that shoplifting is the least of the mall’s problems. To prevent further deaths, possibly including his own, Junior must confront his dread of Christmas–both present and past.


christmas-brideA Christmas Bride by Hope Ramsay

‘Tis the season in Shenandoah Falls and the first time Willow Peterson has been home in years. But she’s determined to fulfill the wishes of her recently deceased best friend and restore Eagle Hill Manor to its former glory–all in time to host the perfect holiday wedding. She just has to get the owner of the historic inn to hire her. Unfortunately, that means dealing with Scrooge himself.
After the death of his wife, David Lyndon has a bah-humbug approach to Christmas. But as December counts down and the wedding planning is in full swing, it’s harder and harder to stay immune to the charms of Willow, especially when he sees how much joy she brings his eight-year-old daughter. After a simple kiss under the mistletoe turns into something more, David is hoping he can turn the magic of the holiday season into the love of a lifetime.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelttwelve-dogs-of-christmas

Martha “Pups” Boyer, who’s at the center of Edgar-finalist Rosenfelt’s entertaining 15th legal thriller featuring Patterson, N.J., attorney Andy Carpenter (after Outfoxed), earned her nickname for her efforts to take in stray puppies that the local animal shelter can’t handle and find them permanent homes. Near the holidays, Pups’s new neighbor, Randy Hennessey, reports her for keeping more than the legal limit of animals. Andy, a long-time friend of Pups, figures that puppies and Christmas are key words that will ensure that the case is dismissed. He’s right. But when Randy turns up dead, Pups is arrested for his murder. The evidence is stacked against her, but Andy refuses to believe Pups guilty. On the other hand, Andy and his team discover some alarming discrepancies when they dig through the assets of the wealthy Pups and her late husband.


holiday-temptationHoliday Temptation by Donna Hill, Farrah Rochon, and K.M. Jackson

Three unlikely couples heat up the pages in this sensual trio of holiday. An aspiring playwright and a barista who is more than he seems learn to trust their hearts in Hill’s passionate “A Gift of Love”; a chance meeting in Istanbul’s spice market turns into something more for a Christmas-phobic photographer and techie craft brewer when the fates and the weather get into the act in Farrah Rochon’s affecting “Holiday Spice”; and a hard-driving real estate mogul hires a health-conscious chef to improve his diet and lifestyle during a business trip aboard his yacht and gets more than he bargained for in K.M. Jackson’s pert “From Here to Serenity.”


We Wish You a Murderous Christmas by Vicki Delanywe-wish-you-a-murderous-christmas

In Delany’s second book in the Year-Round Christmas Mystery series (after Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen), Merry Wilkinson is content with life in Rudolph, NY, where she runs a Christmas shop. The town has reinvented itself as a holiday-themed tourist destination full of indie businesses. So when the owner of the Yuletide Inn lands in the hospital following a heart attack, and his son, Gord, swoops in to convert the inn into a franchise of a budget hotel chain and sell land to a big-box store, the community is in an uproar. They’re almost relieved when Gord is murdered, until their resident Santa, Merry’s father, is questioned. Now Merry will have to find the real killer before her dad ends up in jail and the holiday is ruined.

it-must-be-christmasIt Must Be Christmas by Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, and Mandy Baxter

Three novellas with a delightful assortment of settings sweep readers off their feet with stories that highlight a variety of holiday experiences. A university librarian and a professor of Chinese lit (with a secret agenda) trade barbs and kisses as they spend Christmas Eve searching for an elusive action figure for a five-year-old in Crusie’s nonstop chuckler “Hot Toy”; a small-town doctor and an ex-Navy SEAL dad are thrown together when they find a newborn in the Christmas crèche in Donna Alward’s insightful “Christmas at Seashell Cottage”; and a wealthy rancher who wants nothing to do with his late father’s money finds romance with the founder of a sports-related charity for at-risk kids in Mandy Baxter’s steamy “Christmas with the Billionaire Rancher.” Library Journal states: “spirited, refreshing, and brimming with holiday joy, this diverse trilogy delivers both sexy and sweet, providing a little something for everyone.”

The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney and otherslast-chance-christmas-ball

Eight romance authors (collectively known as the Word Wenches) walk into a Regency-era ballroom and wreak fabulous, shimmering holiday mischief all over the place. The Dowager Countess of Holbourne is hosting an extravagant Christmas ball, and the guest list includes some of the loveliest, loneliest people in high society. Publisher’s Weekly states: “The best of the stories woven around this premise are Joanna Bourne’s ‘My True Love Hath My Heart,’ in which a little larceny spices a long-smoldering romance; Susan King’s ‘A Scottish Carol,’ wherein snowbound lovers never quite make it to the ball; and a maiden’s romantic rescue from a young ladies’ seminary in Anne Gracie’s ‘Mistletoe Kisses.’ The characters are smart and attractive-so much so that it can be hard to believe the ball is their only chance to find love-and their stories are delicious and appealing.”

our-first-christmasOur First Christmas by Lisa Jackson, Mary Burton, Mary Carter, and Cathy Lamb

Join four of the most favorite romance authors for tales of Christmas romance to remember forever.   In Lisa Jackson’s “Under the Mistletoe,” Megan Johnson’s marriage is over—or so she thinks. When her husband Chris lands in the hospital, she remembers the unexpected joy of their first Christmas together. The holidays bring painful memories for history professor Marisa Thompson in Mary Burton’s “A Ranger for Christmas.” But agreeing to help Texas Ranger Lucas Cooper solve a case presents her with more than a distraction. In Mary Carter’s “A Southern Christmas,” reporter Danielle Bright is heading home to write about Christmas down south—and possibly win back her ex. But Sawyer, the sexy photographer, is determined to jingle her bells. Family is where you go after quitting your job, but Laurel Kelly isn’t prepared for the changes at home in Montana—or the fact that her high school boyfriend now owns the family land in “A Ranger for Christmas” by Mary Burton.

Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisledeck-the-hallways

Contractor Shannon Hammer is back in Carlisle’s fourth “Fixer-Upper” mystery, an entertaining Christmas cozy. Shannon’s latest project is overseeing the remodeling of an old Victorian mansion into apartments for families in need. Since the bank donated the foreclosed house to the Holiday Homebuilders, company representative Mr. Potter is sent to keep an eye on the progress. However, he manages to harass and fight with several of the workers, including Shannon’s dad, then ends up murdered, leaving a long list of suspects. Hoping to keep her father off the list of potential killers and get the renovation back on track, Shannon does some amateur sleuthing.

trouble-with-mistletoeThe Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis

Fans of Shalvis’s Sweet Little Lies will surely want to pick up her second Heartbreaker Bay contemporary, which is also very accessible to new readers. The series’s cuddliness factor is amped up to 11 with redheaded Willa Davis and her San Francisco pet store, South Bark Mutt Shop. Willa’s single and happy that way; she gets her daily dose of love from half a dozen eight-week-old golden retriever pups and the other lost animal souls she tends. Then handsome Keane Winters, a man from her past, shows up with Petunia, a Siamese cat he’s nicknamed Pita because she’s a pain in the ass. Pita is his great-aunt’s pet, and he needs all the cat counseling he can get, but Willa, Christmas spirit notwithstanding, would just as soon he seek it elsewhere. Willa’s a gem, Keane’s a hunk-tool belt and all-and the two spar as only Shalvis’s characters can, fighting a losing battle against the powers of mutual attraction and the holiday season.

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morganmiracle-on-5th-avenue

As a surprise, Eva Jordan agrees to decorate for Christmas the apartment of the grandson of one of her events and concierge company’s oldest clients (even preparing frozen meals) and finds crime writer Lucas Blade lurking in the dark instead of in Vermont where he is supposed to be working. Recently widowed Lucas has hit a massive writer’s block and is hiding out at home. He certainly doesn’t want an effervescent, captivating, Christmas-loving woman disturbing his peace-although it’s exactly what he needs. A cynical novelist who doesn’t believe in love and an optimistic chef who thinks it’s more important than all else set the pages alight in a compelling romance that tempers the serious issues of loneliness, grief, and fear of commitment with the salutary joy of the season.


100-Mile Book Diet for Winnipeggers

100-mile-signI’ve heard of the wisdom of the 100-mile (or kilometre) food diet, but I was surprised — read “delighted” — to hear that books have entered the picture. What would be a suitable corollary: “Think globally, read locally”? I’m not quite ready to give up reading authors from afar, but is it not cool to add an occasional spicy book or two to your reading diet that’s set in your own backyard? Reading a mystery that navigates the streets of the Exchange District rather than San Francisco can add an enjoyable level of familiarity. And novels that deal with the human issues we face here invariably can help us understand ourselves just a bit better.

The 100-Mile Book Diet idea is developed on the website, 49thShelf.com, “the one-of-a-kind resource for discovering, discussing, and indulging in Canadian books” produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers. Although publishers get their say, anybody can add titles to the nationwide map of book settings. It’s well worth a look.

By my count, at least 31 novels are documented as being set in our big small town (I don’t think the list is exhaustive.) So here are just a few examples to keep in mind while constructing your reading menu for spring and summer:


Twenty Miles  by Cara Hedley

“Both fast-paced and hesitant, Twenty Miles celebrates women’s hockey and offers an uncompromising look at the ways in which the sport haunts the women who play it.” The author, now living in Alberta, once played for the U of M women’s hockey team.

9781894994026_cover_coverbookpage_embed Cherry by Chandra Mayor (a former Winnipeg Public Library Writer-in-Residence)

“Set in the Winnipeg skinhead scene of the early 1990s, Cherry is an unsettling account of a woman’s negotiation of violence, memory, and identity. Mayor deftly employs the technique of pastiche to craft her story: newspaper articles, notes, photographs, letters, and even appointment slips are used to signify the multi-layered nature of her narrative… Cherry is a punk rock bricolage, a poetic novel, a loss of innocence story, and an ode to the city of Winnipeg.”

9780394224176_cover_coverbookpage_embedThe Republic of Love by Carol Shields

“With a viewpoint that shifts as crisply as cards in the hands of a blackjack dealer, Carol Shields introduces us to two shell-shocked veterans of the wars of the heart.” And we can’t forget her Larry’s Party, set in the ‘Peg as well!

index-3.aspxThe Girl in the Wall  by Alison Preston

“Former Inspector Frank Foote has left the Winnipeg Police force and gone into home renovations, but after tearing down a wall on a job one day and finding the skeleton of a small female who has been imprisoned there, he finds himself following the leads to a photographer who specialized in taking photos.” Sounds mysterious.

index.aspx Dadolescence by Bob Armstrong

About that largely untold story of househusbands, of which there may be some. “Bill and Julie live in thrifty middle-class wedded bliss with their 12-year-old son Sean. Julie brings home the bacon while Bill keeps house and frets over his never-ending PhD thesis: an anthropological study of the role of men in society. All is relatively well until Julie’s ex-fiancé, the dashing and successful Blake Morgan, returns to Winnipeg with his wife and kids.While Bill takes solace in Blake’s premature grey and pot belly, next to Blake’s professional success Bill feels emasculated and questions what it means to be a man; especially a domesticated one.”

index-1.aspxCrackpot by Adele Wiseman, with an afterward by Margaret Laurence

“Hoda, the protagonist, is one of the most captivating characters in Canadian fiction. Graduating from a tumultuous childhood to a life of prostitution, she becomes a legend in her neighbourhood, a canny and ingenious woman, generous, intuitive, and exuding a wholesome lust for life. Resonant with myth and superstition, this radiant novel is a joyous celebration of life and the mystery that is at the heart of all experience.”

index-2.aspxThe House with the Broken Two: a birthmother remembers by Myrl Coulter

Actually a non-fiction book: “Dr. Myrl Coulter reflects on the family politics and social mores that surrounded closed adoption in the 1960s, and examines the changing attitudes that resulted in the current open adoption system and her eventual reunion with her first-born son. The book is an intimate, honest look at the way personal histories combine with political truths, and Coulter mixes revealing personal details with sharp political observations.”

9780888013484_cover_coverbookpageAn Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael van Rooy

“All ex-drug addict and reformed thief Montgomery Haavik wants to do is settle down with his wife and baby in their new Winnipeg home and work on building a straight life; one free of the day-to-day hustle and danger of being a career criminal. But for a man who’s never held down a legitimate job and who faces the daily temptation of returning to the drugs and violence of his past, it isn’t going to be easy.”

Others to choose from include The Bolshevik’s Revenge by Allan Levine (the backdrop of this mystery is the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike) and Under the Ribs of Death by John Marlyn.

Read locally, learn a lot!


Reading on the Island

Of all natural forms, there are few I enjoy more than islands. Islands seem to naturally convey our yearning for serenity and solitude, a world apart – although always linked – from the chaotic complications of modern life. In our cultural imagination, they are also linked with mystery and enchantment, harbouring stories just waiting to be told. Maybe it’s only because I’m hard-wired  (my own name means ‘little isle’)  but it’s sure hard to beat islands!

Earlier this month from our cottage’s deck in the Whiteshell, I often looked out onto a tiny isle on High Lake. For an entire hour one day a majestic male bald eagle was firmly perched atop one of the few evergreen growing on this beautiful spit of land, a beaming sentinel at home in his world. Gazing through binoculars didn’t seem satisfying enough. But by the time Lydia, my wife, and I got the canoe  on the lake to see it close-up, the eagle had flown away into the mist. Still, what a sight!

What books and movies offer interesting narratives on islands, you ask? Here’s a few tantalizing samples, perfect for summer reading/viewing:

Robert Zemeckis’ movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks is actually a fine example of island storytelling. After a plane crash, a compulsed FedEx employee, with a volleyball as his lone friend(!?), learns to slow down and reflect on the state of his life on a remote tropical island. Good stuff if you’re watching eating popcorn with a cool drink by your side.

Treasure Island‘ by Robert Louis Stevenson is an old classic, maybe the first in fiction to describe the unmistakable allure of islands in detail. But have you read the updated graphic novel version? The Library has it for you to borrow, conventional versions too, including audio. (Another historical classic: Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island‘.)

Shutter Island‘ by best-selling American author Dennis Lehane is a wonderful thriller about two U.S. marshals in 1954 investigating a shady psychological facility on a Boston harbour island. After reading the book, why not watch the compelling 2010 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo?

‘The Island of Doctor Moreau‘ by science-fiction great H.G. Wells (this edition introduced by Margaret Atwood!) plumbs the depth of the ‘abyss’ of what can be construed as human nature. It is a devilish tale about animal experimentation, moral responsibility, and human identity. You may want to read this one with all the lights on!

One of my favourite islands, which I would love to visit, is Sable Island, 300 km off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. Known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’, this notorious sandbar is home to wild ponies, seals, birds, sand dunes, only a few residents, and at least 300 years of shipwrecks. Bruce Armstrong’s Sable Island is a great introduction to the myth and the reality that is Sable. The great news is that this 42-km long island, as of this year, is a National Park Reserve! An alternative title is: ‘Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic‘ by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hurtle.

Books and movies about islands have no end! A new mystery by Tracey Garvis-Graves, ‘On the Island’, released this summer, continues the long tradition. An English teacher and her student crash in the Indian Ocean. “Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an inhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter. Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return.” I think this might be another page-turner.

– Lyle

Getting a Clue – About Mystery Fiction

What attracts readers to mystery fiction? Simple curiosity? A desire to uncover the truth?  A need to see justice be done? The thrill of resolving a puzzle? All of the above?

Like many gamers, I have begun playing the excellent video game L.A. Noire, a detective console game in which one plays at solving crimes in 1940’s Los Angeles – as if you are in an interactive novel. And what better way to further immerse oneself into the gaming experience than to read a good mystery novel or two? But where to begin? The library has a huge selection of mystery fiction with lots of recommended authors and well-loved characters.

There are of course the Victorian classics like those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is still one of my favourite detective stories, especially the dynamic interactions between Holmes and Watson during this investigation.

Inspector Maigret’s stories, by French author George Simenon, are set in Paris between the wars. These books are a fond favourite due to the slow tempo of the intrigue that contrasts with that of  more contemporary thrillers.

A little more modern and hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon are two of the un-missable authors of noir detective stories, where the plots are more action-oriented. The heroes, usually private investigators, must use their physical skills as well as their brains in order to succeed in a world more morally ambiguous and less orderly than depicted in Victorian mysteries. An added bonus is that both authors have seen some of their works adaptated for the silver screen so you can watch Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade on DVD at the library.

Of course, I always have a preference for detective stories with strong historical elements.  A good sins of a suffragetteexample is local author Allan Levine’s Sam Klein Mysteries series, notably “Sins of the Suffragette” and “The Bolshevik’s Revenge,” which brings 1910’s Winnipeg to life. He weaves intrigue around the issues of this period in history, including women’s rights and the Winnipeg General Strike, which adds an extra element of enjoyment for readers who enjoy historical elements in addition to a good whodunit.

In the same vein, the Murdoch Mystery series by Maureen Jennings explores the world of 1890’s Toronto, highlighting the harsh living conditions of the majority as well as describing police methods of the time.

These are only a few personal recommendations and I encourage anyone to share their own. It is after all a genre that is not lacking in quality titles.

– Louis-Philippe