Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What better way to travel than through a good book

By R.J. Harlick

Many readers like to travel vicariously with a good book without having to move from the comfort of their armchair. Are there any crime novels that you particularly enjoyed that transported you to a place or time you had wanted to visit?

You’ll be reading this as I am wending my way back home to the snow and cold. I’ve had a fabulous time in the sun and heat of Florida, but you know what, I’ll be glad to be back home.  And miracles of miracles, with a forecasted temperature of 17C or 63F in Ottawa next week, winter might finally be over, says she knowing full well that it won’t say its final goodbye without another frigid blast of the white stuff.

I do love to travel and have been to many places around the world. That said, I also love to travel through a good book. I often will select a title because of its setting.

I fell in love with Travis McGee primarily because he lived in Florida. When the winter winds were howling outside, I would pick up a John D. MacDonald book and immerse myself in the Florida heat. It felt delicious. I think I have read most of the Travis McGee books at least twice. But funny, now that I do find myself spending some time in Florida, I have little desire to spend time with Travis.  In fact, during this stay I found myself cooling off in the rainy cold of the Shetland Islands.

Which brings me to Ann Cleeves, the author of the Shetland series, another series I love, in part because of the location. I’ve never been to the Shetlands and doubt I will ever visit them, but when I read one of her novels I feel the icy dampness of the fog rolling off the sea and marvel at the myriad of sea birds cavorting over the rolling waves. While I have enjoyed one or two of her Vera books set in Northumberland, they don’t draw me the same way Jimmy Perez does to those far-flung islands rising out of the cold waters of the North Sea.

I have always been intrigued by the soaring mountains of Tibet and its enduring culture, but doubt I will ever have the opportunity to visit them, so when I learned about Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series, knew I had to read them. Thus far I have read the first four books and loved them.  Pattison is a master at conveying the majesty of these mountains and the stoic determination of its people as they strive to maintain their Buddhist culture despite the eradication attempts by their Chinese masters.

With so many fabulous Canadian mystery writers now publishing, I find myself getting to know my own country better. Barbara Fradkin’s latest book, Fire in the Stars, took me to Newfoundland, a province I have never visited, as did Mike Martin’s Sgt. Windflower’s series. I enjoy exploring Halifax, Nova Scotia with Anne Emery’s Collins-Burke mystery series. Hilary Mcleod’s The Shores series took me to Prince Edward Island, Ann of Green Gables country.  I’m afraid I don’t know of any mystery books set in New Brunswick, but if you do, please mention it in the comments.
own country better.

There are a number of mysteries set in Central Canada, including my own set in the wilds of West Quebec. Foremost is Louise Penny’s award winning Inspector Gamache series set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. John Farrow, Peter Kirby and John McFetridge bring Montreal alive in their respective series. John McFetridge also has a series set in Toronto as does Robert Rotenberg and Howard Shrier, though his award winning Jonah Geller series usually has Jonah racing off to another city. Although Brenda Chapman’s Stonechild and Rouleau series started in Ottawa, the latest books explore the Kingston Ontario area.  Barbara Fradkin’s award winning Inspector Green series also provides a good perspective of Ottawa and the surrounding area. Giles Blunt takes the reader to northern Ontario in his John Cardinal series.

To visit the Prairies, you must read Gail Bowen’s award winning Joanne Kilburn series set in Regina, Saskatchewan and Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant series set in Saskatoon, though Russell will also take the reader to other exotic locales. I’m afraid I don’t know any crime novels set in Manitoba, but Garry Ryan’s Detective Lane’s series will take you to Calgary, Alberta, while you’ll get to know Edmonton through Janice MacDonald’s Randy Craig series and Wayne Arthurson’s Leo Desroches series. Stephen Legault also writes mysteries set in various Alberta locales and in various time periods.

I swear no one ever grows tired of reading books set in beautiful British Columbia and there is no shortage of mystery novels set in Canada’s most westerly province.  I imagine L.R. Wright was the first with her Karl Alberg series set on the Sunshine coast, quickly followed by William Deverell who is still putting Arthur Beauchamp through his lawyerly paces in the Gulf Islands. Others have since joined them, including Sam Wiebe, E.R. Brown, Vicki Delany and two of my fellow bloggers, R.M. Greenaway and Dietrich Kalteis. Even I couldn’t resist sending my heroine Meg Harris to the B.C. coast.

Sadly, there are few books set in Canada’s Far North. Other than my own two, one set on Baffin
Island and the other in the Northwest Territories. I only know of two other writers who’ve given their mysteries a northern setting, namely the Yukon, Elle Wild with her first book, Strange Things Done, and Vicki Delany’s Klondike series.


I see I have got carried away with my Canadian travels, but I am so frequently asked by readers about books set in Canada, that I thought I would include a number of them. They are all terrific reads.

1 comment:

Grace Koshida said...

Excellent summary of some great Canadian mystery writers, Robin!

For Manitoba, Michael Van Rooy wrote 3 very good books set in Winnipeg about 10 years ago. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in his early 40s while on a book tour in 2011.

There are several other mysteries set in the NWT or Yukon Territory by both Canadian and American writers. Sue Henry set several of her books in both Alaska and the Yukon. Scott Young wrote mysteries with an Inuk Mountie in the late 1980s.

And I agree that virtual travelling via reading is a lot of fun. I devoured the first 4 books translated into English by Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson. His books feature a young police detective who leaves Reykjavik to take a new posting in a small town in northern Iceland. The cold, claustrophic setting is very well portrayed, and I highly recommend this series.