Seven of the best Canadian Mysteries
Here in Canada, there’s no shortage of excellent settings for thrillers and mystery novels. Need your protagonist to get lost? We have millions of acres of dense forest and a swath of Rocky Mountains both desolate and vast. Need someplace stark and unforgiving? Head up to the Arctic, where your characters will find only frigid darkness in winter and relentless daylight in summer.
When I started writing my novel Still Mine, I picked the mountains as setting because they felt particularly foreign to me. In my writer’s mind, I imagined my protagonist, Clare O’Dey, driving up the mountain road, its twists and turns a harbinger of what awaited her in the fictional town of Blackmore. While I never situated Blackmore specifically in Canada, many great mystery writers have chosen Canadian locales as the backdrop for their stories.
Here’s a tasting of my favorites:
A writer friend recommended Penny’s series to me years ago as one of Canada’s best, and I’ve since devoured her novels. While Inspector Gamache tends to stick close to Three Pines, a fictional hamlet in rural Quebec, Penny’s readership has reached across the globe. The twelfth book in the series will be released this summer.
- The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s 2015 thriller unfolds in 1990s Toronto, a time when Paul Bernardo, a real-life rapist and serial killer, was terrorizing the city. As a born and bred Torontonian, the geography of fear Mariaffi lays out was uncomfortably familiar to me, but the unnerving story will grab readers even if they’ve never set foot in my home city.
- The Hazel Micallef Series by Inger Ash Wolfe
Set in the sleepy Ontario town of Port Dundas, this series uses the local landscape of woods and lakes to great advantage. The town’s cantankerous Inspector Hazel Micallef is ready to retire on page one, but then things go very awry and she must rouse the less-than-equipped local police force to take on the challenge. The first book in the series, The Calling, was recently released as a feature film starring Susan Sarandon.
Readers across the world might know these books from the millions sold and the long-running TV series it spawned, but the roots of Reichs’s stories are in the gritty corners of Montreal. Lead character Temperance Brennan investigates human remains at crime scenes, a vocation world-renowned forensic anthropologist Reichs knows from experience. Many novels later, the series has taken Brennan out of Montreal, across Canada, and around the world.
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
While not a traditional thriller, this international bestseller was one of the most thrilling reads of 2015. The book depicts the aftermath of a virus that takes hold at a theater performance in Toronto and swiftly wipes out 99.9% of the human race. The story is international, but the focus remains on a few survivors as they journey the shores of the Great Lakes. To imagine the city where I grew up at the epicenter of a world-collapsing event pulled all the right fear strings.
- The John Cardinal Series by Giles Blunt
Algonquin Bay is a fictionalized stand-in for Blunt’s hometown of North Bay; the first paragraph in the debut book depicts the short days and cold nights of northern Ontario’s winters. From there, the rural landscape becomes another character in the series. Blunt has built a lasting career walking a fine line between procedural mystery and psychological thriller, with the flawed but brilliant John Cardinal as his worthy protagonist and Lisa Delorme as his partner and conscience. Each book seems better than the last.
- The Bern Fortin Mysteries by Deryn Collier
Set in the Kootenay Mountains, this two-books-and-counting series follows an ex–Canadian Forces commander, Bern Fortin, after he leaves the military to work as coroner in a small British Columbia town. He’s hoping for a quieter life, but of course things don’t work out that way. Fortin is an excellent character, a crime solver haunted by memories of the wars he fought before the series began. Here’s hoping Collier writes many more.