Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Issue 3 - December 2015

Mystery and history often go hand in hand. Academic and amateur historians, who have taken to writing crime fiction, show how little human motivation and corruption has changed, even as they expertly transport us to another time and place.

Three historical crime novels are included this month’s reviews, ranging from the War of 1812 to post World War I and World War II. Two more books take us away to exotic locales, and the sixth makes us laugh as well as think. What better escape from Canadian winter.

By Cheryl MacDonald
Heronwood Enterprises
Trade paperback $19.95

This fictional series, debuting with Colonel Nichol and the Murdered Maiden springs from solid historical research by author Cheryl MacDonald, a War of 1812 historian with several nonfiction titles about this time to her credit. But can an historian create a historically accurate fictional tale about life, death and political intrigue featuring memorable people like Isaac Brock, John Brant, Tecumseh, along with the novel’s detective, Colonel Robert Nichol (1780-1824)?  In a word…yes.

Nichol served as the quartermaster-general of the Militia for Upper Canada and advised and was befriended by General Isaac Brock. He knew the territory, Port Dover, Amherstburg, Windsor and Detroit, the location of much of the action in the novel.

The writing rings true. But it’s a chorus of bells with sharp dialogue; a plot that will make you stop and think how little has changed in the past 200 years, and a setting that encourages you to ponder about the people who lived in Upper Canada in 1812.

Nichol has a sidekick, Wallace, a young man of mixed black and white ancestry. They make a good team and solve this obscure murder while the son of Joseph Brant waits in the guardhouse to hang.
Colonel Nichol and the Murdered Maiden demonstrate that Canadian history is alive, well and full of intrigue, death and resolution. And author MacDonald has put it in an entertaining, yet honest framework. I’m looking forward to the next one.

By Sharon Johnston
Trade Paperback $24.99

Matrons and Madams is a fine example that life is the best mystery plot of all. Add a setting: a post WWI, Lethbridge hospital run by a female superintendent and on the other side of town, a legal brothel run by Nova Scotia trained teacher turned madam. A plot like that firmly puts to bed that great stories cannot be found in Canada.

Be it fiction, history or mystery, good storytelling is the art of weaving words into a tapestry of colour, texture, mystery, life and death. The weaver, in this case Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, the wife of Canada’s Governor General, has spun a determined tale that captures the essence of time, place and action with humour, compassion and guts.

British widow, Clara Durling takes on her duties at the Lethbridge hospital just as the vast collateral human damage of young, limbless soldiers arrive on her door step. Phantom limb crisis, blood poisoning, gas damage test her will as she demands cleanness, good food and better nursing while pissing off the male medial hierarchy.

On the other side of town, Canadian widow Lily Parsons arrives in Lethbridge to teach. She endures the tragedies that so often strike and becomes the Madam of a local brothel in order to feed herself and child.
And what a dynamic duo they become as together they respond to the highest rate of venereal disease in the province by opening the first clinic.

Be patient with the first few chapters while the context and circumstances lead these two firecrackers to Alberta. The reward is a story worth telling and a wickedly funny and poignant tale to read.  I will be first in line for this talented writer to bring more personal Canadian history to print.

A DEADLY VENTURE (A Max Dexter Mystery)
By Chris Laing
Seraphim Editions
Trade Paperback $19.95

Chapter one: no fooling around here. Max’s buddy, a local cop, is on the phone telling him that Max’s painter friend, Roger Bruce, is at the Barton Street jail on a charge of murder.

Max, the private eye with a limp and his gorgeous partner, Isabel are on the case.

The writing is fast, sharp with that rapid fire texture and gumshoe cadence. The setting post World War II Hamilton, complete with the Connaught Hotel, jars of beer at forty cents and an atmosphere that simply propels the story into that “I can’t put it down” category.
Max’s network is hard at it. High end waiters, war amp survivors selling pencils on the street corner, his cheap, with a heart of gold uncle reporter at the Spectator, all add to the inevitable but genuinely surprising climax.

What makes A Deadly Venture stand out? It’s fine story telling with no presumptions other than to entertain and turn the clock back to the days when the QEW was just open. Cities across the free world were picking up the pieces, and people were trying to create new lives with what they had left. Add the shadow of the local mob that are out to discourage Max and Isabel, this becomes a series to look forward to, one with staying power and a unique take on the historical mystery.

Winnner of the 2015 Kerry Schooley Award, Hamilton Arts Council

By Allan J. Emerson
Five Star Publishing
Hardcover $27.95

Death of a Bride and Groom…yes, it’s a mystery, a police procedural, albeit with a force of three usually handling the mundane, small town mischief…it might also be a cozy but certainly one I’d label as a cozy on steroids. Other than that, it’s an awarding winning first novel waiting for the spotlight.

Above all, it is a cleverly plotted story where the solution is the result of old fashioned digging, talking to people, provoking them, reading the signs and putting the pieces together wrapped in some very funny writing. The action is sharply drawn and the imagery convincing.

Author, Allan Emerson achieves this and more with finely tuned dialogue, creating a sense of place with a few words that trigger the imagination along with a touch of the theatre of the absurd wrapped in humour. And occasionally the humour is the “slap the armchair and laugh out loud” variety.

Honeymoon Falls, B.C., a local famous author is found in full bridal attire on top of a wedding cake float, dead, accompanied by her equally dead ex-lover. A thus begins the tale of public embarrassment, town council interference, nosy, persistent media, a frazzled local cop with two of the three stooges along to help. It’s funny but the intent is serious and ugly. The success lies within the story telling’s exposure of secrets and half-truths.

By Peter Mayle
Alfred A. Knopf
Hardcover $24.95

A diamond caper maybe a reader’s best friend. Add time spent in Provence, a healthy splash of wines that would leave a credit card in cardiac arrest, had it not already suffered palliative care from first class flights, shopping in Marseilles, and parties to end parties and you have another successful Mayle novel.

The Diamond Caper is an amusing tale to be taken while resting in a hammock, on a deck, gentle waves close by and something bubbly to lubricate the page turning. Author Mayle plots a crime the way he brings Provence to life. Descriptions set the scene with an elegant buzz while pricy estate owners are removed of their diamond treasures. It’s gone on for too long, even the insurance companies are complaining.

Along come a pair of amateur sleuths who can always be tempted to solve a crime if the champagne is chilled just so and the menus are at least Michelin two stars.  There is a gently lingering taste of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. The Diamond Caper is the fourth in this Caper series, all worthy of your attention with an eye to some innocent escapism under the summer sun.

By Ian Hamilton
House of Anansi Press
Trade Paperback $19 95

If you enjoy story-telling told in a frank format using a maze within a labyrinth enriched by a conundrum that can kill, then Ava Lee’s seventh tale is one you’ll not put down. I classify The Princeling of Nanjing as one of those grip tight novels that makes one read “just one more chapter” and you discover it’s 3am.

The novel is built on complicated webs artfully woven into clear, magnetic story-telling. I wrote in an earlier Ava Lee review that she was a character we all could use at one time or another.

Ava is in Shanghai for the launch of a new fashion line.  Xu, an invited guest is hesitant to attend this champagne and glitz evening.  Ava learns that Tsai Lian, governor of Jiangsu province and a princeling, is pushing Xu to enter the drug business. Ava, with the memories of Uncle in her soul, sets out to discourage this Princeling as the vicious web reaches the peak of political corruption.

Author Ian Hamilton delivers the intrigue within complex and relentless webs in high style and once again proves that everyone, once in their lives, needs an Ava Lee at their backs.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Issue 2: November 2015

Don read his first mystery, the Sign of Four, when he was seven, and struggled to accept that Sherlock Holmes was not real until he was ten. He still harbours suspicions that the pipe smoking sleuth still walks the streets of London.


The mystery corner at The Different Drummer is the place to find the mystery that goes beyond the pot boiler today…gone tomorrow. These shelves are like that special closet we all read about as kids. It’s where you find the best in Canadian, British, European and American authors, the ones you read, let settle in your treasure bank and return to. It’s the books your friends borrow and you remember to retrieve. Authors with leading-edge plotting, dialogue that feels like a conversation you’re in the midst of and setting that places you into the action.  The Mystery Corner at the Different Drummer: fine, fictional story telling in the mystery genre.

Don will be haunting our shelves to read and review a selection of mystery he hopes you will enjoy. He reviewed for the Hamilton Spectator for eight years, continues with freelance reviewing for Canadian and foreign publishers. In 2012 he won the coveted Derrick Murdoch award from the Crime Writers of Canada for his contribution to Canadian mystery writing. You may also see his landscapes on our walls as he organizes the Different Drummer’s local artists on our wall initiatives. His work can be found at www.dongraves.org. You can reach Don at donald.graves67@gmail.com

By Quintin Jardin
Trade Paperback $22.99
eBook $6.99

Author, Quinton Jardine, Scotland’s gift to the best in mystery writing has branched out from his awarding Bob Skinner and Oz Blackstone series into the rapidly growing sub-genre of the history mystery. Storytelling with mystery at its heart, before the days of forensic delights. And Mathew’s Tale is one of the finest stories in this genre that I’ve read in some time.

1818, Carluke, Lanarkshire, a young, battle scared veteran of the Battle of Waterloo returns to his county, physically damaged, emotionally wounded and matured beyond his twenty plus years.

Author, Jardine’s tale is  a tough, but delicate rendering of the Scottish landscape at the cusp of the industrial age of the steam engine, the new risks and opportunities for the young choking against a new Lord’s abusive rule.

Jardine’s palette is colourful: power, deceit, passion, manners that disguise the pain beneath and justice perverted and justice prevailed. Mathew’s Tale is story telling at its raw and compassionate best. The writing gets into the very fabric of a society being dragged into a destiny of change. Mathew’s Tale is an award winner.

By Charles Finch
Minatour Books.
Hardcover $29.99

London, 1876, and proof that Sherlock Holmes no longer enjoys a monopoly on private detection in the glorious, deceitful, grubby and high risk city of Victorian London.

Charles Lenox, upper class, newly wed, newly retired member of Parliament has returned to his first love…detection, this time as a partner in a private agency.

The love, hate relationship with Scotland Yard is alive and well as the Yard seeks out the ‘under the table’ help from Lenox. A Yard Inspector is found dead in Regent Park. The clues unfold in a cornucopia of Sherlockian gold:  An old wound, an untraced boat, a mysterious convent in a row of gilded town homes, one of which is occupied by an aristocrat who remains one step ahead of the law.

The writing is sharp and compassionate and stirs memories of Anthony Trollope and Dickens…you are there in the parlours, back streets and shipping yards of London. Atmosphere, clues and climax mix with life behind the velvet sitting room curtains keeps you turning the pages. A long and successful series that sets the standard.

By; Jill Downie

Blood Will Out is the third and the best so far in this series Featuring Moretti and Falla in the Channel Islands. Author, Jill Downie, writes with poise, setting a puzzle worth reading featuring characters that come off the page with a wide range of intent and deceit. The setting sparkles with detail: the characters move with ease. Surrounding this award winning writing is sharp and insightful dialogue.

D.I. Ed Moretti and his partner Kiz Falla investigate a suicide. But is it as simple as that or is it an outbreak of vampirism perhaps fueled by a local playwright who is writing a play about vampires. Will the murderer attack again? Why and when? The answers take skilled detection, s revealed by author, Downie, who weaves us through a complex network of truth and lies.

Blood Will Out is a satisfying read that teases one to check out Daggers and Men’s Smiles and A Grave Waiting, the first two in the Moretti and Falla series. Makes you wish for the fourth. Downie is a strong example of why Canadian mystery writing takes a back seat to no one.

By: Jake Doherty
Carrick Publishing
Trade Paperback $14.95
eBook $4.99

Bearwalker Alibi is a story crafted to grab and hold your interest and compassion on a variety of levels. Author, Jake Doherty, a reporter, editor and publisher has found that the ink still pulses with a fierce intensity with this startling new novel. If the jury values a good story, then Bearwalker Alibi will find its way into an awards circle.

Investigating the powerfully real dynamic between “white-man’s law” and “the driving cultural spirit that guides First Nation’s justice”, author, Doherty tells a profoundly moving story about the dramatic clashes over the systemic abuse of First Nations children, its lifelong pain, the ravages of PTSD and the terrifying veil of evil of lurks within the Bearwalker’s curse.

While fictional, Bearwalker Alibi illustrates the gulf between punishment and redemptive healing and the dark corners where PTSD thrives.  Scenes that grip and don’t let go, forceful dialogue and an ending that makes me hope that the journey of Dr. Mary Fraser and Fergus Fitzgerald has just begun.

By Melodie Campbell and Cynthia St-Pierre.
Imajin Books
Trade Paperback $19.74
eBook $4.99

Small town, Toronto connections, gorgeous women, wall safes full of real jewelry worth killing for, and house gutted by fire and a body.  Two female, amateur detectives with two authors who know how to plot, feed clues, create atmosphere, offer spicy and spiky dialogue and you have A Killer Necklace, a first rate mystery tale with laughter that could kill you. A Killer Necklace is already on the Amazon Best Sellers list. Guess who wore the jewellery.

The quaint town is Black Currant. Gina, a trendy, outspoken, action destined, TV weather reporter arrives, ready to prepare for her wedding with the support of local Becki. They plan a visit to check out the shower location, a gingerbread, elegant old home in the core of Black Currant. Instead they find a body at the bottom of the cellar stairs. Now, there are men in the novel. Gina’s about to be new husband has a secret life in the Canadian secret services that he’d rather no one knew about. Becki’s husband is the local cop with brains.

It’s the edgy story telling that pulls you in. The pacing is sharp, quick and very funny, a good combination for a mystery that is hard to put down. But the special ingredient is an ending I sure didn’t see coming. It’s an interesting twist on when is justice done and anymore, and I’d be a plot spoiler. Gina and Becki and Campbell and St-Pierre make a pretty good team.

From the Files

By Rob Brunet
Down & Out Books, 2014
Trade Paperback $20.69
eBook $5.66

Stinking Rich, a debut novel by Toronto author, Rob Brunet has more twists and turns than a mad dash to an outhouse in the pitch black night. And when that yester-year’s facility blows up, you know you’re in for a fast and deviously funny summer read. The Kiwarthas will never be the same again.

A young, less than successful, small time crook figures he’s hit it big when he lands a job tending a pot farm for a backwoods biker gang whose members are full bellied, short of temper, eager to fight battles with pre-determined results. What happens next is a summer chase with adroit dialogue, caustic descriptions and a plot that keeps you reading.

What makes Stinking Rich stand out from the usual escape is the skilful pacing that force a growing crew of misfits into deeper waters, hair-raising schemes and a climax where each convoluted strand falls into its satisfying space. And did I mention that in the heat of a pot moment the wise words of Iggy the iguana turn out alarmingly astute.

Stinking Rich, fun summer read with a touch of sarcasm and hint of truth. Hope there’s another one.

These reviews may be used for promotion at the discretion of the author.
For information about sending a book for review, contact Don at:

Friday, 4 September 2015

October 2015 - First Issue

Canadian Mystery Reviews appeared in the Hamilton Spectator for 8 years, the sole remaining fiction review column that featured the talents of Canadian writers of true crime and mystery intrigue. And then there were none. But reviewer Don Graves kept receiving books, kept reading and kept reviewing.

Now Canadian Mystery Reviews has a new home thanks to the sponsorship of A Different Drummer Books and design support from Alison Bruce (whose review below was written long before this website got off the ground).

DON’T FORGET YOU LOVE ME. (An Ellis Portal Mystery)
By Rosemary Aubert.
Carrick Publishing.  

Trade paperback $14.99
eBook $4.99

It was as if he’d never left. One of Canada’s finest mystery character…"Your Honour", the reclaimed judge who walked out of the Don River valley and into the hearts of reader. Judge Ellis Portal is back and none too soon.

All the awards that author, Rosemary Aubert has won…deserved in spades. The comments about her tackling big city issues, a character with moral depth and dignity, again all true, but beyond that is a writer who gently draws you into a story, wraps you in a strong, yet delicate web and doesn’t let go.

Don’t Forget you Love Me begins with the poignant conclusion of a wonderful love story, Ellis Portal and Queenie. Portal makes a last promise to Queenie, find out who murdered the Juicer, a homeless man from that, not to be counted, collateral damage mass of humanity lost in a large city, Toronto. The Juicer who earned his name by existing on orange juice.

His Honour is comfortable now living in a condo and helping his son run a shelter in the Don for the homeless. His contacts are still there, some a bit rusty and some who might have climbed the ladder too high to remember why they are there. His Honour’s critical thinking skills are there. Author Aubert’s special turn of phrase describing the setting, the good, bad and ugly parts of the city and the surgically precise skill at driving towards a climax make for a rich read.

At the end, I couldn’t help but wonder if Portal would again disappear into the Valley. I hope not as he has so many stories left to tell.

By Linwood Barclay
Doubleday Canada  

Paperback $22.95

Out of work reporter, David Harwood, with son and twenty years in, overweight, doughnut obsessed detective, Gary Duckworth, play like they’re two sides of the same coin. One is official, the other amateur. From there, Author, Linwood Barclay spins an award-in-waiting tale of small town evil. Barclay explores how evil can sprout from innocence and end up all the more destructive.

Read the scene about the chocolate banana bread interrogation and you’ll discover why this author’s writing is not to be denied. Broken Promise marks a departure from his earlier thrillers. Broken Promise offers a more complex puzzle. The boundary is still small town America but the jigsaw has ragged edges and colours that don’t help. But you can’t help but feel the pieces clicking before you can rationalize it.

It’s big cast story with no cardboard characters. But there’s no flipping back and forth to remember who’s who. You read, you sense something clicking, you turn the page and it feels real.

There’s a casual but deeply intense energy about Broken Promise that propels the story forward to a climax you don’t see coming.

Read another gem; this time the catalyst is pork chops served with rice or potatoes. What’s really on the plate is a scene with Harwood’s parents, Don and Arlene and how tender can be gruff. Stripped to the essence of what long term love and faith in each other can be, tested and found sound.

Broken Promise is storytelling as storytelling should be.

A BODY GUARD TO REMEMBER (Book 1, Men in Uniform)
By Alison Bruce
Lachesis Publishing
ebook $4.99
Trade paperback $14.99

Nothing like a great opening line to set the hook: “It started with a dead body on my living room floor.” And from there A Body Guard to Remember is a catch worth reading with a lively mix of colourful characters, murder, indeed on a living room floor, cops, protectors in various good looking postures, a plot with a neat climax twist and budding romance…right here in Canada.

Bruce’s grasp of partnering two genres into one well-paced novel is well known and is as sharp as never in A Body Guard to Remember. Action, quick and forceful. Action, gentle and affirming. Add a plot worthy of a seasoned crime writer and a supporting cast with struggles and dreams galore makes for a, "I’ll just read a bit more," and you’ll find as I did, you can’t put it down.

If A Body Guard to Remember is book one, Men in Uniform, I can’t wait to read book 2.

By Melodie Campbell
Orca Rapid Reads
Paperback $9.95
ebook $3.79

The Artful Goddaughter is a novella with legs and laughter. International award winning author, Melodie Campbell’s  third Goddaughter mystery is the best of a winning trio of stories. The second one, The Goddaughter’s Revenge recently took home Canada’s Arthur Ellis award for best novella and America’s Derringer award.

Strong plot, great zingers and imagery that draws you in and just doesn’t let go. Gina Gallo, the leggy beauty, about to wed inherits a stash of cash from her deceased uncle that comes with a condition…reverse an old crime with a new one and get him to his final reward. And she’s off with her crew of relatives anyone would love to hide. The scam is delightful, the plot, setting and dialogue move with page turning intensity which makes the Artful Author’s third crime ride a blast and a laugh.

By Mark Sproule-Jones
Strategic Book Publishing and Right Co.

Author Mark Sproule-Jones has written a corker of a debut from the preface to the surprising twisted climax. It is, as the author suggests, “a fast-paced novella about duplicity, cunning and sex” set right in Ottawa where politicians slip and fall as often as skaters crash on the Rideau rink.

Some of the Whole Truth takes the reader behind the scenes as the Prime Minister learns of the Americans hacking into Canada’s security and the politically motivated revenge that targets the “smooth-talking womanizer” President. We soon learn that both leaders have challenges with closed office doors and libidos.

The plot is deliciously devious, the dialogue revealing of the machinations that consume our Governments all in the name of democracy. All wrapped up in style that keep you turning the pages with a smile.

The ending is a prize winning jolt and polishes off a novella definitely worth reading. Some of the Whole Truth is a romp through the back rooms on the Hill.

These reviews may be used for promotion at the discretion of the author.
For information about sending a book for review, contact Don at: