The best Canadian detective and mystery novels

The Books I Picked & Why

A Siege of Bitterns

By Steve Burrows

Book cover of A Siege of Bitterns

Why this book?

A Siege of Bitterns features an unusual protagonist: a reluctant detective. DI Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian transplanted to the UK, to premier birding country. Jejeune likes bird watching as much, if not more, than solving murders. He occasionally comes across as a tortured eccentric. One wonders how he can solve crimes. But he does. His odd individualism is reminiscent of famous fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. A Siege of Bitterns features a tangled bird’s nest of false starts and red herrings. Burrows doesn’t shy away from descriptive prose and yet the novel doesn’t lose momentum. It stays focused on the prize: the whodunit.

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The Robber Bride

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover of The Robber Bride

Why this book?

Who’s the Queen of Canadian Mystery? Many say Louise Penny, author of the Inspector Gamache series. I say Margaret Atwood. “Bull,” you say, “Atwood isn’t a mystery writer.” True, in as much as she’s not labeled a mystery writer. The Robber Bride is usually regarded as literary fiction but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mystery, and a damn fine one. Although the novel doesn’t feature a parade of murderees, there are enough plot twists to please the most demanding mystery fan. The reader knows the villain (Zenia) from the start. But they don’t know what she did, or how she did it. That’s the mystery—the howdunit, you might say. Welcome to a fine read.

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Until the Night

By Giles Blunt

Book cover of Until the Night

Why this book?

Experience a detective at his best and worst. Pick up Until the Night. Blunt doesn’t hide his protagonist’s faults. Like many a detective—to wit, Ian Rankin’s Rebus—Blunt’s John Cardinal bears psychic scars. Until the Night demonstrates that crime novels can be personal, with strong character development. They don’t need to be all crime all of the time—if they have interesting protagonists like Cardinal and his partner, Lise Delorme. Of course, it helps if the criminals aren’t one-dimensional. In Until the Night, Blunt delivers fallible detectives and nuanced perps.

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The Beautiful Mystery

By Louise Penny

Book cover of The Beautiful Mystery

Why this book?

Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of all of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels. I find some too warm and fuzzy. However, The Beautiful Mystery grabbed me, despite a subplot focused on police in-fighting. The setting—a remote Quebec monastery, seemingly out of time—is so well done you feel you’re there. Remoteness is a Louise Penny signature: she transports you to apparently sedate locales and drops you into arcane plots. In The Beautiful Mystery, the clues and red herrings fall fast and furious. It takes longer for the perpetrator to fall, which makes for an excellent mystery read.

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The Calling

By Inger Ash Wolfe

Book cover of The Calling

Why this book?

The Calling is certainly bloody but not in the vein of over-the-top whodunits. The killings aren’t sensationalized. An apparent mercy killer talks himself into dying people’s homes and then murders them to get their blood for a sacrifice that brings his brother back to life. Spooky and compelling. Although the killer is a messianic zealot, he’s believable, which is a tribute to the author’s talent (NB: Inger Ash Wolfe is the crime fiction pen-name of Michael Redhill.) The Calling is the first novel in a fine series featuring DI Hazel Micallef.

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