The best Canadian mystery novels

Rosemary McCracken Author Of Uncharted Waters
By Rosemary McCracken

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian writer who started writing fiction after a career as a journalist at newspapers across the country. I’ve always marvelled at the diversity of Canada, and I try to portray that diversity in my own stories set in Toronto, one of the world’s most multicultural cities. And I revel in stories by fellow Canadian crime writers, tales filled with First Nations characters, and characters with Ukrainian, Russian, Asian, African, and British backgrounds, stories set in various parts of our far-flung country. The five novels I have focused on here are just a few of my favorites.


I wrote...

Uncharted Waters

By Rosemary McCracken,

Book cover of Uncharted Waters

What is my book about?

Toronto financial advisor Pat Tierney has done her homework, and she’s found a small financial planning practice that looks like a good fit. Purchasing the business means taking out a large bank loan, and she has no guarantee that the clients she will acquire will stay with her. It’s a risky venture, but it’s Pat’s chance to run her own business. Murder, however, is the one thing she hasn’t factored into her plan.

Shortly after signing the purchase document, the business’s vendor is killed. Pat realizes she has ventured into uncharted waters that are teeming with sharks. Uncharted Waters is the fourth and the most recent mystery in the Pat Tierney series.

The books I picked & why

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The Suicide Murders

By Howard Engel,

Book cover of The Suicide Murders

Why this book?

The Suicide Murders introduces Benny Cooperman, one of the most beloved characters in Canadian fiction, and a major influence on my own crime fiction. Howard Engel’s 14 Cooperman novels are filled with sharp dialogue and sparkling wit, and play with the tropes of detective fiction. A nice Jewish boy who runs a small detective agency, Benny doesn’t swear or carry a gun, and he’s squeamish about violence—much like my Pat Tierney protagonist--giving the PI genre a distinctly Canadian twist. 

The Suicide Murders was released in 1980, and Engel’s impact on crime fiction was enormous. He set most of the Cooperman books in the fictional town of Grantham, recognizable as St. Catharines, Ontario, where he grew up. Engel proved that writers could set stories on their own turf and have them published.

The Suicide Murders

By Howard Engel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Suicide Murders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ontario PI Benny Cooperman is on the case of a suspicious suicide in this “convincingly complex” mystery “with an ironic sense of humor” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Myrna Yates shows up at Benny Cooperman’s office asking him to check up on her husband, the contractor Chester Yates, who she believes is having an affair. It seems like an open-and-shut case, until Cooperman finds out that the straying spouse has committed suicide. Something doesn’t add up; Mr. Yates bought a 10-speed bicycle just 2 hours before he killed himself. Could this “suicide” in fact be murder? The Jewish detective’s got a…


Still Life

By Louise Penny,

Book cover of Still Life

Why this book?

Still Life, the first book in the Three Pines mystery series, introduces Louise Penny’s engaging protagonist Inspector Armand Gamache, who is battling corruption in the Sûreté du Quebec police force. It also introduces Three Pines, a fictional village in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and a co-star in most of the 17 books in the series. The Three Pines novels explore two different genres: the traditional cozy, as Gamache solves each book’s murder; and the crime thriller, as he investigates the intrigues in his own police department.

Published in 2006, Still Life won the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Antony, and Dilys awards. It has been translated into 31 languages. It proves that crime fiction can reach the heights of literary fiction.

Still Life

By Louise Penny,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Still Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Still Life, bestselling author Louise Penny introduces Monsieur L'Inspecteur Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, a modern Poirot who anchors this beloved traditional mystery series.

Winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain…


The Water Rat of Wanchai

By Ian Hamilton,

Book cover of The Water Rat of Wanchai

Why this book?

The Water Rat of Wanchai is the first book in the Ava Lee crime thriller series. Tough, fearless Ava is a forensic accountant who travels to exotic locales (all well-known to author Ian Hamilton) chasing bad debts. The settings aren’t Canadian, but Ava is: she immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong as a child, and grew up in Richmond Hill, outside Toronto. Her current home is in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neighborhood, but she has strong business ties to Asia. In many ways, she’s a typical Canadian—raised and educated in Canada, with ties to another part of the world, and fluent in a language other than Canada’s two official languages, English and French. All 15 Ava Lee books deliver on two fronts: they are crime thrillers and delightful armchair travel.

The Water Rat of Wanchai

By Ian Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Water Rat of Wanchai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Ava Lee — the smartest, most stylish heroine in crime fiction since Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salandar — in the first installment of the wildly popular Ava Lee novels. 

Ava Lee is a young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant, who specializes in recovering massive debts and works for an elderly Hong Kong–based “Uncle,” who may or may not have ties to the triads. At 115 lbs., she hardly seems a threat. But her razor-sharp intelligence and unorthodox rules of engagements allow her to succeed where traditional methods have failed.

In The Water Rat of Wanchai Ava is persuaded to help an old…


Going to Beautiful

By Anthony Bidulka,

Book cover of Going to Beautiful

Why this book?

Going to Beautiful is a murder mystery and a love story. When Jake Hardy’s husband Eddie falls to his death from the balcony of their Toronto condo, Jake is beyond devastated. His journey of healing takes him to Beautiful, a Ukrainian village on the Saskatchewan prairies where he meets Eddie’s family and learns their secrets. Touching, intriguing, with utterly believable characters, Going to Beautiful is a page-turner set in a part of Canada that many Canadians have never visited. And it’s the best book I’ve read this year! 

Going to Beautiful

By Anthony Bidulka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Going to Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

International chef Jake Hardy has it all. Celebrity, thriving career, plenty of friends, a happy family and faithful dog. Until one day when a tragic accident tears it all apart. Struggling to recover, Hardy finds himself in a strange new world—a snow-swept prairie town that time forgot—a place where nothing makes sense. Cold is beautiful. Simple is complex. And doubts begin to surface about whether Jake’s tragedy was truly an accident after all. As the sun sets in the Land of Living Skies, Hardy and his glamourous, seventy-eight-year-old transgender neighbour find themselves ensnared in multiple murders separated by decades. In…


Windigo Fire

By M.H. Callway,

Book cover of Windigo Fire

Why this book?

Windigo Fire, M.H. Callway’s 2014 debut novel, is set in one of my favorite Canadian locations—the Northern Ontario wilderness. It’s an adventure thriller filled with fast-paced action, psychological suspense, and First Nation legends. It has a fabulous sense of place, and a terrific cast of characters, headed by its Native Canadian protagonist, Danny Bluestone. A truly Canadian crime thriller.

Windigo Fire

By M.H. Callway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Windigo Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Danny Bluestone, a young Native Canadian drifting through life, settles for a job at a children's camp in his Northern Ontario hometown of Red Dog Lake. Local entrepreneur, Meredith Easter, offers Danny some easy money: play the role of native scout for his wealthy hunting buddies. Danny knows that Easter's roadside attraction, Santa's Fish Camp, is the front for the local grow-op, and probably more, but the money is his way out of Red Dog Lake.

Danny flies the hunters to an island lodge deep in the wilderness. Once there, he learns that he's part of an illegal bear hunt…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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