Tag Archives: Peter Robinson

A Hangman’s Tale

A guest post by Karen Dudley.

In 1999, I was nominated for the Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel for my book Hoot to Kill. The award is named after the pseudonym for Canada’s first official hangman, who served in the job between 1912 and 1935 (several of his successors also adopted the pseudonym). The Arthur Ellis award itself is a stylized wooden statue of a hanged man. The arms and legs jerk around when a string is pulled.

I had never been nominated for an award before (Hoot to Kill was, after all, my first novel), so I flew out to Toronto for the awards ceremony. There were drinks and dinner, and I met a number of other crime fiction writers, which was fun. And then came time for the awards ceremony. The Master of Ceremonies that year was Peter Robinson, one of Canada’s foremost crime fiction writers and a truly great storyteller. And he had a fantastic story for us that evening.

The Arthur Ellis award statues, he informed us, were not made in Canada, but rather were manufactured somewhere in the United States and then shipped up here. That year the statues had been duly assembled, boxed up, and shipped off, but somewhere between there and here, they had been lost. As the date for the awards ceremony drew closer, the CWC committee started frantically digging around to find out what had happened to them.

It turned out that Purolator had, in fact, brought the box into Canada, but they’d accidentally delivered it to the wrong house. Under ordinary circumstances, not a big deal. Unfortunately, these were not ordinary circumstances. The house that Purolator delivered them to belonged to a man whose business partnership had recently dissolved due to some rather shady business dealings. These dealings were so shady, in fact, that the man had been receiving death threats. Imagine his reaction then when he opened up the box that had been left on his doorstep and found it filled with ominous little statues of hanged men!

The police had seized the box of awards and Peter Robinson and the other members of the CWC awards committee had to do some very fast talking to get the statues released in time for the awards ceremony. As Peter remarked that night, if any of us had written that in a manuscript, our editors would have taken it out as being too unrealistic.

I’m no longer writing crime fiction. I moved into the fantasy genre a few years back. And although my first historical fantasy, Food for the Gods, was nominated for five different awards, I have to say, none of these awards ceremonies could boast the same stranger-than-fiction story as the Arthur Ellis awards of 1999.

Karen Dudley pic1Guest Writer Bio:
Karen Dudley wrote wildlife biology books and environmental mystery novels before she had an epiphany… she wanted to write historical fantasy. So she did. Food for the Gods and its sequel, Kraken Bake, are quirky sort of books, a bit like Xena meets Iron Chef. Food for the Gods was nominated for several awards, including a High Plains Book Award in the Culinary Division. Karen lives in Winnipeg with her husband, daughter, and the requisite authorial cats. You can read more about Karen and her books at www.karendudley.com.

The Elements of a Good Mystery

Guest Post by Gail Bowen

Bowen pic3Aesop’s tale of the fox and the lion is often credited with being the first mystery.  Remember the story of the King of the Beasts summoning the lesser animals into his den?  All the animals trot in happily. Only the wily fox refuses.  When the Lion asks the fox why he fails to do what his fellow creatures have done, the fox says simply: “I see many footprints going into your den, but none coming out.”

In this simple tale we see many of the elements of the mystery.

l.   Mysteries are plot-driven. They give readers a story.  There’s a fair play rule in mysteries. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery, and that means the reader is engaged. There’s a reason mysteries are called “page turners’.

In a good mystery, there is always an “aha’ moment. When the Lion asks the fox why he doesn’t follow the example of theBowen cover 2 other animals, and the fox says, “I see many footprints going into your den, but none coming out,” that’s the fox’s and the reader’s “aha moment’.

2.  Mystery writers take the problem of good and evil seriously.  In the enduring popularity of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, we see good and evil personified in Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty.  When the two meet at the edge of the Reichenbach Falls and wrestle till they fall over the falls together, the arch villain plunging to his death and the detective miraculously escaping with his life, we see law triumphing over lawlessness and good triumphing over evil.

In mysteries, after a fair fight, good always wins and evil is punished.

3.  Mysteries are a very accommodating genre.  Mysteries offer something for everyone: police procedurals, forensics, cozies, character driven series; studies in aberrant psychology.  As long as the writer plays fair with the reader and some sort of rough justice is meted out at the end, the mystery writer can do pretty much what he or she wants.

4. People like series, and many mystery writers choose to create series.  

Peter Robinson and I were on Shelagh Rogers show last year talking about mysteries and whether we felt as a genre writers we were relegated to sit at the kids’ table at the great literary banquet. Peter and I have been writing for about the same amount of time -around twenty years-so we know something about publishing.  With a series, your backlist stays in print, your readers are loyal; they will forgive you a book that they don’t particularly care for and look forward eagerly to the next book.

The Gifted Gail Bowen book jacketThere’s also the fact that in a stand-alone book, a writer gets maybe 380 pages to create a world.  The Gifted, which will be published in August 2013 is my 14th book, and that means I’ve had 5,000 pages in which to develop my protagonist Joanne Kilbourn-Shreve’s character.  Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks has appeared in 19 novels. Rex Stout wrote 46 Nero Wolfe novels and an equal number of novellas. Conan Doyle wrote 4 Sherlock Holmes and 56 short stories. As you can see, writing a series is very rewarding for a writer.

5.  People are drawn to a protagonist and they become loyal to him or her.   Last year I had to write a piece about Buried Treasures in crime fiction for the Globe and Mail and I wrote about the Nero Wolfe cook-book. Nero Wolfe is my all-time favourite detective and I’m not alone in my affection for him. Not only is there a Nero Wolfe cookbook; there’s a brilliant biography of Nero Wolfe by the cultural historian Jacques Barzun and endless scholarly papers and squabbles.  The Nero Wolfe books are very well written.  In the Globe and Mail article I admitted to lusting after Nero Wolfe – “tireless talker endowed with a touch of Johnsonian genius”, a grower of orchids, a brilliant detective and a great and discerning expert on food.”

I’m not sure that anyone lusts after my protagonist Joanne Kilbourn-Shreve, but I do know that I get at least ten very nice emails a week from people who are reading and enjoying the series.

I didn’t set out to become a mystery writer. By training I’m an academic who spent her professional life teaching Canadian Literature and creative writing.   That said, I’m very glad the adventure of mystery writing came my way.


Gail Bowen’s mystery book series features Joanne Kilbourn, a university professor, sometime political columnist, and a wife, mother and grandmother. Her 14th Joanne Kilbourn novel will be released in August 2013.  In June 2008, Reader’s Digest named Bowen “Canada’s Best Mystery Novelist’. To learn more about Gail’s books and to read her blog, visit her website http://gailbowen.com/ .