Monday, May 30, 2011

Gordon W. Dale - The Banal Villain

Evil by Omission

As Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, the banality of some villains makes them all the more compelling. In the opening passages of Gordon W. Dale’s novel Fool’s Republic, the protagonist, Simon Wyley, is attended by a physician, the first of several seemingly bland bureaucrats through whose complicity he has been stripped of his rights and imprisoned against his will.

I float in an eight-by-eight cell of the purest clinical white: white walls, white sheets, white toilet, white sink, white light. Even the floor drain has been painted white. This drain worries me, sitting as it does in a slight recess in the floor, with no apparent purpose except to sluice away evidence. I stare at it, obsessed with images of red blood spilling down white tiles, like a pour painting by a trendy New York artist whose name I no longer recall.

I am attired in madhouse whites to match my cell: disposable briefs under white cotton pants, a white short-sleeved shirt, white slip-on canvas shoes without socks. My head has been shaved. I am denied access to a mirror, but no doubt my skull is also white, as white as the skin of my arms and hands. White skin over red blood.

It occurs to me that I am afraid.

They have stripped me of my name; I have become a number. I search my body for the telltale tattoo, but find nothing. Perhaps I have been marked in a way not detectable by the naked eye. The thought has nagged at me for some time, but now I shrug it off. What does it matter? My life has been a series of numbers: maternity ward number, student number, IQ number, juvenile corrections number, Social Security number, internal security file number. What difference could one more number possibly make? I’d let them number me till Judgment Day, if only they’d turn the goddamn light off, just for a minute. Just so I could rest my eyes.

Isaac Newton said that time flows equably, without relation to anything external. Imagine how much more subtle his thinking might have been if he’d been locked in an all-white room where time doesn’t flow at all but rather stops, becomes palpable, and takes on form. Time keeps up a companionable silence all morning, or at least what I fancifully decide to be morning. I have no real sense of morning or evening, of day or night. I am bathed in unrelenting white light. In white light time doesn’t flow; it lies on the floor.

I go to the sink and turn the handles of the faucet, yearning for the sound of water, for the sound of something passing. The handles turn silently and no water comes, not so much as a drip. I am alone in a silent desert of white light. Alone, but not unobserved. They watch me. I am particularly conscious of it every time I use the toilet. What do they hope to learn from observing me defecate? Nothing. They’re bureaucrats, mindlessly ticking off columns, pen-pushers completing forms. But, in truth, I don’t much resent their watching. I’ve done time enough in institutions to know that real privacy is what you keep in your head. What bothers me is that the toilet bowl flushes automatically when I stand up. There’s no relief to be found from the monochrome whiteness, not even in the sight of my own waste.

The cell door slides open. I crane my neck to see through the opening, desperate for a glimpse of color, a splash of something to tuck away and keep. Even a drab wall of army green would be a relief. But, to my disappointment, the outside hallway is painted the same blinding white as my cell. I regain my self-control, stare fixedly ahead. Desire is weakness. I can live without color.

A man wearing a white lab coat over a white jumpsuit enters my cell and the door closes silently behind him. He offers his hand, which I ignore, and mumbles his name, which I don’t catch. Apparently he’s a physician of some sort, come to check on my injuries. He carries himself with the same air of disheveled self-loathing Denholm Elliott affected as the abortionist in the first film version of Alfie. What transgressions, I wonder, have led him here? An excessive fondness for drink? An uncontrolled passion for little girls? For little boys? Mere professional incompetence, perhaps. I cannot look at him for long, and stare at the floor. But he’s obviously not regular military and for that I am grateful.

He asks me to remove my shirt and I do so with difficulty. He has me breathe in and out, then makes a show of examining my ribs.

“Have these been X-rayed?”


“Well, they should be.”

I take from his tone that it’s never going to happen. An X-ray of a non-life-threatening injury is a privilege. And privileges are not extended to uncooperative detainees.

I struggle back into my shirt and he has me sit on the edge of the bunk so he can look at my facial injuries. He doesn’t like what he sees and when he examines my left eye there is a sharp intake of breath. He makes me follow his fingertip back and forth, up and down.

“Is your vision blurred?”


He has me close my eyes, then bring my finger to the tip of my nose.

“Any nausea?”

“What are the charges against me?”

He runs his fingers over my skull, palpates the vertebrae in my neck.


“Why have I not been given the benefit of counsel?”

“You have some contusions. No evidence of concussion. You’ll be fine.”

“I was drugged and blindfolded before being transported here. Where am I being held? What continent are we on?”

My questions seem to cause him personal pain. He opens his mouth to speak but, after a moment’s hesitation, simply shakes his head and turns away. He can only pat me clumsily on the shoulder. The door opens of its own volition and he departs and I am once more alone in the white light.

Time rolls onto its side and closes its eyes.

From Fool’s Republic by Gordon W. Dale, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2011 by Gordon W. Dale, reprinted by permission of publisher.

A finalist for the 2007 British Crimewriters Association Debut Dagger Award, Gordon W. Dale has lived in such disparate regions as the Sub-Arctic, the Canadian prairies and Central-East Africa, but presently makes his home in California. His novel Fool’s Republic was recently awarded Honorable Mention (general fiction category) by the San Francisco Book Festival.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garry Ryan in the Big Bad Apple

Mister Ryan Goes to New York

A running blog from the Big Bad Apple

Garry Ryan is in New York for the Lambda Awards. His latest Detective Ryan mystery, Smoked, has been shortlisted.

Direct from New York City... 3 posts and counting!
Post #1 Sent at 21:06/25/06/2011

I'm at a rented computer with a wonky space bar.

The LAMBDA awards take place tomorrow night at about this time.

New York is green and - as always - alive. The people are invariably friendly, polite, and helpful.
A lovely young couple directed me to a Thai restaurant. The seafood dish was amazing. And the margarita was a hit!
Good thing I only had one. Breakfast was the last meal and it's 9 PM here in New York.

I'm half a block away from a hotel where writers like Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, Leonard Cohen, and Thomas Wolfe lived and wrote.
It really blows the mind.

Talk with you tomorrow.

Garry Ryan

Post #2 Sent at 07:56/26/05/2011

It's early. This place is awake.

There are signs that the city has been hit hard by the recession.
Lots of mental illness wandering the streets.
Yet, there's plenty of construction.
The stink of rotting garbage.
The bouquet of fresh cut flowers being delivered.
People going to work.
People picking garbage.
And no one pays any attention to the road signs.
There is a rhythm here that takes a while to get used to.
And so many languages being spoken as you walk the streets.

Garry Ryan

Post #3 Sent at 11:32/26/05/2011

If you travel the subway,
along one of the blood vessels
to downtown New York
where hard hats rule over the streets and
diesel engines,
compressed air,
jack hammers,
It takes maybe an hour to walk
past memorials
and security using mirrors to check the undersides
of trucks
and it feels ...
it feels like something new
is rising up out of the wreckage.
A new kind of city, perhaps?
A new kind of determined optimism?
A new kind of country?


Post #4 Sent at 09:10/27/05/2011

David Lennon's book Echoes won last night. Just finished reading it before the awards.
It's a good read with great characters. Met David at the awards. Very nice person.
Congratulations to him!

This morning it's sunny and hot in New York.
Off to breakfast and a new understanding of how to survive.
I figured out how the whole crossing the street thing works here.
It's very simple.

Catching a plane home later today.

Thanks for reading along.


Garry Ryan was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, where he lives today. He received a B.Ed. and a Diploma in Educational Psychology from the University of Calgary, and taught English and Creative Writing to junior high and high school students before retiring in 2009.

In 2009, he was awarded the Freedom of Expression Award in Calgary, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the arts community in Calgary. The Lucky Elephant Restaurant won the 2007 Lambda Literary Award.

Next... Gordon Dale

Monday, May 23, 2011

Catherine Astolfo - Evil Punished

Despicable Him

I’ve always been fascinated by evil. Maybe that’s because I spent 34+ years in education. Of course, most children are not born wicked - though some people are, I think. It’s always been intriguing to me how one child who lives in terrible conditions can turn out to be kind, thoughtful and even an advocate for righteousness, while another whose home life is rather ordinary can be a sociopath or psychopath.

The heroine in my books is an elementary school principal whose own life has been touched by malevolence. Perhaps that’s why she’s drawn to circumstances that involve violence and terror. In my first novel, The Bridgeman, Emily Taylor discovers a monster in the midst of her small community and school.

When I first created this monster, I wrote him up as a character sketch. I’d been passing by a drawbridge in a little Ontario town one sunny afternoon when I noticed the operator in his little booth. Not one other pair of eyes appeared to be drawn to him. I thought about what might lie beneath a person who, on the surface, was an unassuming, hard-working individual. Invisible to most, he could be committing all kinds of nefarious deeds. One thing led to another and my “bad boy” morphed into a very evil man.

My books are somewhat dark and tend to deal with very grim circumstances in life. (Somewhat like Minette Walters, I’d like to think.) Now and then a reader asks me how on earth I came up with such topics (because I look so innocent, I guess). I always respond, “Have you read the newspaper lately?” I can’t help it – I am absolutely mesmerized by the evil that human beings inflict on one another, our fellow Earthlings, and the planet itself. Although that sounds perhaps very pessimistic and depressing, I am at heart an optimist. Thus writing mysteries is very satisfying because, in the end, good always triumphs.

In the case of The Bridgeman, my monster abuses animals. For instance, he manages, along with some malevolent partners who are truly vile, a puppy mill. At the time, my niece worked for a veterinarian who cared for animals released from these horrors by the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I didn’t have to exaggerate or even imagine the conditions to which the poor innocent dogs were subjected: I simply recorded my niece’s firsthand experiences. As they say, truth is stranger (and sometimes more horrible) than fiction.

But the best part is that the monsters get their comeuppance; justice prevails. The animals are rescued. Peace reigns in my village once more and great lessons are learned. Despicable Him does not get to enjoy the fruits of his evil. I think I love to read mysteries partly because there is, almost always, a positive resolution, a hopeful, happy outcome. Unlike the stories you sometimes read in the newspaper, the bad boys (or despicable gals) are always punished.

Author of the Emily Taylor mysteries, Catherine is currently the President for Crime Writers of Canada (about to become Past President) and is a member of Sisters in Crime (Toronto). Winner of the Boney Pete Short Story Award, 2010 and Brampton Arts Acclaim Award, 2005 for The Bridgeman.

Next... Garry Ryan reports from the Big Bad Apple.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kay Stewart - The Reformed Dastard

Zero to Hero

Can a villain become an ordinary person, even a hero? That’s a question I explore in Sitting Lady Sutra through the character of Ritchie Taylor, a parolee who is forced to confront his failings not by the prison system but by a tragedy in his own life. This is how we meet Ritchie:

Hearing a car engine’s low hum, Ritchie Taylor dropped his armload of firewood and moved closer to the chain-link fence. This was not a tourist destination. The driver would see the sign saying William Head Institution and turn around, as the last one had.

An old Volvo the color of faded denim nosed through the trees and pulled into the parking lot. He’d told her not to come here, to meet him in town tomorrow, when he would be a free man. Still he waited to see who would get out, his eyes burning. She was a grown woman now, or almost. He wondered what she looked like. Dark and thin, like him, or blonde and busty like her mother? He’d asked her to send photos, but she hadn’t. Let it be a surprise, she’d said. His daughter.

The car door opened and a stoop-shouldered old fart emerged, straw hat in hand. He settled the hat on his head and made his slow way towards the entrance. Shit. Ritchie turned away.

What was he thinking anyway, she wouldn’t be driving; she wouldn’t be old enough even—or would she? He hadn’t seen her since he went in, that botched convenience store job. How old was she then? Two? “Nineteen months,” he heard Kelly’s querulous voice say. “Your own daughter, you’d think you’d remember.”

Truth was, he didn’t remember much from those days. Kelly’s voice, her long nose, her fingernails digging into his back when they made love. She’d come to see him at first, when he was in Ontario, though she wouldn’t bring the baby, said no child of hers was going to grow up knowing her dad was behind bars. After the riots he got transferred to BC, where the overcrowding wasn’t so bad, first Mountain, then William Head. That’s when they’d lost touch. It was easier, when you were doing time.

His time was almost up. Tomorrow he would be out of here, a free man. Or at least as free as you can be living in a halfway house, on parole. His mouth went dry. What if he couldn’t handle being out? Lots of guys couldn’t, people expecting stuff from you and you don’t know how to act, except the ways that got you into trouble in the first place. What did she expect from him, anyway? What did he know about being a parent? He should have told her to wait a month, till he got his shit together. Maybe he shouldn’t have answered her letter at all. But he had, and now who knew what would happen?

Kay Stewart is co-chair of Bloody Words 2011 to be held in Victoria June 3-5 and past president of Crime Writers of Canada. Sitting Lady Sutra (TouchWood, March 2011) is the second in the Danutia Dranchuk series of mysteries. The first, A Deadly Little List, was co-written by Kay and her husband Chris Bullock, with whom she is working on the third novel. She lives in Victoria, BC.

Next... Cathy Astolfo plums the source of evil.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lou Allin - Smiling Evil


People ask me where I get my ideas. They come so fast I have to duck.

When I lived for nearly twenty years on Lake Wanapitei north of Sudbury, the first neighbour I met was a lonely man about fifty with a gorgeous property at the end of the road. Rumour had it that he had been accused of molesting his nephew ten years earlier but got off with a fine and probation. The "kid" was a liar and a thief, and opinions were divided as to whether "Ted" was guilty or not. Putting my mind in neutral, I observed him over the coming months.

People liked his generosity loaning tools and volunteering his backhoe, tractor, or snowplow. Eager to chat, he was also fond of issuing spur-of-the-moment invitations for steaks and wine or a boat ride. The problem was, he began "befriending" a poverty-stricken young single mother and her son at "church," miles away. Ted spoke often about the young woman's challenges without a husband for her boy. Visiting on many weekends, first with his mother, then alone, the "young lad" would be seen driving Ted's truck, motorcycle, and snowmobile. That's when I started to pull back, like Fran in the story, whose husband Larry is only too happy to find reasons to use Ted's gear and who insists that Ted be judged innocent without "ocular" proof.

"Don't be silly. What has anyone ever seen?" he tells his seething wife. The fact that Larry was falsely accused himself by a female student biases his opinion.

The ending of the story finds justice served during a raging blizzard. In actuality, the real Ted died alone after months in hospital with multiple health problems, and despite his wealth, his body was never even claimed by relatives. Like most child molesters, he was a perfect gentleman, kept an immaculate house, never swore, and looked like a senator. Hide in plain sight sums it up. What is imagined can be much worse than reality. Ted did make good burritos, though.

From "No Crime"

They saw the pair a month later as they took the garbage up to the box. Luckily Ted, not the boy, drove the Dodge. She had planned to make a remark. The old man addressed himself to Larry. "Gettin' on to winter. Guess Stevie and I'll have to put the bikes up." The boy was unsmiling, fiddling with the radio as a baseball game faded in and out. An expensive down parka had replaced his shabby coat.

Larry grinned so broadly that Fran's stomach tightened. "I'd like to use your grinder to sharpen the maul. Good dry oak, but some chunks need more splitting."

"Bring her up to the truck. Be jim-dandy tomorrow. Oak, eh? Thought you was a poor pensioner like me," Ted said. "Maybe Stevie can give you a hand with the piling. Make a real bushman out of him. Hey, did I tell you we're buyin' another snowmachine? I promised Stevie we'd see some country. Maybe follow the trails as far as Michigan. Right, Stevie?" The boy nodded vaguely and wiped at his nose. His eyes met Fran's briefly, then closed for a moment. How many times did the old man have to say the name? Like the cadences of a prayer.

Ted leaned over the seats to retrieve an Arctic Cat folder. You two ought to be thinkin' about gettin' one yourselves. See what you think of the 600cc. Real comfortable. One-up seat. Reverse. No bullwork. Al's you need is ...." He wriggled his right thumb on an invisible throttle.

While Larry ran like a puppy to fetch the tool, Fran stood awkwardly by the truck. Although she couldn't see into the high cab, the mirror had tipped when Ted reached back, and in its reflection she watched the man's strong hand snake toward the boy's. Stevie's face flushed, and his lip quivered. Ted's icy blue gaze was untroubled as he searched her face. "Any plans for Christmas, my dear?"

With a Ph.D. dissertation on Christopher Marlowe, the murdered English Renaissance spy, Lou Allin came naturally to a love of crime stories. Now retired from teaching police Report Writing and Presentations to Criminal Justice students at Cambrian College in Northern Ontario, she has left behind a plow truck, two snowblowers, two scoops, and five shovels, and resides in Sooke, BC. (Co-Chair)

Next... Kay Stewart

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gail Bowen - Hidden Evil

The first Kilbourn  re-released.
 Villains, Vixens, and Other Not So Nice People

Kaleidoscope, the 13th Joanne Kilbourn novel, will be published by M&S in spring 2012. Over the course of the series, I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering villainy and the villainous. I’m no closer now to understanding the mystery of what makes a person kill than I was the day I turned on my first Texas Instruments computer. One of my closest friends is an appeals court judge. She tells me that most murders are sad, sordid and mind-numbingly boring.

As writers, we know that inducing boredom is the one sin for which readers will never forgive us, so we endow our murderers with cunning, imagination and an insatiable desire for revenge and retribution. I have only resorted twice to villains who were pathological. In both cases, I needed that dark kink of personality to meet the exigencies of plot, but most of my villains are people whose personalities fall somewhere along the normal continuum of human behaviour.

The villain I have chosen as my favourite comes from my second novel, Murder at the Mendel. At this point, I was still establishing the character of my protagonist Joanne Kilbourn, and I was able to use Joanne’s blindness to the villain’s flaws to reveal Joanne’s own need for the parent she never had.

The excerpt I’m including comes near the end of the novel. In it, we see how a clever villain can use the love and trust of others to carry out the unspeakable. The passage begins with a quote from Graham Greene: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

       That had been my moment.  If I hadn’t gone back to my cottage for my shoes, I would have been the one who walked in and found them.  But it was Izaak who found them. I was late.  She had taken a risk with that poison.  My father said that another half hour would have tipped the balance.  But, of course, I would never have made X wait another half hour.  She knew I would come.  She knew she could count on me to make her plan work.  And it had worked.  Des was dead.  Sally had been so shattered she was easily disposed of, and X was rich and free of an invalid husband and a daughter who would always be her rival.  She had taken a risk, but she knew the risk was minimal because she had me.”   

Gail Bowen’s series features Joanne Kilbourn, a university professor, sometime political columnist, and a wife, mother and grandmother. Descriptors that fit Gail too. The first six Joanne Kilbourn mysteries were made into TV movies. The series - which is now being re-released by McClelland & Stewart - has made Gail one of Canada’s most popular crime writers.

Next up... Lou Allin

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eileen Shuh - Brutal Bikers

Katrina is thirteen, an orphan, grieving and alone. But she is more than that. She’s intelligent, beautiful, wealthy, and intrigued by the dangers of street life.

Shrug’s a giant of a man with a voice of thunder and eyes of granite. He has tattoos, a leather jacket with The Traz gang patch, and a motorbike. When he asks Katrina if she wants a ride, she makes a decision that will change her life forever...

Pepper, Shrug, Zed, Stack and Gator…
The Traz gang villains.

Brutal bikers. Drug dealers, arms dealers, murders. Their motives, their personalities, their lives—as different as their names. What do they want and why and just how far will they go to get it? With their bikes, their brotherhood, and their money comes power and with that power comes fear, rivalry, and betrayal.

The Traz bad boys strut their stuff, rev their Harley’s, proudly wear the orange patch—and watch their backs, knowing that those on both sides of the law are after them.

To youth at risk, The Traz offers an irresistible chance to belong, to share enormous power, to snub the communities that have rejected and neglected them. The gang promises to be the family for which they long. The Traz is enticing, intriguing, beguiling. It is speeding along pavement with just inches of air between biker and death. It is being vulnerable and powerful all at once.

To the adult gangsters who always need mules and street slaves, and sometimes even the odd murder, who like to have something between them and their deeds, someone to hide behind—to these adult gangsters, such eager youngsters are a dream come true.

Evil protagonists— Pepper, Shrug, Zed, Stack and Gator—there’s none worse than these.

See them in action and wish them the worst.

THE TRAZ coming in May 2011 as an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.

Eileen Schuh lives with her husband in the remote northern boreal forests of Alberta, Canada. Drawing inspiration from the wilderness, she creates entire universes populated with fascinating characters doing intriguing things.

Schuh recently retired from a life of careers that varied from nurse to journalist to editor to business woman.  She remains active in her adopted community of St. Paul and basks in the love and loyalty of an entire flotilla of family, friends and fans—virtual, imaginary, and real ones.

She invites you to visit her online:

Next... Gail Bowen

Sunday, May 8, 2011

John Moss - Good Cop and Really Bad Cops

 Reluctant Dead

Murder casts a long shadow, reaching from fabled Easter Island in the South Pacific to the desolate shores of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Detective Miranda Quin of the Toronto Police Service takes time off to write a mystery in the tropics and gets trapped in a sinister plot with global implications. Her partner in homicide, David Morgan, is left alone to resolve the case of a beautiful corpse on a Toronto Island yacht and ends up precariously compromised in the mysterious north. Their stories converge when they both return to Toronto. They discover themselves trapped in a labyrinth of deadly complexity and the only way out is together. Much more than their own survival depends on it. Islands, they learn, are an illusion. Everything connects, especially when murder is involved.

The man inhaled deeply on a nearly dead cigarette hanging from his lips and for a moment his familiar features glistened in a fiery light. He was close enough for her to breathe the rank smell of tobacco. Suddenly
she kicked out at his head, twisting when she kicked so that as he reeled backward from the blow she landed on all fours. Damn it, she thought, I’m too old for this. She smoothed her dress down over her legs at the
same time as she grasped for the fallen man’s gun. He squirmed around, but she was faster. Holding the gun at his head she motioned him to stand up.

“You will not do this, señorina, I am policeman. Carabinaros.”

She struck him sharply across the cheek with the gun barrel.

“Do not, señora,” he said in a firm voice, while framing his face with his hands to ward off further blows.
Waving the pistol, she motioned for him to back into the clear light of the lounge where she could get a good look at him.

“We’ve met,” she said.

“Si. We have met. I did not hurt you, señora, señorina.”

He looked grotesque. The smashed stub of his cigarette was stuck to his lower lip but her kick had smeared ashes across one cheek, while the other cheek was livid with a gash of blood running from ear to
chin. She motioned for him to sit and when he hesitated, she lashed out with her open hand and pushed him down. He missed the chair and sprawled at her feet. She planted her sandalled foot across his neck and
pressed. She glared into his eyes. He was looking up the skirt of her dress. She rolled her sandal across his neck and stepped back.

He rose slowly to his feet, backed up a pace and sank into an easy chair. He was smiling.

“You will not kill me,” he said. “I am policeman.”

“From Santiago.”

“Si, you remember, from your hotel, I was not alone, señorina. You should give me the gun. It is a nice gun, no? Like you have in Canada? No, this is revolver like in United States of America, yes? You should give me the gun. My friend, he will shoot you, no problem. I will not shoot you.”

Miranda felt at an impasse. The man smiled; she could see tobacco stains on his teeth. Behind her, she could sense someone approaching along the corridor.

She heard the clicking action of a semi-automatic. She set the revolver down on a table.

“Gracias,” said the man, leaning forward to reach his gun.

A shot like a sharp sneeze pierced the air. The man sat back abruptly, as if he had been thrown. His eyes opened wide, he tried to smile but his features collapsed, he sat bolt upright for a moment, as Miranda took several deep breaths, then he slumped sideways on the chair. She stood absolutely still.
Slowly, a man edged by her into the light. The first thing illuminated was his nametag, Te Ave Teao; she saw this even before his face or his gun. He kept his gun trained on her, not her head but her body. He was
not about to execute her, but it seemed likely he would shoot if she did not co-operate.

“There is another,” she said.

“No, he is dead.”

“You shot him?” She was surprised because she had heard nothing.

“He is dead,” said Te Ave Teao, opening the palm of his free hand and spreading his fingers in a gesture that somehow indicated he had strangled the smoking man’s accomplice.

“Are they police?” she asked, trying to conceal the flinching inside.

“Yes, they are very bad police. Now they are dead. Tonight, they will be buried; tomorrow, they were not ever here.”

“What about me?” said Miranda “What do you intend?”

“What do you intend, yourself, señora?”

“You have the gun.”

He leaned over and placed his semi-automatic on the table beside the dead man’s revolver, and turned his back to her, gazing out over the dazzling Pacific.

JOHN MOSS has backpacked extensively on Baffin Island and accompanied Beverley Haun on research trips to Easter Island. In RELUCTANT DEAD, the third Quin and Morgan mystery, these interests come together. The next in the series, “The Dead Scholar,” stays closer to home and reaches farther afield. John and Beverley share a stone farmhouse in Peterborough, Ontario.

Next... Eileen Shuh brings out the bikers

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Melodie Campbell - The Good, the Bad and the Utterly Clueless

School For Burglars

He was a well-dressed burglar, Marge had to admit. The black turtleneck fit his lean body in a manner most Italian, and the jeans were unmistakably Gap. He was clean-shaven, dark haired, and wore a thin black mask a la Zorro. Not a bad look at all, she mused, although on the whole, damned inconvenient at the moment.

Marge leaned against the kitchen door frame and took a sip from her mug. He must be okay at the break and enter part, as Max hadn’t heard a thing. Well, if Max wouldn’t growl, she could.

“What do you want?” She said, drawling.

The Burglar looked up with a start. A shiny black pistol appeared in his hand.

“Your money,” he said in a low voice.

Marge laughed. “My money? You want my money? You and a thousand others, Zorro. Take a number and get in line.” This was too much. As if the bank report hadn’t been enough for one day. What else could bloody-well happen…

Marge eyed the intruder intently. Poor kid, he looked confused; this obviously hadn’t been a situation covered in course 101 at the School for Burglary. Marge watched him shift from one foot to the other, while trying to steady the gun.

She nodded to it. “Where’d you get the gun?”

The Burglar started. “WOT?”

“The black shiny thing in your hand. Where’d you get it?”

He looked down at the weapon. “This guy from Toronto…”

Marge snorted. “You kids, these days. Spoiled rotten. In my day, we had to go to Buffalo.” Marge took another sip. “Is it loaded?”

“Of course.”

“Then will you do me a favor? Can you aim for that chartreuse vase over there?” She pointed to a shelf in the adjoining dining room. “Ghastly thing. My mother-in-law gave it to me. Please shoot it.”


“Then give it to me, and I’ll shoot it.” Marge set her mug down on the faded wood-grain countertop and reached for the pistol.

“Christ, no!” He appeared aghast. “It’ll make a noise!”

“Then why do you carry it if you don’t want to make a noise?”

The Burglar ran a shaky left hand through his hair. “To scare you.”

“Oh,” Marge said, carelessly. “Want some coffee? It’s Starbuck’s.” She reached for the pot on the counter. The Burglar yelped and dropped the gun. Both hands shot up to protect his face, and just as swiftly, Marge moved forward to pick up the firearm. She held it up in her right hand and peered down the sights.

“Christ, are you crazy?” The man in black peeked through fingers.

“Crazy?” Marge looked up, startled. “Am I crazy? You’re the one who comes bursting in here with a gun you don’t even have the decency to use, asking me for money. And you think I’m crazy? Have you looked at this place? Is there anything here you’d want?”

She marched into the dining room, signaling with the gun for the intruder to follow. An ancient bulldog lay sleeping in the sun in front of the bay window. He opened one eye, then closed it and rolled over.

Marge grabbed a bowl off the fireplace mantel with one hand. “Here. Like this? Take it. I hate it. Want the ashtray? It’s ugly.” She shoved the bowl into the burglar’s arms.

“Want this picture?” Her free hand reached for it. “It’s my husband. He’s a bum. Mother was right. Don’t you hate it when your mother’s right? You don’t want it? No? Either do I.” Marge threw the framed photo on the hardwood and stomped on it. The glass made a pretty bell-tinkle sound.

“Lady, you’re nuts!” He put the bowl carefully down on the dining table, and tried to inch his way back to the kitchen. The dog lifted his head and growled. All movement stopped.

“There isn’t a damn thing in this house worth a damn thing.” Marge grumbled and glanced around. So this is what her life had come to. Entertaining a Gap-clad burglar in the shoddy remains of a faded dream home. What could she begin to offer him that was worth taking? It was embarrassing, that’s what it was. There was a time when she would have been proud to show any thief through her stylish home, and there would have been lots to interest him, oh yes. But that was then and this was now. That was before the high-tech crash, and the mid-life crisis, and Bipsy or Popsy, or whoever the hell she was.

  "School for Burglars"  by Melodie Campbell, originally appearing in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine July/August 2008 and can be read in its entirety at

Melodie has over 200 credits; she has won three awards for fiction, and has served as a judge for the Arthur Ellis Awards, and for the City of Mississauga Literary Awards. In addition to writing mystery and fantasy fiction, she has a parallel career as a humorist with over 100 publications in Canadian and U.S. newspapers and magazines. You can read her humour articles on her blog Funny Girl Melodie. Her first novel, Rowena Through the Wall is being released by Imajin Books, June 2011

Next up... John Moss and an excerpt from Reluctant Dead, being released this month.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Vicki Delany - Writing the Villain

The Right Villain in the Right Place

One of the great conundrums in writing a crime novel in the traditional ‘mystery’ framework is the character known as the villain.

For lack of a better word, I’ll use villain here. To mean the bad guy or girl or the person who-dun-it. The villain, of course, doesn’t have to be villainous. They can be a good person who made a mistake, a hero gone wrong, a well-meaning person whose attempt to fix a problem goes dramatically wrong. They can, in fact, not be bad at all.

In the traditional mystery format (and there are many, many other types of what I prefer to call crime novels) the villain must appear early in the story, almost from the beginning; they must play a prominent part throughout. And it must not be known that they are the villain until almost the very end.

Sounds almost impossible to do, right? Put like that it’s a wonder anyone writes mysteries at all. But it’s not as hard as it sounds and it’s done, very successfully, all the time.

The novel has a cast of characters, presumably, and the villain can hide among them. The friend, the spouse, the colleague, sometimes even one of the cops or detectives. The villain must have a motive for the crime (at least in their own mind) and thus they must have a secret. It’s the uncovering of that secret that lies at the heart of most traditionally-constructed mystery novels.

The villain must fit the style of novel. In a small town police procedural series, such as my Constable Molly Smith books set in the Interior of British Columbia, the villain is never going to be an international terrorist seeking to end civilization as we know it. They have to be the sort of person who fits into the town and the type of crime that is found there. Usually personal, sometimes the result of secrets that go back for years if not generations.

The villain must be on the scale of the protagonist. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty are two sides of the same coin. Sherlock uses his intellect to do good – Moriarty to do bad. Superman is perfectly good, therefore Lex Luther must be perfectly bad. A small town cop goes up against small scale, personal-level criminals, not international terrorists. James Bond goes up against international criminals and terrorists, not small-town petty criminals.

Writing the villain can be difficult, complex, and a lot of fun.

Vicki will be giving the workshop at this year’s Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival on August 13th. The subject is “The Criminal Mind: Writing the Villain.” For more information or to register, please visit

Also check CWC's Author Events for Vicki's cross-country road trip for Among the Departed