Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oddly Bloodless Words

I dunno. BLOODY WORDS 2006 is over, and I'm still not sure how it was.

I had some fun -- no doubt about that -- and I hooked up with some old pals, and may have even set the groundwork for some new ones.

It was great to see Mary Jane Maffini (Guest of Honour) again, and Michael Blair and Rick Moffina and Linda and J.D. from Prime Crime and Sleuth of Baker Street respectively, and to meet, however briefly, Anthony Bidulka (writes a soft-boiled series about a globetrotting Saskatoon P.I. who reminds me, at times, of a gay Shell Scott as written by Agatha Christie), International Guest of Honour Stuart "The Man" Kaminsky and Giles Blunt, author of the truly amazing Cardinal/Delorme police procedurals, set in Algonquin Bay in Northern Ontario. Blunt's one of those rare Canadian mystery writers who not only writes crackerjack mysteries but manages to really evoke this crazy mixed-up nation, touching on things far too many shy away from, in the eternal ROC fear of "alienating" American readers.

Sorry, but the Canadian crime scene doesn't need more bland, polite, colourless, chinless mysteries that pander to a bland, colourless clientele, no matter how well they may sell in the States -- we need passionate, well-written mysteries that aren't afraid to stand up and say "I am Canadian!" Giles Blunt writes those kind of mysteries, literate, thrilling and definitely and defiantly Canadian. You ask me, any Canadian writer who isn't ready to drop the gloves should just get off the frigging ice.

And of course, it's always good to be breathing the air once more in the True North, strong and free (even if it is Toronto).

And, as far as these things go, the hotel was clean, the staff polite and the convention itself was well-run and organized (unlike, say, the hell on earth that was the Vegas Bouchercon).

But... Where was the blood?

By almost any yardstick (or metrestick, I guess) this year's conference was decidedly tilted to the cozy side of the genre, despite the guests of honour (both of whom, ironically, have had more than a little experience getting down and dirty in their fiction -- in often surprising ways. Panel topics veered away for the most part (except for the obligatory forensics stuff) from anything remotely connected to the harder side of the genre. No panels on P.I.s, noir, hard-boiled lit or anything remotely close to it.

No wonder old HB pals in the know gave this one a skip.

And, as is becoming depressingly familiar and heartbreaking in any Canadian crime convention (including the most recent Bouchercon in toronto), there was zero recognition or participation or even mention of Quebec's vibrant crime fiction. Typical knee-jerk behaviour, possibly from both sides, but if they don't get invited they won't come. As an anglo from Montreal, I see this issue from both sides, and it's just about enough to make me wanna cry.

Also a little disturbing was the fact the dealer's room this year was positively skimpy this year. I mean, candy? Jewelery? Clothing? What happened to, well, you know... books?

But perhaps most shocking of all was the lack of an actual designated convention bar. I mean, what's a beer-quaffing, book-hunting, yakaholic private eye fan to do?

Hopefully, next year's BLOODY WORDS will be an improvement. It'll be in Victoria, a truly beautiful city I haven't visited for far too long (I wonder if Spinnaker's Brew Pub is still there?) and far from the Torontonistas that regularly dominate the annual crimefest, for better or worse, every year.

Even better, though, is that the promised theme is private eyes. Heck, even the Canadian Guest of Honour is a P.I. writer, Anthony Bidulka himself, although with only a hattrick of books under his (white) belt so far it seems, perhaps, a little premature. Still, you never know -- maybe we can corner him in B.C. and convince him to toughen up his gumshoe a little, get him to give us a little more Joseph Hansen and a little less Cage Aux Folles.

Victoria's also a little closer for me than T.O., so there's a very good chance I'll be heading there.

(This is being written very quickly in a Starbuck's overlooking Taschereau Boulevard. I'm off to my beloved Montreal soon with my daughter. Smoked meat may be consumed.)

Talk to you guys soon...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Thrilling Detective Is Dead...

Well, sorta.

As has become painfully obvious, the Thrilling Detective Web Site has been in a semi-comatose state for a while.

Maybe not quite the six months J Wirebach claims in a comment on this blog, although that's about when my life took a wicked hop or two. I think I managed to (almost) keep up the pace for a few months into the next year, but eventually a series of events (work and some unexpected but potentially lucrative freelance work) conspired to tear me away from the site.

The sad fact is that, as much as I love doing the site, I love eating and having somewhere to sleep even more. The Thrilling Detective Web Site does not make a profit, and has existed for years (eight and counting) thanks to the generosity of a few advertisers, even fewer donors, and, well, me. In fact, we're currently operating in the hole.

So, in order to keep the site going, I must occasionally, like, make a living.

I don't begrudge the time or money spent to keep the site going, but it does take time and money, so bear with me, please. I'm treading water as fast as I can.

This month I'll be travelling north, for the BLOODY WORDS crime and mystery convention in Toronto, and for a long-overdue visit to one of the great cities of the world... Montreal. Home.

So, for the month of June, and maybe a little longer, the site is officially on hiatus. I'll be regrouping, considering my options. And recharging myself, hopefully. Right now, I hope to be back on track by summer, but we'll see. I'll be discussing those options with Gerald So, our fiction editor, and with She Who Must Be Obeyed, and with anyone else who cares to write me on the topic. And of course I'll also be in Toronto at Bloody Words, no doubt keeping a bar stool warm. If you're in the area, drop by. Despite rumours to the contrary, I don't bite.

Your opinions, as always, count. Talk to me.

But be forewarned because, like the Fat Man says, I like talking to a man who likes to talk.

Oh, and long live Thrilling Detective.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

OVEREXPOSED: 'Tween Noir and Nice

Sometimes there's a thin line between noir and cozy.

No, really.

Scrape away the tone, the mood and the genre affectations and the plots are often strikingly similar. Noir's "man in a bad place" just isn't that far a toss from the cozy's amateur sleuth who finds him or herself in an equally bad -- but slightly more genteel -- bad place.

That's certainly the case in Michael Blair's most recent novel, OVEREXPOSED. It's stuck somewhere in the middle, a comedy of manners one moment, a tragedy of errors the next. A few steps to the left and it could have been a dark and bloody tragedy of Shakespearean proportions and more than a little black humour, with nice guy doofus/Hamlet figure Tom McCall's hesitancy and indecision finally rising up and biting him on the ass. Or a short jog to the right and it could have ventured even deeper into cozyland, toning down the nastyness and pumping up the mystery factor with more clues and more ever so quirkly suspects, tying it all up with a prettier bow at the conclusion.

But no, Blair has it both ways, not bothering to pitch his tent in either camp. OVEREXPOSED finds McCall, the easy-going Vancouver shutterbug last seen in IF LOOKS COULD KILL, once again trying to sort out his freefall of a life. The morning after his fortieth birthday party the very hungover McCall finds the very dead body of a well-dressed man on the roof deck of his floating home (please don't call it a boat) that he keeps moored in Vancouver's trendy, touristy Granville Island. Nobody seems to have a clue who the guy is or who invited him to the party, but that's just the start of McCall's problems. His struggling commercial photography studio has a potential new client who could save their bacon, if he doesn't drive them insane, his bitchy ex-wife wants to take their daughter off to Australia for an entire year and the latest love of his life, a star in a cheesy sci-fi sword-and-sorcery TV show currently being filmed in B.C., has even more problems than he does, including an ex-boyfriend drug smuggler who wants back in her life and a stalker who's been leaving mutilated action figures of her TV character laying around for her to find.

At this point it could go either way, but Blair steers a sure and steady course right down the middle between dark and light, between self-consciously "gritty" and deliberately "delightful." The violence is real, but not in your face. The characters' lives are complicated enough to interest, but they're not soap opera cartoons. There are guns and drugs and stolen gems and psycho stalkers and bombs and nasty people doing -- or at least threatening to do -- nasty things, and there are kind, decent people, such as his plucky daughter Hilly, his charming business partner Bobbi and all his buddies and neighbours in the marina, most of whom you wouldn't mind getting to know a little better.

As McCall gets dragged deeper and deeper into this mess and the cops (and the bad guys) keep pounding on his door, asking him increasingly difficult questions he can't answer, you almost feel sorry for the guy.

What pulls it all together is the writing. McCall, who narrates, has a nice dry wit about him, and the plot unfolds in a natural, easy-going manner that nonetheless rarely drags. Blair plays fair with the reader, spicing up things just enough action to hook those who like it hard, but making sure there's no unrelenting grimness to scare away those who like it a little softer. And when he wraps it all up with the expected gathering of the usual suspects, he does so in a pleasing, almost farcial manner -- a jaunty concoction that's at least as much television's FRASIER as it is Agatha Christie.

An added bonus is Blair's use of the picturesque Granville Island setting and his depiction of the laidback Canadian West Coast lifestyle -- they ring absolutely true. Sorta makes you wanna leave the world behind and climb up the ladder to the roof deck to join Tom for a nice cold Kokanee and maybe a little Scotch and watch the sun set.

Soon as he gets rid of the stiff, of course...