For a second year I decided to read the shortlist for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel written by a Canadian. This post summarizes the shortlist and gives my personal ranking of the shortlist.
As was the case last year I was surprised that two books that I had read did not make the shortlist. They were Silver Totem of Shame by R.J. Harlick and The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I had thought each an exceptional book.
Going through the shortlist in the order I read the books the first book was Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman. It is the opening book to a series featuring Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau. It is set in Ottawa and is a police procedural involving the Ottawa City Police. I most appreciated that the police duo did not head to bed together in the book and that Rouleau was “a wounded man who didn’t wallow in it”. I consider it a solid book.
The second book is None So Blind by Barbara Fradkin which also involves the Ottawa Police Service. The book, featuring Inspector Michael Green, is the 10th book in the series. It is a challenging book to discuss because it is hard to delve into the plot without spoilers.
None So Blind is unusual in crime fiction in that Green can see a convicted killer, James Rosten, as a real person. For 20 years Rosten has been maintaining his innocence to Green who has never been convinced. Still Green believes Rosten has been adequately punished.
Anyone wanting to know the real theme of the book will have to read my post that included spoilers.
The third book is Killing Pilgrim by Alen Mattich. It was my find of the quintet. Mattich has chosen from the various theories concerning the killer of Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, to write a book in which the killer was a member of the Yugoslavian Secret Service.
A few years later Marko della Torre is finding his way into the new Croatian secret service as Yugoslavia is collapsing and Croatia is on the verge of war with Serbia.
America is very interested in the assassin, the Montenegrin, and della Torre is assigned to help a beautiful American leading the way.
It is among the rarest of current thrillers in that it is complex with multi-dimensional characters.
The fourth book is No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings. It is the second book in the Inspector Tom Tyler series. It is set in rural England during WW II. What is unique about the story is that the murders take place at a convalescent hospital where the patients are among the most grievously war wounded.
Tyler’s first challenge is figuring out who could have murdered considering the terrible physical and mental injuries of the patients.
His second challenge is questioning without aggravating their conditions.
I do not think I have ever read a book in the setting of a convalescent hospital.
The 5th book was Plague by C.C. Humphreys. It was not intentional that I read the winner of the Award last. The books happened to be piled in an order that put Plague at the bottom.
The book takes place in 1665 in London where the plague is increasing in intensity.
In a most unusual pairing for crime fiction in that a highwayman, Captain Coke, and a Quaker thief taker, Pittman, join up to pursue a vicious killer.
They find themselves caught up with Fifth Monarchists whose focus on the Book of Revelation leads them to believe the Apocalypse is about to happen and the plague is proof of its coming.
While the premise and the characters are intriguing I found myself discouraged by the overwhelming grimness of London life in the mid-17th Century. I quoted Thomas Hobbes on life being “nasty, brutish and short”.
As I did last year I am not going to say whether either of the books I listed at the opening of the post should have replaced any on the shortlist. I will rank the 2015 shortlist as I saw the books:
1.) Killing Pilgrim;
2.) None So Blind;
3.) No Known Grave;
4.) Cold Mourning; and,
While last year I agreed with the choice of The Devil’s Making for the Award I disagree on Plague in 2015.
What did strike me from the shortlist is that 3 of the 5 books were set outside Canada. I hope next year more of the shortlist will have a Canadian setting. I am not saying there should be a preference for a Canadian locale. My choice this year, Killing Pilgrim, took place in Sweden and Croatia.