About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Functional v. Dysfunctional - Canadian Sleuths

Last week Margot Kinberg at her superb blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, put up a post in which she considered 278 sleuths from crime fiction she has read. She was seeking to determine whether the percentage of dysfunctional sleuths had changed over the years.

She defined them as:

Dysfunctional sleuths may show that dysfunction in any number of ways (e.g. drugs/alcohol, a series of ruined relationships, psychological instability). None of this means that these characters can’t solve crimes; some are brilliant. And many (I’m looking at you, Inspector Morse!) are beloved. But they have blind spots, if you want to put it that way, that they just can’t seem to overcome.

In the post she set out from Golden Age sleuths the percentage was low at 5%. She acknowledged that her sample size was modest.

From 1950 – 1990 it was 25%. For 1990 – 2000 it was 34% and since 2000  the percentage is 30%.

The post inspired me to look at Canadian crime fiction sleuths I have read. I quickly noted in a comment on Margot’s blog that the major Saskatchewan sleuths (Joanne Kilbourn by Gail Bowen, Russel Quant by Anthony Bidulka and Bart Bartkowski by Nelson Brunanski) are all functional sleuths.

I decided to take a look at other Canadian sleuths I have read and see how many I would consider dysfunctional. My reviewing has covered 43 Canadian sleuths. For this post I am not looking at sleuths created by Canadians who live outside Canada.

Out of the 43 sleuths I would consider 7 to be dysfunctional by Margot’s definition. The percentage works out to be 16%.

I expect I lean to considering a sleuth functional though they may have some problems.

As an example I consider as functional Sam Parker, formerly Monte Haaviko, in Michael Van Rooy’s book, An Ordinary Decent Criminal, has spent much of his adult life as a criminal addict. In the book he has just been released from prison. While he spent much of his life as a dysfunctional person he has changed and in the book is functional and determined to go straight.

Another illustration of my approach is Hazel Micallef, the police chief of the fictional Port Dundas, in the series by Inger Ash Wolfe (the pen name of Michael Redhill). She has health and alcohol issues but I see her functioning well.

Of the 7 dysfunctional sleuths they were located in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan.

While I noted the primary Saskatchewan sleuths were functional I consider Anthony Bidulka’s new character, Adam Saint who is a disaster agent, dysfunctional though he is working on changing his life.

The other dysfunctional Saskatchewan sleuth is Dingonaslav Marion Radashonovich from The Joining of Dingo Radish by Rob Harasmychuk. Dingo is from a struggling rural family who supplements his income by theft and is a hard man.

While I was not surprised that a lower total of Canadian sleuths were dysfunctional than determined by Margot there was one sub-category I had not thought about until I did my Canadian analysis.

I have read books featuring 15 Canadian women sleuths. I would not consider any of them dysfunctional. Hazel comes close but I still consider her functional.

At least in Canada authors overwhelmingly create functional women sleuths. At the moment I have no reasons for the lack of dysfunctional women sleuths. I shall be thinking further about that issue.

I turn the analysis back to Margot on how many of her much larger list of sleuths were female and what percentage were dysfunctional.


  1. This is absolutely fascinating, Bill! And of course, thank you for the kind mention. What I find especially fascinating is the difference between male and female sleuths that you found . There are several possible explanations for that finding, and, not being an expert, I can't say for sure which is correct. But, in thinking about my own data, I have the impression that it's similar. I found dysfunctional female sleuths, but definitely more males whom I would put in that category. Clearly this is something worth looking into more deeply. Thanks for that.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. You have me thinking all the time with your posts. I look forward to your thoughts on female sleuths.

  3. I do not think I have read any books about Canadian sleuths that are dysfunctional. The closest would be Hazel Micallef. Your post and Margot's were both very interesting.

  4. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I agree Hazel is close with the problems in her life.

  5. In non-Canadian sleuths, what women would be considered dysfunctional? Lizbeth Salander, who has many problems, can still do brilliant computer hacking and other work and detection.

    There is one woman detective in Annie Hauxwell's series who is a drug user, but is on a off-label program in the British health system which gives her a small dose of heroine daily. She does her job but I"m not sure she is functional or not.

    Fiona Griffiths in Harry Bingham's Welsh series has a mental illness but she is a brilliant detective, is quite courageous and is a martial arts expert.

    Lacey Flint in Sharon Bolton's series has a lot of problems, too, but she is a good cop.

    How is the line drawn? Harry Hole in Jo Nesbo's books is sometimes functional, sometimes not, especially when his alcoholism wins out.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I sought to apply the definition provided by Margot. I raised the issue of defining "dysfunctional" in a comment to Margot's original post. It is not easy for none of the sleuths is completely dysfunctional or they could not solve a mystery. I will wait a bit to see if Margo tackles the subject again. If not, I will try to put a post on defining "dysfunctional" in crime fictionl

  6. Fascinating point about the gender differences Bill - I'm hard put to think of any series I follow with a dysfunctional woman sleuth.

  7. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I know I shall be looking at future female sleuths on whether they happen to be dysfunctional.