Of the settings of the 16 books what struck me was how few were set just in Canada:
1.) Only 5 of the 16 books took place in Canada (one each in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Yukon);
2.) There were 3 books with settings inside and outside Canada (Saskatchewan and the South Pacific, Cuba and Northern Ontario, Quebec and the United States); and,
3.) Most surprising was that 8 of the books were set outside Canada (4 in England, two in the United States, one in France and one in Croatia).
These personal stats reflect an issue I raised in recent posts on the number of cross-border Canadian mysteries and the “encouragement” of publishers for authors to set their books outside Canada.
For the 8th Canadian Book Challenge my reading had 13 of 18 books set in Canada. I am hoping this past year’s stats are an aberration.
My favourite Canadian read of the year was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce captured me as she has enthralled legions around the world. An 11 year old girl living in rural England in the 1950’s is an unlikely sleuth but Bradley has created a wonderful character in Flavia. She is a bright engaging girl. Her love of chemistry and fascination with poisons adds to her allure. The mystery was well done and the importance of a postage stamp to the plot an unusual intrigue. I was not as excited about the next in the series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, but it would have been very difficult to equal The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I have the 3rd in the series to read and will be interested to see how the series develops with Flavia.
Second was What’s Left Behind by Gail Bowen. The 16th Joanne Kilbourn mystery sees Joanne involved in a bruising municipal referendum on development (I do not think Gail was prescient in anticipating a nation changing referendum in the United Kingdom) and the murder of a young woman farmer. While not the focus of the book I will not forget What’s Left Behind for its involvement in heritage poultry. The victim’s prized poultry were also killed. I had never heard of “Blue Andalusians, scarlet-combed Langshans, Swedish Flower , Ridley Bronze turkeys and pink-billed Aylesbury ducks” before reading the book.
Third was Another Margaret by Janice MacDonald. The concept of the book was challenging. Miranda “Randy” Craig is a Master’s student at the University of Alberta researching a reclusive Albertan author who has written a quartet of well regarded books when a new book appears decades later. The unique aspect of the book is that MacDonald created detailed plot lines for the books being researched by Randy. MacDonald actually plotted out 6 books in the writing of Another Margaret.
I admired MacDonald’s witty insights into academic life. While working on invitations to a reunion of grad students Randy remarks:
Who knew there that many English majors in the world? You’d think there would be far fewer apostrophe problems on signage.
At the other end of the spectrum I was disappointed with the books by Anthony Bidulka and Louise Penny.
I found I could not suspend disbelief with regard to Anthony’s book that had over 100 people secretly on a South Pacific island. It is a hard premise in the 21st Century to have so many people marooned on a desert isle.
I equally struggled with Louise Penny’s premise of a giant supergun lying hidden in the woods a short distance from Three Pines. Inspector Armand Gamache is not the sleuth for a doomsday thriller.
It was a good year of Canadian reading and I have started reading for the 10th Challenge.