Detecting Canada

Essays on Canadian Crime Fiction, Television, and Film
Wilfrid Laurier University Press (CA)
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 25. März 2014
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  • 290 Seiten
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978-1-55458-928-9 (ISBN)
The first serious book-length study of crime writing in Canada, Detecting Canada contains thirteen essays on many of Canada's most popular crime writers, including Peter Robinson, Giles Blunt, Gail Bowen, Thomas King, Michael Slade, Margaret Atwood, and Anthony Bidulka. Genres examined range from the well-loved police procedural and the amateur sleuth to those less well known, such as anti-detection and contemporary noir novels. The book looks critically at the esteemed sixties' television show Wojeck, as well as the more recent series Da Vinci's Inquest, Da Vinci's City Hall, and Intelligence, and the controversial Durham County, a critically acclaimed but violent television series that ran successfully in both Canada and the United States. The essays in Detecting Canada look at texts from a variety of perspectives, including postcolonial studies, gender and queer studies, feminist studies, Indigenous studies, and critical race and class studies. Crime fiction, enjoyed by so many around the world, speaks to all of us about justice, citizenship, and important social issues in an uncertain world.
  • Englisch
Wilfrid Laurier University
  • 7,10 MB
978-1-55458-928-9 (9781554589289)
1554589282 (1554589282)
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Jeannette Sloniowski

Marilyn Rose

In assembling this first collection of critical essays in this field it seems appropriate to provide both some context for and a rapid overview of the rich and varied array of crime fiction that exists at this point in Canadian history. To undertake such a quick sweep is a daunting task. David Skene-Melvin's historical survey, which appears in our collection, ends with the third quarter of the twentieth century. Since that time, the production of crime fiction in Canada-in the form of novels, short stories, films, and television series-has burgeoned, and practitioners are now literally too many, and the landscape changing too rapidly, to do the field justice in a preface such as this one.

Surprisingly, however, given its strength, resilience, and popularity as a genre, there has been no full-length book published to date on Canadian crime fiction. Worldwide, detective fiction is the most published form of popular narrative, and increasingly Canadian writers have taken their place alongside the rich and famous in international crime fiction. And here at home, writers such as Peter Robinson, Giles Blunt, Alan Bradley, Louise Penny, and Linwood Barclay, for example, are award-winning authors both in Canada and abroad.

Our book is a first step in addressing this gap. We do not claim to set out the parameters of a distinctive "Canadian School" of crime writing. To begin with, it seems premature to make such grand claims given the amount of critical work that remains to be done-especially given the lack of availability of much early Canadian crime writing in the past and hence a lack of close scholarly attention to pre-modern works in this genre to date. However, this book represents, we hope, the beginning of more concentrated scholarly engagement with this particular field in Canadian popular narrative. The time seems right, especially given the potentialities of the increasingly rich electronic "archives" that characterize the Internet at present. Not only are books, television, and film increasingly available through online vendors such as and, but scholarly sleuths-many of them graduate students in our flourishing programs in popular culture in Canada-are now able to access a great deal of early Canadian crime writing directly online.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, any attempt to create a homogeneous category or even a sense of a dominant aesthetic in Canadian crime fiction is bound to falter given the heterogeneous nature of Canada as a nation and consequently the complexity of its "national imaginary." Manfred B. Steger defines social imaginaries as "deep-seated modes of understanding that provide the most general parameters within which people imagine their communal existence." He notes that this concept draws upon Benedict Anderson's notion of the nation as an imagined community, and goes on to say that "the social imaginary offers explanations of how 'we'-the members of a particular community-fit together, how things go on between us, the expectations we have of each other, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie those expectations" (12-13). Canada, however, in Rosemary Coombe's words, is marked by a "remarkable cultural pluralism," and may be best understood as a "multinational democracy" that continuously "negotiates and embraces (or contains) relations between founding nations, first nations, diasporic nations, an ethos of multiculturalism and various forms of transnationalism under neo-colonial and postcolonial conditions." To Coombe's list might be added regionalism and class divisions that also characterize this sprawling and diverse nation in which a plurality of social imaginaries circulates and intersects.

This is not to say that there are no commonalities as we survey the range of types and approaches evident in Canadian crime writing. David Morley, in "Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family," emphasizes the role of mass media and popular culture in general in the creation of national imaginaries, and cites the work of Lauren Berlant in arguing that "through the accident of birth within a particular set of geographical and political boundaries, the individual is transformed into the subject of a collectively held history and learns to value a particular set of symbols as intrinsic to the nation and its terrain" (420). Berlant contends that "in this process the nation's traditional icons, its metaphors, its heroes, its rituals and narratives provide an alphabet for collective consciousness and national subjectivity" (20). Because crime writing is part of Canadian mass culture, then, it is to be expected that its iterations in the form of novels, films, and television will reflect certain overarching aspects of a Canadian national imaginary that reinforce national themes and stereotypes that permeate the popular media. The first of these is undoubtedly a preoccupation with law and order, which reflects the long-standing notion that Canada was founded on an ethic of "peace, order, and good government." As our book illustrates, the frequent focus in Canadian crime fiction on the "Mounties" (from earliest times to the present) reflects that aspect of the national imaginary, as does the plethora of police or amateur detectives who see themselves as labouring to uphold civic order in a nation convinced of its essential civility. Other pan-national themes that thread themselves through crime fiction in Canada include a focus on the importance of universal health care, the need to address Aboriginal issues, issues related to immigration and multiculturalism, matters of poverty, gender, and class, and-of course-a fascination with and implications of the national game, hockey.

At the same time Canadian crime fiction is diffuse and variable. Each of the sub-genres that characterize detective fiction elsewhere is evident in Canadian crime writing of the modern period, which is to say from roughly the 1980s on-from police procedurals through those featuring private investigators ("hard-" as well as "soft-" boiled) and amateur investigators who come across remarkable numbers of homicides requiring investigation on their otherwise quite crime-free home turfs. So too are sub-generic categories represented, such as works of detection reflecting ethnicity; demographic divides such as the urban, suburban, and rural; gender and/or political issues; and post-modern play with traditional crime-writing conventions and codes. However, given the diversity of Canada-which includes substantial Aboriginal and immigrant populations, the existence of provinces and territories with separate and powerful governments and statutes, and regional formations with their own habits and identities-it is the heterogeneity in dealing with such issues, the way that gender, ethnicity, and class intersect in particular ways in particular local environments within the nation as a whole, that is noteworthy. A brief look at the work of a number of Canadian crime writers will demonstrate the reach and range that characterizes Canadian crime fiction.

At times Canadian crime writing tackles issues at a clearly national level, as is the case with Barbara J. Stewart's The Sleeping Boy (2003), which is set on the American side of the border between Canada and the United States. Stewart's fiction probes the American health care system from the Canadian side of current debates over the delivery of heath care in North America: Canada's universal health care (or socialized medicine) is set against the American system of very expensive individually purchased heath care packages, with an emphasis on the downside of states that do not provide reasonable heath care services to all. In the novel, issues of cost result in murder. Here is a Canadian author, enmeshed in the Canadian heath care philosophy, if you will, critiquing a different, and in the novel, inferior system of caring for citizens and reflecting a particular Canadian imaginary-the idea of universal health care free to all-to reflect a salient perceived difference between Canada and the United States. Canada's health care system as intrinsic to national identity, and concerns about its viability, are also reflected in Giles Blunt's John Cardinal novels, where Cardinal's wife, suffering from severe depression, struggles with an increasingly damaged health care system unlike the system that Blunt knew when he left Canada for several years as a younger man. Pat Capponi's novels, set in the Parkdale area of Toronto, deal with the lives of recently released mental patients, some living in squalor in group homes, invisible to other Torontonians and neglected by the system.

At other times, though, the notion of a singular Canadian imaginary is refracted through specific national and local lenses. In writing about Howard Engel, for instance, we have argued that he should be read more as an interpreter-and interrogator-of a particular culture, that of Southern Ontario's Niagara region, than as a simple purveyor of humorous "soft-boiled" Canadian detective fiction as he has so often been categorized. Drawing upon his experience as a citizen of Niagara for many years, Engel has set about portraying the particular ethnic/cultural values that have governed Niagara for generations-conventions of class and ethnicity and inclusion/exclusion that are easily...

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