TorontoToronto is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. It’s one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, and it’s got a rich history. There’s politics (it’s a provincial capital), art, fine food, great music and sport. And murder. That’s right, murder. Don’t let Toronto’s peaceful and lovely surface fool you; plenty of crime fiction happens there. Little wonder the Arthur Ellis awards for this year – Canada’s highest award for crime writing – were given out in Toronto. Here are just a few examples of Toronto-based crime fiction. There are others that space prevents me from mentioning.

One of Eric Wright’s series features Inspector Charlie Salter of the Toronto Metropolitan Police. For political reasons, he got ‘sidelined’ and shunted to what amounts to desk duty. He begins to win back some notice in his first outing, The Night the Gods Smiled. In Smoke Detector, the second novel in this series, he investigates the murder of Cyril ‘Cy’ Drecker, who owned an antique/junk shop. Drecker’s body is found in the burned-out remains of the shop, and it’s soon revealed that he died of smoke inhalation. This is clearly a case of arson and murder, so Salter’s challenge is to sift through the victim’s past to find out who is responsible. It won’t be easy, either, as Drecker was an unfaithful husband and a somewhat unscrupulous businessman. Along with the mysteries in this series, it also features story arcs that focus on Salter’s family. He’s one of those detectives who actually has a bond with his wife and children…

John McFetridge has also set his work in Toronto. For example, Dirty Sweet is the story of down-on-her-luck real estate agent Roxanne Keyes. One afternoon, she witnesses a man get out of the passenger side of a Volvo, walk back to an SUV behind him, and shoot the driver. She tells her story to the investigating detectives and it’s accurate as far as it goes. But that’s not very far. She hasn’t told the police that the murderer looks familiar. Later, she remembers who the killer is: He’s a former prospective client, Boris Suliemanov, who’s with the Russian Mob. She figures that if she deals with Suliemanov rather than turning him in to the police, she can set herself up to benefit. But of course, when you deal with dangerous people, you get into trouble…

Robert Rotenberg’s series featuring police detective Ari Greene also takes place mostly in Toronto. In some senses, this is a police procedural series since Greene is with the Toronto Police, and he and his team do the investigating in these novels. But Rotenberg is a criminal lawyer, and these books are as much legal mysteries as they are anything else. Each one involves an important trial, and we follow several attorneys for both sides as these cases are prepared and play out in court. Rotenberg also depicts the cultural complexity of Toronto, too. As we get to know the characters in this series, we see that they’re from a wide variety of ethnic, geographic and cultural backgrounds. They’re all in the city for different reasons, too, and Rotenberg tells their stories without too much of a self-conscious focus on their diversity. It’s simply part of what this city is.

One of the important communities in Toronto is the Chinese and Chinese-Canadian community. Readers get a look at this community in Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee novels. Lee’s mother moved her children from China to Canada when Lee was very small, so Lee considers herself Canadian. Yet, she maintains several aspects of her Chinese identity as well. She is a forensic accountant who works for a Hong Kong-based firm headed by Chow Tung, whom Lee refers to as Uncle. Her specialty is tracing hidden money, and her services are highly valued by clients who’ve been bilked out of money and are desperate to get it back. Lee travels quite a lot, since those who are trying to hide money tend to use offshore banks and other companies. But her home is Toronto.

There are also Jill Edmondson’s Sasha Jackson novels. Jackson is a former rock singer who’s become a private investigator. Her cases have shown her (and the reader) several different sides of Toronto, including various facets of the sex and porn industries; banking; music; and of course, good restaurants. Sometimes Jackson’s personal life gets a little complicated. But she can always count on her best friend Lindsey, her brother Shane (it helps that he and Lindsey are engaged), and her father. Thus far, there are four novels in this series: Blood and Groom, Dead Light District, The Lies Have It, and Frisky Business.

And no mention of Toronto crime fiction would be complete without a mention of the CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, starring Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch. The series takes place mostly in Toronto, at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s a strong sense of the late Victorian/Edwardian era, and some of the main movements and events of that time find their ways into the plots.

As you see, Toronto is a city with a beautiful setting, fascinating history, rich culture, and great food. It has sport, intellectual life, interesting politics, and plenty to do. But peaceful? Not so much…

Stay dry, Torontonians!


In Memoriam…

Eric Wright

This post is dedicated to the memory of Eric Wright, one of the founding members of the Crime Writers of Canada, who died earlier this month. His work was prolific and influential, and he will be much missed.


ps  As you may know, I usually take my own ‘photos. But this one’s better than any one I could take. Thanks, City of Toronto.


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Rush. What’s YYZ? It’s the airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport


Filed under Eric Wright, Ian Hamilton, Jill Edmondson, John McFetridge, Robert Rotenberg

22 responses to “YYZ*

  1. As you know, I do enjoy reading fiction by Canadian authors, set in Canada. I have only read one book by Eric Wright but will be reading more of the Charlie Salter series. This is a nice memorial post for him. I have one of Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee novels, but not the first one yet.

    The Murdoch Mysteries are based on a seven book series written by Maureen Jennings. I have read two of those and enjoyed them very much. Also, Margaret Millar wrote a few novels set in Toronto. The two Inspector Sands novels for sure.

    • Thanks, Tracy, for reminding us of the source of Murdoch Mysteries. It’s an interesting series! And you’re quite right about Margaret Millar, too, of course. I’m glad you mentioned her work; I left a gap there.
      As to Ian Hamilton’s work, I actually think the first few Ava Lee novels are the best. I know how busy people get, and what TBRs are like, but if you get the chance to read The Water Rat of Wanchai, I recommend it.

  2. Many, many years ago I worked at Toronto’s first (and Canada’s first) mystery bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street; I still know a lot of Torontonian writers. You might enjoy the mysteries of my late friend Alison Gordon, who was a sports writer by trade — first woman in the locker room! — and wrote some clever baseball mysteries. She died recently and I miss her …

    • Thank you, Noah, for mentioning Alison Gordon’s work. And I am sorry for your loss; it’s always terrible to have to say goodbye to a friend. I’m ashamed that I’ve wanted to put Prairie Haardball in the spotlight for a very long time, and haven’t yet. Shame on me! I will do that.
      I would love to visit Sleuth of Baker Street. You’re actually not the first to mention it to me, and it sounds fantastic. I hope I’ll see it sometime.

      • I worked there in the first two years of its existence … BEFORE the current owners took over, and they have owned it just about forever. So I’ve only met J.D. and Marian once briefly … I predate them. That’s a funny story I’ll probably tell some day LOL.

  3. Didn’t know about the diversity of Toronto, Canada. There was a fire near us recently. This makes me interested in Smoke Detector. Enjoy your posts.

    • Thank you very much, Lemon123. I’m sorry to hear you had a fire nearby recently; those are scary even when they don’t involve one’s own home *shudder.* And yes, Toronto really is a culturally diverse city. I think that adds to its appeal.

  4. Thanks for this Margot – I do hope to visit one day and plan to read one of Eric Wright’s books even sooner.

    • Oh, I do hope you’ll like Wright’s work, Sergio. He was, in my opinion, really talented. And Toronto is a lovely city; I hope you’ll enjoy it if you visit it.

  5. Margot: Toronto is a city I know well from family and work connections even though it is 2,500 km from me. It is a wonderful big city. You have to get to Sleuth of Baker Street. I am glad Noah mentioned it. You will not be disappointed.

    On the mystery front other authors and their characters in Toronto include:

    1.) Rosemary Aubert writing about, Ellis Portal, former judge and former homeless person;
    2.) David Rosenberg (Robert’s brother) featuring synaesthete Decker Roberts; and,
    3.) Howard Shrier with his tough guy P.I., Jonah Geller.

    • I was hoping you’d comment, Bill, since you are so familiar with the city. I do intend to get to Sleuth of Baker Street; I know you’ve mentioned it on your blog. Thanks for your suggestions as to authors, too. Shrier’s work I almost mentioned, ‘though I didn’t in the end (So thanks for doing so). But I am not familiar with Aubert or with the Decker Roberts series (other than your occasional mentions of it). So I’m very glad you added them in – thanks.

  6. I don’t think I’ve read any books set in Toronto, though if memory serves me right Stef Penney’s ‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ was set around that general area, back in the early days of settlement. These all sound tempting, but you know me, Margot – iron willpower! 😉

    • I’ll get you, my pretty!! And your TBR, too! Bwahahahaha…. 😉 – In all seriousness, I ought to read that Penney. I’ve heard it was quite, quite good, and The Invisible Ones certainly was.

  7. You’ve highlighted to me that I haven’t read any books in Toronto that I can recall even though there is a wealth of good crime fiction to explore featuring it – A lovely tribute!

  8. Col

    Glad you mentioned John McFetridge, I really like his work.

  9. Margot, frankly, I need to brush up on my reading of Canadian fiction, both crime and others. I read about Toronto’s literary workshops, readings, and events off and on. The city has a vibrant literary culture.

    • I think it really does, Prashant. And as far as brushing up on fiction from a particular places goes, I don’t think it’s possible to read everything out there, no matter how good. I think the best we can do is to read what we can.

  10. When I saw this post dealt with Toronto, I thought I wouldn’t know any of your choices – but it turns out I’ve read a few books set there. I’m a fan of Rotenberg in particular.

    • There is some great Toronto-based crime fiction out there, Moira. And I agree with you about Rotenberg. He’s very talented, and really depicts the city effectively, I think.

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