Al­berta is a hot spot for all man­ner of may­hem in this crime col­lec­tion

Calgary Herald - - BOOKS - ERIC VOLMERS Eric Volmers is a Cal­gary Her­ald colum­nist

There’s no doubt where short story Mur­der on the Mall is set. It has more Cow­town ref­er­ences than a Cal­gary tourism brochure.

There’s Stephen Av­enue. The Glen­bow Mu­seum. The Cal­gary Tower. One Pal­liser Square. Me­mo­rial Drive. Deer­foot Trail. For­est Lawn. Radis­son Heights. Early in the ac­tion, one of the lo­cal bars is even play­ing The Kid is Hot Tonight, the sig­na­ture tune of Cal­gary-born, leather-panted 1980s cor­po­rate rock­ers, Lover­boy.

Still, it’s doubt­ful the lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce will be us­ing Randy McCharles’ short story to lure busi­nesses to town. It’s about ex­tor­tion and mur­der and two dim-wit­ted thugs that our fe­dora-wear­ing P.I. pro­tag­o­nist refers to as SpongeBob and Badass. McCharles, a Cal­gary writer and founder of the When Words Col­lide lit­er­ary con­fer­ence, of­fers the open­ing salvo for AB Neg­a­tive: An An­thol­ogy of Al­berta Crime. The book con­tains 14 tawdry tales that turn Cal­gary and other ar­eas of Al­berta into hot spots of mur­der, mafia hit men, gumshoes, biker gangs, femme fa­tales and sex­pots. On the sur­face, Wild Rose Coun- try may not seem the like­li­est spot for such deadly shenani­gans, but the col­lec­tion’s ed­i­tor sees our fair prov­ince and its in­her­ent di­vi­sions as pro­vid­ing the per­fect back­drop for may­hem.

“I think there’s a lot of gold to be mined there,” says Axel How­er­ton, who edited the col­lec­tion and put it out un­der his own Cal­gary-based im­print, Cof­fin Hop Press. “With the pe­tro­leum in­dus­try and a lot of out­side power com­ing into what was tra­di­tion­ally a more rus­tic en­vi­ron­ment, there’s a real di­chotomy be­tween the prairie, cat­tle-ranch­ing roots, es­pe­cially in south­ern Al­berta, and the in­flu­ence of Amer­i­can oil com­pa­nies and el­e­ments from the east that come out here and kind of take over the econ­omy. But there’s still this un­der­ly­ing kind of rebel, pi­o­neer spirit to peo­ple who are from here.”

AB Neg­a­tive will get its of­fi­cial re­lease on Tues­day at Owl’s Nest Books and will fea­ture a good num­ber of the Cal­gary au­thors who con­trib­uted. How­er­ton, who is a board mem­ber of the Crime Writ­ers of Canada and works as a sales man­ager by day, was a fi­nal­ist for the 2014 Arthur El­lis Award for Best First Novel for his darkly comic detective novel Hot Si­na­tra. AB Neg­a­tive is the third an­thol­ogy to be put out un­der Cof­fin Hop, com­ing on the heels of the hor­ror col­lec­tion, Death by Drive-In, and the twisted cow­boy an­thol­ogy Tall Tales of the Weird West. He brings his own noirish sen­si­bil­i­ties to AB Neg­a­tive with the story, Devil’s Due.

“Like any­thing, I put some of my­self is there,” says How­er­ton. “I had be­gun won­der­ing what had hap­pened to my high-school English teacher who had got me into Whit­man. Be­ing a crime writer, it al­ways of course goes to the dark­est, nas­ti­est place. So he ended up be­ing a meth head in a run­down house in Bow­ness.”

How­er­ton soon dis­cov­ered Al­berta’s crime writ­ers could cover a broad spec­trum.

“Most of my work is pretty dark and vi­o­lent and pro­fane,” he says. “But I had a lot of in­ter­est from other Al­berta au­thors that didn’t nec­es­sar­ily write that way. The sto­ries they sub­mit­ted didn’t re­ally fit into that sub-genre. So I just opened it up to Al­berta crime sto­ries. It worked out re­ally well. There’s his­tor­i­cal crime fic­tion, there’s some more cosy mys­tery-type sto­ries, there’s a few detective sto­ries and a cou­ple of sto­ries that do fall un­der that noir cat­e­gory, re­ally dark and vi­o­lent.” In­sur­ance claims ad­juster turned nov­el­ist Su­san Calder writes about a deadly mama’s boy with Freezer Break­down. Robert Bose, a soft­ware de­vel­oper, writes the mafia-meets-su­per­nat­u­ral tale A Dead Reck­on­ing. Cal­gary geo­physi­cist Al Onia con­trib­utes the detective story The Coela­canth Samba. Paramedic and for­mer Cal­gary Po­lice Of­fi­cer Dwayne E. Clay­den of­fers Hell Hath No Fury, a pri­vate detective tale. Fort McMur­ray res­i­dent, for­mer mil­i­tary man Kevin P. Thorn­ton penned the “Sher­lock/Moun­tie mash-up” Mys­tery of the Miss­ing Heir. It’s enough to con­vince any reader Al­ber­tans can be as dark and danger­ous as their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts.

“It oc­curred to me, what’s the dif­fer­ence if it is set in Cal­gary or it is set in Des Moines. The story is the story. If you can mar­ket the story it­self and it’s good, peo­ple will read it. I would rather give that ex­po­sure to peo­ple in more of the same sit­u­a­tion that I’m in and use it as a col­lec­tive call to bring that com­mu­nity to­gether and pro­mote that com­mu­nity and let peo­ple know we’re here and that there are Cana­dian and Al­ber­tan crime writ­ers that have just as good qual­ity ma­te­rial as James Patterson.”


Axel How­er­ton edited, and con­trib­uted Devil’s Due, to the col­lec­tion of Al­berta crime sto­ries, AB Neg­a­tive, which will be launched Tues­day.

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