City of Hamil­ton has more than a cameo in de­tec­tive se­ries

Chris Laing has fin­ished his third book in the Max Dex­ter se­ries: “I don’t think I can stop with them now”

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - ABIGAIL CUKIER

Peo­ple say “write what you know.” And so Chris Laing set out to write about Hamil­ton in the late 1940s.

Laing’s mys­tery se­ries fea­tures Sec­ond World War vet­eran and for­mer Moun­tie Max Dex­ter, who opens his own de­tec­tive agency in Hamil­ton along with his as­sis­tant Is­abel O’Brien.

The third book in the se­ries, “A Fam­ily Mat­ter,” has just been re­leased and once again, Hamil­ton could be counted as a char­ac­ter in its own right. In the first chap­ter alone, Laing men­tions the Tivoli Theatre, the cor­ner of Can­non and James, Hamil­ton Har­bour, Cen­tral Col­le­giate In­sti­tute and boot­leg­ging joints along the Beach Strip run by gang­ster Rocco Perri.

The 80-year-old was born in Toronto and moved to Hamil­ton as a tod­dler, just be­fore the Sec­ond World War. The Hamil­ton he re­mem­bers was a hus­tling, bustling en­er­getic place that in­cluded gyp­sies read­ing your for­tune, an out­door Hamil­ton Mar­ket where you could buy live chick­ens and the jazz clubs he sneaked into while still un­der age.

Laing’s dad worked at Otis-Fen­som El­e­va­tor Com­pany and re­mained at the fa­cil­ity pro­duc­ing anti-air­craft guns dur­ing the war and stayed on when it be­came a Stude­baker plant. The fam­ily lived in a wartime hous­ing devel­op­ment in west Hamil­ton.

“It was con­structed by the city dur­ing the war, cheap houses thrown up quickly for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies or those con­nected to war work,” said Laing who at­tended Cana­dian Mar­tyrs Catholic el­e­men­tary school and then West­dale Sec­ondary School.

While work­ing in the of­fice at the Tuck­ett Tobacco Com­pany, a teenaged Laing spent a lot of time down­town dur­ing trips to make de­posits at the bank.

“I walked around down­town a lot and got to know how peo­ple lived,” Laing re­mem­bers. “It was al­ways in the back of my mind that this is Hamil­ton. It was a ro­man­tic rec­ol­lec­tion of mine. It is rosier in some ways and grim­ier in some senses.”

He worked as busi­ness man­ager for the Kitchener-Water­loo Record be­fore mov­ing to the Fed­eral Pub­lic Ser­vice, where he served in the De­part­ment of the Sec­re­tary of State and Na­tional Mu­se­ums of Canada be­fore re­tir­ing and mov­ing to Kingston. Laing mar­ried Michèle LaRose in 1959 and the cou­ple has two daugh­ters and three sons, as well as has nine grand­chil­dren, whose names ap­pear in his books, in­clud­ing Max, Dex­ter and Is­abel.

“I al­ways had writ­ing in back of my mind,” Laing says. “I am a fan of de­tec­tive nov­els and I lis­tened to the ra­dio a lot as a kid and was very taken with de­tec­tive sto­ries and shoot ‘em up stuff. It re­mained with me my whole life.

“I thought, ‘I can write as well as some of these guys.’ So I am try­ing it my­self.”

Laing started with “West End Kid: Tales from the For­ties,” short sto­ries about a group of kids grow­ing up in Hamil­ton dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, which he pub­lished him­self in 2004.

The first in his Max Dex­ter se­ries was “A Pri­vate Man,” pub­lished by Seraphim Edi­tions in 2012. Set in 1947, Max and his as­sis­tant, Is­abel, are on the case from mur­der to money laun­der­ing and or­ga­nized crime. The book was a fi­nal­ist for an Arthur El­lis Award for Ex­cel­lence in Cana­dian Crime Writ­ing in the Best First Crime Novel cat­e­gory.

In the sec­ond book, “A Deadly Ven­ture,” pub­lished in 2014, Max’s friend is ar­rested for mur­der and Hamil­ton mob­sters at­tempt to dis­cour­age Max and Is­abel from track­ing down the real killer. That book won a 2015 Kerry Schoo­ley Award pre­sented by the Hamil­ton Arts Coun­cil.

In the third book, Max’s mother re­turns to Hamil­ton after more than 20 years and it is un­known whether she is in­volved in an in­ter­nal Mob war heat­ing up in the city.

Laing is now half­way into writ­ing this fourth book with the same char­ac­ters. “I don’t think I can stop with them now,” he says.

Re­tired Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor re­porter Stewart Brown has helped Laing with his books by pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on the Hamil­ton en­ter­tain­ment scene in the 1940s.

“I was read­ing ‘A Deadly Ven­ture’ just this week,” says Brown. “Chris is very thor­ough in his re­search and he ob­vi­ously rel­ishes the 1940s and his writ­ing re­flects that ad­mi­ra­tion.

“His books are a Valen­tine to the era and the city in which he grew up. He makes Hamil­ton in the ’40s sound more fun and ex­cit­ing than it is to­day.”


Author Chris Laing says he’s been a fan of de­tec­tive sto­ries his whole life and lis­tened to them on the ra­dio while grow­ing up.

“A Fam­ily Mat­ter”" is the third in Chris Laing’s Max Dex­ter se­ries. All are set in Hamil­ton.

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