New book collects province’s best crime fiction
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.”