Crime scene (Photo: ilbusca/Getty Images); Insets: Rabbit Hole; Cold, Cold Bones; Take Your Breath Away
Murder, They Wrote: Canada’s First Crime and Mystery Writing Festival Features an Enviable Slate of Authors
The Motive festival, organized by the Toronto International Festival of Authors, offers a glimpse into new work by Linwood Barclay, Thomas King, Shari Lapena, Kathy Reichs and Harlan Coben / BY Dene Moore / May 31st, 2022
Toronto will be the murder capital of Canada in June. On paper, at least.
The city will host the first Motive Crime & Mystery Festival, boasting a slate of homegrown and international authors at what will hopefully become an annual event for authors and readers.
“This is a celebration of the writers, and I love the fact that crime writers [and] mystery writers, they’re just brilliant storytellers, both in their books and also on stage,” says Roland Gulliver, director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA), which is organizing the Motive festival. “Canadians love great storytelling.”
Two years ago, Gulliver took the top job at TIFA, the largest and longest-running literary festival in Canada, which will celebrate its 43rd event in October. He wanted to expand it to encompass year-round programming, and says crime and mystery books were a natural fit.
“I love asking people what they’re reading, because it’s always insightful, and I always get really interesting surprises, and I was struck by how positive and passionate Canadians were about crime writing and mystery writing and their favourite writers,” Gulliver says. “It just struck me how exciting it would be if we made our own crime and mystery festival. I was kind of surprised that, in Canada, there weren’t currently any festivals like that happening.”
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the inaugural event for two years, but the festival will take place June 3-5 with more than 60 live and virtual events. The line-up includes live interviews with bestselling Canadian authors such as Shari Lapena, Thomas King, Ian Hamilton and Linwood Barclay, as well as bestselling international authors Val McDermid, Harlan Coben and Kathy Reichs. There are master classes, free outdoor events, expert panels and The Hidden, an interactive mystery theatre performance that will take place at the Brampton Library.
Reichs, the best-selling American author and real-life forensic anthropologist, will give a sneak peak at Cold Cold Bones, the 21st book in her series about forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Reichs says she enjoys festivals and hasn’t done any book tours in a few years due to COVID.
“It will be nice to get out and be able to meet my fans and mingle, and I do enjoy meeting other authors,” she says. “That’s a lot of fun.” She adds that readers at festivals tend to be very enthusiastic, and people have always been intrigued with good and evil and the root of wrongdoing.
“Probably the most evil crime one can commit is to steal another person’s life from them, so I think they’re very curious about that whole moral dynamic, but also I think they enjoy them because it’s a puzzle and they’re almost a participant as they read the book.”
For many years, Reichs was a consultant at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal – where her first novel took place and where she will be headed for a visit after the festival – as well as a member of the RCMP’s National Police Services Advisory Council.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Canada.,” she says. “It’s been way, way too long.”
Barclay will take up the interviewer’s seat at the festival for conversations with Australian writer Michael Robotham about his latest novel, When You Are Mine, and British author Mark Billingham about Rabbit Hole, as well a solo event to talk about his recently released psychological thriller, Take Your Breath Away. It will be the only in-person public event and book signing in his hometown of Toronto.
“Writing is a pretty isolating kind of profession,” Barclay says. “I do a book a year, so you spend a good chunk of the year writing a book, and finally when it comes out is the chance to be released, to get out of your home cell and go out and talk to people who actually read the books in person, and sign books. That can be a lot of fun, and there hasn’t been any of that for the last couple of years.”
Crime fiction always has a prominent place on bestseller lists in Canada and beyond, and Barclay believes people want to be entertained and solve a puzzle, but they also get a sense of satisfaction from the genre. “With crime fiction, in most cases, there’s a resolution and there’s some kind of justice – the answers to mysteries. Even if we often don’t get the justice we might want in the real world, we can find it in a crime thriller.”
Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, where most of the Motive in-person events take place, is also hosting Nordic Bridges, a yearlong cultural initiative to foster cultural exchange between Nordic countries and Canada. The Motive festival is also highlighting several Scandinavian writers of Nordic Noir, including Norway’s Gunnar Staalesen (Bitter Flowers) and Iceland’s Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Cold As Hell).
Gulliver, who hails from Edinburgh, which is known for Tartan Noir, says the festival will shine a light on something Canada does “really, really well.” Like Scotland, this country sometimes looks elsewhere to see success, when what Canadian writers are doing is quite incredible.
“You have Scandi Noir and Tartan Noir. We need to think of a name to give it, like Maple Noir,” he says with a laugh.