Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Crime Night With a Twist

Crime night at this year’s writers festival did not follow the standard crime night format, but then again, no good crime novel is predictable so why should the event be?  Usually the authors begin by reading from their most recent novel, then join in the question and answer session for a discussion.  This year’s readings did not go quite according to that plan.


Gail Bowen started the evening off with a bang by reading, not from her most recent release, but from her upcoming August novel titled The Gifted. This being the debut of her new material, Bowen was not as polished as one might expect from such a veteran novelist, but the prose was simple, yet somehow illuminating, giving the listener the sense of being present for the events about to unfold.  The book will certainly be worth a read when it is released.


Second up was author Inger Ash Wolfe, who in the second twist of the night, turns out to be Michael Redhill.  Despite the twist in author's identity, this reading was the most straight-forward as far as content.  The story had a great sense of humour and the listener was left with a sense of who the heroine was and a desire to see her situation through to the finish.  When asked why he would write under a pseudonym yet reveal his identity, Michael described Inger as a character he “becomes” and through whom he writes his novels.  He revealed his identity in order to champion his books and be able to bring them to a wider audience (by doing things such as appearing at a festival such as this).


Perhaps the most fascinating story told this particular evening was Peggy Blair, who did not read from a novel at all.  Blair chose not to read from her novel because set in Cuba, she could not possibly get the voices down right to leave the reader the right impression.  Instead she regaled the audience with her tale of how she managed to finally get published after meeting Ian Rankin in a bar by chance, bringing the audience along through all the ups and downs of the writing process, the scores of rejections after rejections before lucking out.  It turns out that Ian Rankin allowed her to drop his name to his agent, a kind gesture for a complete stranger, and a move which ended up changing her life.


After this rather unusual introduction to the authors and their books, the question and answer session did proceed as usual.  The questions asked were thoughtful and the responses provided by the authors were enlightening.  Topics covered included social justice issues as all three authors incorporate this to some extent as well as the reasoning behind why all three authors remain true to their Canadian roots.  Perhaps most profound of the evening were some of the questions raised by the authors.  I will leave you to ponder their answers as the unsolved mystery of this year’s annual crime night.


Michael Redhill asked, “What happens when a place that needs to be small doesn’t remain small?”  Gail Bowen asked, “What would push somebody over the edge (and into crime)?”  If you can answer those two questions, you might just have yourself a novel.