Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Scene of the Crime with John Lawton, Brenda Chapman, Joy Fielding and Linwood Barclay

Sunday brought a beautifully sunny day that then transitioned into a pleasant and balmy evening; finally, summer was on its way! Everyone was in high spirits due to the lovely weather, and the Christ Church Cathedral was packed and abuzz for Sunday night’s event. Bringing together four fantastic crime fiction authors, Scene of the Crime promised “an evening of murder, mayhem and intrigue.” As a huge fan of mystery and crime fiction myself, I was avidly looking forward to the event.
The event was kicked off by host Barbara Fradkin, two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. She noted that crime fiction is often regarded as a ‘guilty pleasure’, when, in fact, it is one of the most popular genres of commercial fiction. She believes this is because crime fiction not only provides escapism and a sense of adventure, but it is also a social commentary on the worst, and the best, of human nature. Not only does crime fiction react to the moral and social issues of our time, it also addresses those enduring basic human responses that are as old as time —anger, greed, jealousy, and lust.


First to speak was Ottawa’s own Brenda Chapman, reading from her latest Kala Stonechild novel, Tumbled Graves . Chapman prefaced the reading with her back story and how she got into writing police procedural and mystery novels. Chapman was a senior communications advisor with the federal government for many years, often working with Aboriginal and First Nations peoples, and found this experience spurred her on to start writing about Kala Stonechild, one of the only female First Nations detective leads in a book series. She reads the first few pages of Tumbled Graves, which set a tense and foreboding opening scene and draw the audience into the mystery of the story.


Next up was John Lawton, whose newest novel, The Unfortunate Englishman , is an espionage thriller largely set in Berlin but with a distinctly English voice. Lawton himself was actually in Berlin the day the wall came down! Before diving into his reading, Lawton provided some historical context for the setting of the novel, which takes place during the Cold War. In Lawton’s excerpt we follow a British spy, newly moved to Russia, experiencing all the sights and sounds the country has to offer. I found the story reminiscent of Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond, offering a strong sense of mystery, intrigue and secrecy.


We also heard from Joy Fielding: author of an impressive twenty-six novels, including New York Times bestseller, Someone is Watching . Fielding read an excerpt of her newest novel, She’s Not There, which was partly inspired by the Madeleine McCann disappearance. Flicking between the past and present, the story follows a woman who is contacted by a girl claiming to be her daughter who had disappeared in Mexico 15 years earlier. Fielding says the challenge in writing this book was making the two timelines equally engaging and interesting to the reader. Fielding wouldn’t describe herself as a crime writer —she says her books are not so much whodunnits as whydunnits. She likes to write strong, believable female characters that are multilayered and complicated, which is where she feels the appeal lies in her work.

Last to read was Linwood Barclay, a journalist, humourist, and bestselling author of thirteen novels. Barclay is a natural stand-up comedian; speaking in a relaxed and jovial tone, he has the audience frequently breaking out in twitters of laughter. His new book, Far From True , is the second novel in his Promise Falls trilogy, which he wrote back to back. His initial reluctance in writing a trilogy regarded the marketing of the series. Should it be labelled as a trilogy from the start? If people know they have to commit to three novels for the full story, will they even pick up the first book? Despite this concern, Barclay says people have responded very well to the series and are looking forward to the final instalment, which will be released later this year. For his excerpt, Barclay reads just one line from the book — we have to buy it to find out the rest, he says!