Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

The Scene of the Crime with Steve Burrows, Sara Blaedel and Giles Blunt

Dark and dreary night? Check. Dimly lit, atmospheric room? Check. Three individuals with the knowledge and the know how to commit grisly murders, and get away with them? Check, check and check.


While not nearly as gruesome as the sum of its parts, the festival’s “Scene of the Crime” night highlighted the inner workings of what goes into constructing (and solving!) some of literatures greatest crimes, bringing together three celebrated crime novelists to discuss exactly what goes into their minds, when they go into the mind of a crook.


Featuring “Denmark’s Queen of Crime” Sarah Blaedel, bird enthusiast Steve Burrows and Arthur Elis Award winner Giles Blunt, the night began with passages read from each of their respective new stories. Blaedel began the night recanting a passage from her new story The Forgotten Girls , which told of a frantic trip through the woods, ending in a case of mistaken identity and murder.


Burrows chose two passages to read to the audience, in order to demonstrate the split nature of his book. An avid bird enthusiast, Burrows has built his writing career through mixing his hobby of birding with his love of crime novels. His readings came from his book A Pitying of Doves (how he was able to resist calling his book “A Murder Most Fowl” is beyond me). The first passage he read showed off the birding side of Burrows, with the main character attempting to enjoy bird watching with his wife, while the second passage made a sharp right turn down death alley, following a dying man’s last moments as he delivers a mysterious package to his wife.


While not directly crime related, Giles Blunts new story The Hesitation Cut demonstrated just how much talent Blunt brings to the literary table, telling a detailed and amusing story of a monk tempted by the world outside of his monastery.


After the pieces were read, the conversation turned more towards the art of crafting the perfect crime, with each author offering their perspective on how they create not only believable characters, but believable settings as well. All three authors admitting writing from a place a familiarity, with Blaedal going as far as to base her new story in a semi fictional version of her home town. Burrows enthusiastically admitted that much of the joy of his writing comes from his own fascination with birds, and while Blunt admits that he is not nearly as charismatic as the lead in his long-running series of crime novels, much of his writing does come from things that interest him in some way or another, be it subject matter or location.


When asked about bringing something new to the genre, each author was passionate about what they wish to say with their stories. Blunt was critical of how detectives are portrayed in popular media, shown as mavericks and lose cannons who play by their own rules, and wouldn’t last a second in real world bureaucracies. He wanted to bring to life a competent, by-the-books detective who, while not perfect by any means, was still a normal guy dealing with things the proper way.


Blaedel spoke about creating a character that evolved as she did, creating a new identity for herself over the length of the serious, changing and learning from her experiences and relationships, and allowing the character the flesh themselves out in a unique way.


“I’m just trying to find different ways to kill a person,” said Burrows with a laugh, ending off the night.

 Filled with intrigue, murder and needed does of laughter, The Scene of the Crime showed the audience just what kind of minds it takes to make some of their favourite crimes come to life, demonstrating how anyone you pass on the street may have the perfect murder cooking in their heads.