Notes from Blue Met: Crime Stories


A slideshow from one of the crime events at the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival

From April 18-23, 2012, the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival will take place in Montreal. CBC correspondent Maria Turner will report from the festival for CBC Books.


I confess, I am a sucker for a good mystery. Hard-boiled detective stories, police procedurals, thrillers, or true crime, I read them all. I was in good company at Blue Met's true crime event, which featured academic Will Straw and self-professed Montreal crime nerd and journalist Kristian Gravenor talking about Montreal's most notorious crimes and criminals. As it turns out, there are quite a few. From Montreal bank robber Machine Gun Molly to the killer Richard Blass, Montreal has been home to a host of men (mostly) and women who have committed horrific, outrageous and occasionally incredibly stupid crimes.

Why the fascination with our city's criminals? Gravenor offered the following: "Because they got the stories." (A paraphrase of a quote from Ray Charles in the movie Ray, when asked why he was making a country album.) These epic crime stories, said Gravenor, are like "the Greek myths of our time." Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that crime writing (true or fictional) is extremely popular. According to Straw, the readership of crime writing cuts across all social classes and, as can be deduced from the international fare on offer, across nationalities. I am not alone.

Cuban writer Leonardo Padura is also a fan of detective stories, including those by Chandler, Hammett and Ross MacDonald. When it comes to writing them, however, he says his literary influences are more to be found in authors like Hemingway and Faulkner. Mario Conde, the detective of Padura's Havana Quartet, seems, at times, more like a writer than a police detective. Like other contemporary examples of the genre, the Wallander series by Henning Mankell or Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Pepe Carvalho books, it is not so much who done it that's important, but seeing the world through the eyes of our detective. In Conde's case, this point of view is one of melancholy, disappointment and disillusionment. "With Conde and his friends, I was trying to create a portrait of my generation," explains Padura. Born in Havana in 1955, Padura and his contemporaries grew up with the revolution and have watched their country go through profound changes since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Padura is currently working on a new series that he says is three novels in one, two of which star Conde. The third, surprisingly, is set in Amsterdam in the time of Rembrandt. How exactly will this be a crime novel? We'll have to wait and see.

Crime-writing fans will get a chance to see more of the genre over the next couple of days at the festival, including tonight's dramatic presentation of Louise Penny's Inspector Armand Gamache, and Saturday's interview with Joyce Carol Oates on her crime-related gothic writing, and horror fiction.

Maria Schamis Turner is a writer and editor based in Montreal. Her book reviews have appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post and the Montreal Review of Books. She is the editor of the online literary magazine and the producer of the 2012 CBC Blue Literary Series /Radio-Canada série littéraire at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

Read Maria's preview of the Blue Met festival here.

Find the complete CBC Blue listing of events here.