5 novels set in Hamilton

For Jeffrey Luscombe, Hamilton isn’t just a dot on the map or a place to set his novel. It’s a living, breathing character of its own.

With its mysterious past and 'rough edges,' Steeltown is a literary character unto itself

"There is a steel in our spine," says author Jeffrey Luscombe in describing why Hamilton is a great setting for fiction. Luscombe is among several authors who have set their stories in Hamilton. (John Burridge Photography)

For Jeffrey Luscombe, Hamilton isn't just a dot on the map or a place to set his novel. It's a living, breathing character of its own.

The Hamilton-born Luscombe used the city for his 2012 novel Shirts and Skins, a coming-of-age story about a gay youth growing up in Hamilton's industrial east end. It features the steel mills that line the bay, the smoke stacks and the brick buildings, and the city's time-honoured working class.

"Everyone has an idea of what (Hamilton) is across the country," he said. "It's about steel. It's about rough people. Some of it's true and some of it isn't, but it's great to play with and write about."

Recently, the Toronto Public Library released a map of books set in Toronto. While no such map exists for Hamilton, there is no shortage of stories located here.

The Good Doctor by Vince Agro and The Contest by Caroline Stellings are set in Hamilton.

There's Jane Urquhart's The Stone Carvers, the first book Luscombe ever read that included his hometown. On the non-fiction front, there's The Torso Murder: The Untold Story of Evelyn Dick by Brian Vallee.

Luscombe mentions Evelyn Dick in his upcoming novel too. To Luscombe, she's emblematic of what makes Hamilton fertile ground for writers.

"I think Hamilton is a lot like her — sexy and dangerous with this notorious past," he said. "It's fun to write about, and I don't know if Toronto has that."

Here are five books that take place in Hamilton, plus a collection of feedback you gave us on Twitter:

Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe

Josh, a gay youth "coming to terms with his family and his fate," longs for a life away from Hamilton. When he gets older, he moves to Toronto only to discover that Hamilton will never leave him.

When the novel was published, "I was concerned about how Hamiltonians would react," Luscombe said. But east enders "are quite proud of their working-class roots and their rough edges. I'm certainly still proud of my rough edges."

The Contest by Caroline Stellings

This young adult book by a Waterdown author tells the story of Rosy, a half-Mohawk girl participating in an Anne of Green Gables look-alike contest. Second Story Press published the book. Stelling has written and illustrated numerous books for children.

Chris Laing, author of A Private Man, is a Hamilton native. Ross Pennie, author of Tampered, was a doctor in Brantford.

A Private Man by Chris Laing

Published by Seraphim Editions, A Private Man is the story of a former lawman who owns a detective agency in Hamilton. They tackle cases ranging from money laundering to murder. Laing, a Hamilton native, also published a short story collection called West End Kid: Tales from the Forties.

The Good Doctor by Vince Agro

This novel, set during the Second World War, profiles Hamilton's Italian community. Dr. Vincenzo Arcone "fights the forces of fascism within his community and the prejudice without." The novel is published by Poplar Press. Agro is a one-time acting mayor of Hamilton, and his novel was a finalist in the Scotiabank Giller Prize Reader's Choice contest.

Tampered by Ross Pennie

Hamilton is featured throughout Pennie's Dr. Zol Szabo stories. In Tampered, Szabo investigates food poisoning at a Hamilton-area seniors facility. ECW Press published the novel by Pennie, who was a doctor at Brantford General Hospital until he retired in 2013.


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