I’ve long planned to have a virtual sit-down with Winnipeg crime writer Doug Whiteway and I’m very happy that he has accepted the invitation.
Prior to turning to crime, Doug Whiteway worked as a writer and editor for, among others, the Winnipeg Free Press and The Beaver magazine. He still keeps a hand in nonfiction editing and writing alongside his career as a mystery novelist.
He has published seven mystery books under the pen name C. C. Benison. The first, Death at Buckingham Palace, featured Jane Bee, a Canadian who flukes her way into a job as a maid in the Queen’s household and solves the crime with an assist from none other than Her Majesty. There were two more in this series: Death at Sandringham House and Death at Windsor Castle. Staying with England as a setting, Whiteway/Benison’s most recent books follow the exploits of Father Tom Christmas, the new vicar in the village of Thornford Regis. Twelve Drummers Drumming came out in 2011, followed by Eleven Pipers Piping and the most recent, Ten Lords A’ Leaping. He hasn’t neglected his home town either; Death in Cold Type is set in Winnipeg.
See the C. C. Benison website here: www.ccbenison.com and our e-chat below.
CM: Like me, you chose a member of the clergy as a protagonist of your current series. Father Tom Christmas is an Anglican priest in the small English village of Thornford Regis. What drew you to that subject matter?
DW: I’m not entirely sure I’ve explained it to myself, but even though I’m happy to read detective novels where the investigator is a professional –– either a private detective or a member of a police force -– I’m more attracted to writing a character who is essentially an amateur detective, a somewhat ordinary person who is thrust into solving a crime through force of circumstance. It may be partly that I think ordinary people can solve problems if they put their heads to it or it may be that I don’t want to spend much time in the head of a policeman. I’m not sure. Anyway, what attracted me more specifically to a clergyman is partly that a priest or minister or rabbi has the benefit of being more likely to be granted entrance into people lives and homes than people in many other professions or walks of life. They’re counsellors and problem solvers and, in a village milieu, community leaders, so it seems less likely to strain readers’ credulity if they involve themselves in the resolution of a crime. I’m also attracted to the moral dilemmas that a priest may face. Clerics, I think (though perhaps I’m being unrealistic) are obliged to consider some of the wider implications of their actions and those of others.
CM: The setting in the Father Christmas books feels very authentic to me. How do you get all those details right and prevent Canadianisms from sneaking through?
DW: I think, suffering as I do from anglophilia, that I’ve spent a lot of time either consciously, or just below the surface of consciousness, paying attention to the speech patterns and vocabulary of the British and to various aspects of their culture. It started early. My ancestry is English and Scottish; two of my grandparents were born in the U.K (one in Devon, which is the setting of the Fr. Christmas mysteries); there was very little Can Lit growing up, so a lot of what I read as a child or young adult was produced in the U.K. or set there or the like. Then, when I was a teenager, there was the British Invasion in music and pop culture, which had a reinforcing effect. I’ve been to England lots of times, particularly during the writing of the Father Christmas series and the earlier Jane Bee series, so that helps in soaking up detail and atmosphere. As for the Father Christmas books, their authenticity owes something to the fact that the fictional Thornford Regis is based very much on an actual south Devon village named Stoke Gabriel, so the street patterns, the major buildings (like the pub and the church) and the landscape is, in a way, a kind of faithful journalistic recording –– only I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent, or the guilty, as the case may be. And, of course, these days, there’s so much available on the Internet. You can download BBC and ITV TV programs easily, listen to BBC live or on podcast, or visit parts of England through Google street view. Even for all that, Canadianisms likely do creep in, but the person most likely to catch them first is my American editor, who’s pretty much an anglophile herself.
CM: It must be the archivist in me, but I love reading Madrun’s letters in the Father Christmas books, complete with typos, of course. Can you talk about Madrun’s epistolary voice and how it came to you?
DW: I would love to answer this question thoroughly, but search my mind as I might I can’t recall what exactly suggested an epistolary voice to me. A little of it may be that I wanted to play a bit with the storytelling conventions of the crime novel, but where the notion of letters came from I’m not sure. Clearly, a piece of brain has gone missing. Once I’d determined to have letters, however, I modeled them after the letters my mother and her sisters would write to each other. In the days when long-distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive, they would write frequently to each other, and in a breezy, chatty, completely unselfconscious style, complete with crossings-out and reconsidered thoughts. When I wrote Madrun’s letters, I would try to replicate the way they wrote letters (or the way I imagined they wrote letters); that is, quickly and with no concern for literary effect. Of course, when you’re creating them as fiction for a wider audience, speed and no concern for literary effect go out the window.
CM: Ten Lords A’ Leaping is your seventh mystery novel and the third Father Christmas book. How has the mystery fiction landscape changed since your first book?
DW: I think years ago I would have said the meat of a mystery is the puzzle and the sizzle is the characterization and the setting, but today I would say it’s the other way around (though crime novels with rich settings and fine characterization is the continuation a longish trend, helping a little to erase boundaries between genre fiction and so-called literary fiction.) I think, too, there’s a greater reader interest within Canada, and outside the country as well, in Canadian settings and characters than there was in decades past, not to mention there are more Canadian writers working within the genre than ever before. These are good things. On a less cheerful note, what has changed in more recent years is the increasing difficulty of getting published and generating revenue from publication due in large measure to the consolidation of publishers into larger and larger conglomerates seeking the new blockbuster and the dampening effect of Amazon on prices (great for the consumer, not great for the producer).
CM: How do you feel about the conventions of the mystery genre now? Are you constrained by them, comforted by them, or are you tempted to defy them?
DW: All three actually, and sometimes all at the same time. One of the pleasures of the genre is working within a highly organized structure and recognized conventions. You’re provided with bare bones that you can enflesh with your own characters and ideas. I think this can be particularly useful if you’re starting out writing fiction: there are so many things you have to get right in a novel that will attract readers, why not have at least have some part of it already provided for you? (I’ve always liked the idea of infiltrating genre forms and filling them up with ideas or subversive notions –– not that I’ve ever done it myself!) That said, the conventions can be a bit constraining at times. While rationality lies at the heart of crime fiction, the neat resolution that comes at the end of each novel rarely mirrors what we know real life (so-called) to be, so there are moments when I’d like, say, to write a more ambiguous ending, though I know readers would find this most unsatisfying. I think by and large the conventions have to be respected, so if I find myself tempted to defy them––and I do––then the solution is to work within another genre. (See next question.)
CM: One of your novels, Death in Cold Type, is set in Winnipeg. Do you think you might do another Winnipeg book sometime?
DW: Yes! I’ve completed a manuscript for a novel set largely in Winnipeg and along the west shore of Lake Winnipeg (though there are excursions to Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco and New York). The working title is “Paul is Dead” and it follows two characters who face the consequences forty years later of a crime they committed in their youth, in the late 1960s. It’s more of a howdunnit and whydunnit (whodunnit you’ll learn in the first few pages and the victim’s name is in the title.) If it has to be categorized (and publishers love categories!) it would be in the realm of psychological thriller.
Most widely held works by Doug Whiteway
In search of ancient Alberta by Barbara Huck( Book )
3 editions published between 1998 and 2016 in English and held by 83 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Twelve drummers drumming : a mystery by C. C Benison( Book )
1 edition published in 2012 in English and held by 58 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Thornford Regis has never been lovelier. But inside the empty village hall, the huge Japanese drum that's featured in the festivities has been viciously sliced open--and curled up inside is the bludgeoned body of Sybella Parry, the beautiful 19-year-old daughter of the choir director
Missing children by Gerald Lynch( Book )
1 edition published in 2015 in English and held by 27 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
On a rare father-daughter outing to the science museum, Dr. Lorne Thorpe loses his young daughter Shawn. Although she eventually returns, seemingly unharmed, she refuses to talk about what has happened. Seeking help from her erratic father, Detective Beldon must solve the mystery before more children disappear
Pleasantly dead by Judith Alguire( Book )
1 edition published in 2009 in English and held by 26 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
"Trevor and Margaret Rudley are looking forward to a summer without incident at the Pleasant Inn, the cherished Ontario cottage-country hotel they've owned for twenty-five years. But barely a week goes by and their hopes are dashed. The maid finds a dead body making a nuisance of itself in the wine cellar, and it's nobody the Rudleys know." "Dying for distraction, Miss Miller, one of the Pleasant Inn's eccentric guests, sets out to solve the case of the deceased, relying on wild speculation, huge leaps of logic, and the assistance of her great admirer, Edward Simpson, who is too smitten to dissuade her from her adventure in detection. Challenging her in the race to resolution is the disciplined Detective Michel Brisbois, whose deep-rooted insecurities about his style and status are aroused by the hotel guests' careless assumption of privilege. When Brisbois stumbles into peril of his own, the intrepid Miss Miller is the only one left who can solve the crime."--Jacket
The pumpkin murders by Judith Alguire( Book )
3 editions published between 2010 and 2011 in English and held by 24 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
As autumn descends on cottage country, Trevor and Margaret Rudley, proprietors of the Pleasant Inn, expect nothing more than a little Halloween high jinks to punctuate the easy ambiance of their much-loved hostelry. However, the frost is barely on the pumpkin when mellow turns to murderous
Peril at the Pleasant by Judith Alguire( Book )
2 editions published in 2013 in English and held by 22 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Margaret Rudley has finally persuaded her husband Trevor to take a vacation, a week-long canoeing expedition in Northern Ontario. Rudley hates the idea of leaving the Pleasant, the beautiful old country inn they've run for over a quarter of a century, but he is reluctant to deny her a cherished dream. They set off, accompanied by long-time guests Elizabeth Miller, Edward Simpson, Norman and Geraldine Phipps-Walker, and a pair of neophytes, Vern Peters and Eric Turnbull. They leave the Pleasant and a few regular guests, including the Sawchucks and their incorrigible eight-year-old grandchildren, Ned and Nora, in the capable hands of Melba Millotte. But contrary to their hopes, it is chaos at the Pleasant. A serial murderer is on the lam in cottage country. Ned and Nora disappear and a ransom note is received by the local paper. The laundryman's truck is stolen. Tiffany encounters an intruder in the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. Detectives Brisbois and Creighton are on the scene to investigate these various crimes, including the appearance of a dead body in a ditch a few miles from the Pleasant and a guest of the inn with some strange habits. While intrigue swirls around the Pleasant, the canoeists continue downriver, oblivious to the threat that lurks around the next bend. When Gil the guide and Vern Peters disappear, the lives of the group are in peril. Miss Miller and Norman must come through to save the day, but can they?
Northern lights : Arnold & Gail Morberg and the Calm Air Story by Doug Whiteway( Book )
1 edition published in 2014 in English and held by 20 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Many unpleasant returns by Judith Alguire( Book )
1 edition published in 2014 in English and held by 11 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Everyone at the Pleasant Inn is looking forward to a very merry Christmas. Oh, irascible proprietor Trevor Rudley has his usual complaints about Mrs. Blount's non-traditional floral arrangements. And he's sure he won't like housekeeper Tiffany's new beau, Dan Thornton, a writer, of all things. But it's Christmas. Surely nothing catastrophic could happen. Bad things do happen, of course. The snow starts falling and doesn't seem to want to stop. Margaret Rudley runs over a man lying in the road during a whiteout. Walter Sawchuck almost chokes when someone doctors his Mrs. Dash. And those disturbing little Santas begin to appear, each one representing a gruesome event in the Pleasant's past. Then a dead body is found hanged in the coach house. As the snow continues to fall, paranoia at the Pleasant mounts
What's cooking in ethnic Winnipeg by Doug Whiteway( Book )
1 edition published in 1987 in English and held by 7 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
One hundred years at St. Charles Country Club : a centennial history by Barbara Huck( Book )
1 edition published in 2004 in English and held by 5 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
In search of Canada's ancient heartland : discover Manitoba's geology, paleontology and archaeology by Barbara Huck( Book )
1 edition published in 2015 in English and held by 3 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Manitoba/Saskatchewan winter tourism marketing strategy by Canada( Book )
1 edition published in 1993 in English and held by 3 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
On sober second thought : a novel by Barbara Bond( Book )
1 edition published in 2014 in English and held by 3 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
Front porch mannequins by Rebekkah Adams( Book )
1 edition published in 2009 in English and held by 1 WorldCat member library worldwide
Arctic chic : what the warmest people in the world are wearing by Doug Whiteway( Book )
1 edition published in 1989 in English and held by 1 WorldCat member library worldwide
Omphalos by Gerald Lynch( Book )
1 edition published in 2017 in English and held by 0 WorldCat member libraries worldwide
"When Eugene DeLint, the head of Omphalos, the world's dominant philanthropic organization, is found murdered, Detective Kevin Beldon is called in. Beldon, who readers will be familiar with from Lynch's previous novels, Missing Children and Troutstream, has been on medical leave, and he brings along much personal professional baggage: his wife Cynthia is a recent suicide, his absent son Bill is a disappointment, and his daughter Kelly, who began her legal career at Omphalos, is emotionally distant with him. Kevin still hasn't gotten over his previous failed attempt at solving the so-called Widower serial killings. And he still suspects that the escaped Widower was connected to Omphalos. Secretly he views Eugene DeLint's murder as a last chance to solve the Widower case and so absolve his wife the sin of suicide."--