Anyone who has read either of Wayne Arthurson’s Leo Desroches mystery novels knows the presence of the city of Edmonton in his stories. It’s more than setting, more than exposition, but a character in itself.
Though our June 30th talk at the Stanley Milner Library (along with Janice McDonald of the Randy Craig series) is focused on the craft and business of mystery writing , I wanted to hear from Wayne about why he’s so transfixed by his hometown and why he made it so prominent in his book. Here’s what he had to say:
A year ago, I was fortunately placed on a panel with Ian Rankin, writer of the bestselling Rebus series. And at the panel, he said that when he wishes to learn about a culture or a place he knows nothing about, he reads the crime fiction from that area. Because through crime fiction, you truly get to see what a place is like, the side streets the tourism bureau doesn’t want you to see, the political shenanigans, the social structure, how things actually get done and how people actually feel and talk. You truly get to understand the foundation of a place.
I found that quite telling because if you read enough crime fiction, you realize that sense of place plays a major role in these novels. The setting isn’t just where the story takes place, it become almost another character, interacting with all the other characters, especially that main character, through its geography, weather, history, the social and political structure, and the people who live there.
And during the writing of my Leo Desroches novels (Fall From Grace and A Killing Winter), I worked hard to make the City of Edmonton a key part of the novel. And not just in the topography of where things are and where Leo walks when he goes home (because actually I did change a few things so people wouldn’t know which strip mall Leo goes to, stuff like that). But in the way sunlight is of a different wavelength of colour during the late fall, what kind of houses we have in our central neighbourhoods, and how easy it would be to kill someone just by leaving him out in the middle of nowhere when it’ s -30.
Sadly, I’ve been asked too many times why I set my novel in Edmonton, as if it was an odd thing to do. And my answer is simply: Where else would I set these novels? New York? Minneapolis? Toronto?
I know little of those cities so if I tried to put Leo there, he wouldn’t fit. Leo belongs in Edmonton because it’s where I live, it’s the city I know and understand best.
Join Wayne Arthurson, Janice MacDonald and me at the Stanley Milner library Sunday, June 30th at 1:30pm for a fun and insightful discussion on what makes good mystery writing.