Dark Angels

To some, crime noir is a subgenre set in grim urban environments, featuring petty criminals and desperate characters, permeated by a sense of disillusionment. I favour a wider lens. In the North Noir (Detective Naslund) series, crime noir is less bleak. It is more like life itself: not always dark, not always light.

Crime noir is linked to film noir, to movies such as The Maltese Falcon, which was first a novel. In a noir detective novel, the main character is sharp-witted and/or sharp-tongued. No quarter is given. Criminals try to rig the system, but fail.

Of course, noir detectives aren’t lily white. They cross lines, some more egregious than others, which they breach for the sake of efficiency or to apprehend criminals. Noir detectives are crime fiction’s dark angels. They know darkness, but follow the light.

New Odysseys

The word novel is derived from the Latin novellus. As an adjective, novel means new, fresh, unique. Centuries after its birth, it also began to be used as a noun meaning story.Hey, AMP,’ you say, ‘enough of the etymology.’ Right. Onward.

Novels are adept at delivering ideas and emotions, as well as action, setting, and mood. If an author concentrates on one thing – for example, what people say – the story can fall flat. Talk by itself isn’t dramatic. Discussion devoid of action is a debate, not a story.

We all expect different things from novels. In my case, I want them to tell a complete story. Not just that some guy, let’s call him Odysseus, travelled for years, but how and where he travelled, and when and why, and who helped or hindered him – which are all included in Homer’s epic.

Beyond that, I want novels to tell a new story. ‘But, AMP,’ you say, ‘nothing is ever new under the sun.’ Fair enough. However, there will always be twists and shades: different settings, fresh perspectives, new odysseys.

A little winter levity: Why Aren’t Your Novels set in the Winter? They’re Supposed to be NORTH Noir

The first novel in the North Noir series (Bay of Blood) is set in the summer. The next two will be set in the spring and the fall. “Why no winter settings?” you ask. “No blizzards? No frozen bodies? It’s supposed to be NORTH noir.” Valid point. However, I have a reason – based on research. Well, on observation.

The short answer: Not as many murders take place in the winter. “Why?” Because it’s winter. In Canada, outside the cities, things slow down. Call it hibernation.

“Are you telling me that murderers are huddled next to their fireplaces? That it’s too cold to go out and kill someone?” Maybe. Hell, sometimes it’s too cold to go outside. Besides, murderers can’t risk harming their weapons. Take an axe. If you overuse it chopping wood, it’ll be too dull to whack someone. Consider a shovel. If you break the handle trying to clear ice, it won’t be available to crack someone on the head – a dozen times, of course (we’re talking noir, people). As for a shotgun, if you try to fire it at Minus-30, the barrel will explode or it’ll backfire. Forget about rendering it useless for murder. You’ll be dead yourself.

Crime Time: A Two-headed Compulsion

Why do writers write crime novels? Why do readers read them? We’d have to delve into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). 😉 We’d need a thousand hours – no, a million.

Let’s look at things from the reader’s side of the page. That’s what really matters: why readers read, not why writers write. It’s a large question. However, I’m going to take a succinct approach. Crime fiction suffuses the zeitgeist. Crime readers have favourite styles: cozy mystery, private investigator, police procedural, etc. Regardless, they’re all fascinated with one thing. Murder. Why?

I see it as a two-headed compulsion. One, readers want to experience the other side of life: death. Two, they want to experience fear. They crave it, but only fictionally: fear of the unknown, fear of the invader, fear of reprisal, fear of something that will disrupt their life – or end it. Fictionally, of course.

PS: Book sellers claim that everything hinges on sales, i.e., on book buyers. I beg to differ. Buyers are great, but everything hinges on readers. Period. That includes those who borrow from libraries or share a book a dozen times. The more shares (the more readers), the merrier.

Bay of Blood: Tom Thomson Redux

Tom Thomson is a Canadian myth, a national icon. The famous painter died mysteriously in Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario on July 8, 1917. The famous Canadian painter in Bay of Blood dies on July 8, 2017. Like Thomson, he often paints from out on the water, in his case from a sailboat, not a canoe. He’s part of an artist’s collective called the Gang of Eight, not the Group of Seven. His small skiff is named ‘West Wind,’ after Thomson’s most famous painting. So, there are references to Tom Thomson, but the famous painter in Bay of Blood is not Thomson.

Given Thomson’s iconic status, I didn’t want to meddle with his memory. Also, and this was very important to me, I didn’t want to offend his family in any way. I want him to rest in peace at Leith United Cemetery, or perhaps Canoe Lake. To this date, there’s no consensus as to where he’s buried.

Incidentally, when Thomson painted from his canoe, he used an easel-like device attached near the bow that held an 8×10-inch wood panel. He’d paint the panels very quickly, with minimal brushstrokes. It was his way of capturing scenes that would later be turned into full-size canvases in his winter studio. In essence, it was like today’s painter photographing a scene prior to painting it.

Leaving all that aside, I borrowed from the Tom Thomson myth. I didn’t fictionalize the man. I fictionalized the myth. I took elements from the myth and reshaped them. For example, Thomson is considered the Father of Canadian Painting. The famous painter in Bay of Blood leads a 21st century art movement that presents Canada to the world.

However, for the most part, I created new elements. I wrote a murder mystery about a painter called Thom Tyler, a TT, yes, TT Number 2, who, admittedly, is a Thomson Redux. But he’s soon dead.

Bay of Blood is narrated by an OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) detective based in Wiarton, midway up the Bruce Peninsula. Detective Sergeant Eva Naslund is half Swedish and half Scottish-Canadian. Her father is from Sweden; her mother, from the Bruce.

Eva Naslund operates in a largely male domain, the jurisdiction of homicide. She goes to work with a homicide team who arrive in Wiarton from OPP Central in Orillia. They find no useful blood or DNA evidence, and no prints – no footprints, bootprints, or fingerprints. Nothing.

They turn to financial forensics. Tyler’s paintings are worth millions, yet he’s deeply in debt to banks and his art agent. As with many artists, he doesn’t get much when his work is sold. His agent gets the lion’s share.

Here’s a peep into the novel from Doctor Sherrill Grace, a UBC Professor and a Thomson scholar: “There are many clever details in Potter’s version of events with close parallels to Tom Thomson’s life and death. However, Potter takes his readers on a fascinating 21st-century chase, with bells and whistles never dreamt of one hundred years ago: cell phones, female detectives, Russian operatives, and shady Toronto art dealers. Whether or not you follow the Thomson saga, you’ll relish Bay of Blood’s new take on events.”

Thank you, Doctor Grace.

For Eva Naslund, working in the male homicide domain is tricky. The old-boy network throws a few spanners her way. But she rolls with the punches, giving back as good as she gets. She’s quick on her feet, she’s feisty. However, bottom line, she toes the line. For the good of the investigation and the good of her community – the Bruce Peninsula – she’s a team player. That’s not a spoiler alert. But this may be. Thom Tyler is not the only dead body in the novel.

Okay. No More. You know the saying. If I tell you any more, I’ll have to kill you. Well, in a book.

I’ve included a short excerpt from Bay of Blood, from an article about Tyler’s death:

Mr. Tyler, one of Canada’s most celebrated painters, was especially fond of nature. He traversed the Great Lakes for months at a time in a sailboat outfitted with an artist’s studio, in search of what he called the lost soul of Canada ….