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Crime writers bring murder and mayhem to Newmarket

As one of the events celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Crime Writers of Canada, six area crime writers came to Chapters to meet their readers and promote their books.

Murder, mayhem, intrigue and revenge came to Newmarket last weekend.

As one of the events celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Crime Writers of Canada, six area crime writers came to Chapters to meet their readers and promote their books Saturday.

Thriller author K.J. Howe has garnered international success with her novels, Freedom Broker and the newly released Skyjack, featuring kidnap negotiator Thea Paris.

“I wanted to create a strong female James Bond,” Howe said, with enthusiasm. “The world needs more strong women characters.”

Howe, a longtime Newmarket resident who has now settled in Toronto, said she immersed herself in the dark world of kidnapping and hostage-taking to research her books, cultivating relationships with some of the globe’s top kidnap negotiators. She interviewed former hostages, hostage reintegration experts, special forces operatives and kidnap and ransom insurance executives.

While many novels’ characters are challenged with drug and alcohol addictions, Howe gave Thea Paris type 1 diabetes. Since insulin isn’t readily available in some of the hotspots she works in, she must prepare carefully for her travels.  

“Life with diabetes isn’t easy, but she refuses to let the condition get in the way of her calling,” she said, adding her own grandfather was a diabetic. “If you do have an illness, it doesn’t have to hold you back.”  

Howe, busy working on her third book, garnered the International Thriller Writers’ Best First Novel award in 2017, and has also received three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.

A former medical, health, and fitness writer, Howe is also the executive director of ThrillerFest, the International Thriller Writers annual conference in New York City.

Newmarket resident Nanci M. Pattenden brings to life 1870s Toronto with her main character, police detective Albert Hodgins — “his wife calls him Bertie” — in the Victorian mystery series she authors.

In Body in the Harbour — top rated on Amazon and GoodReadsDeath of Dutchess Street and Corpses for Christmas, the intrepid detective always brings his search for the truth into York Region, including Stouffville, Aurora and Woodbridge so far.

Currently working on her fourth novel — the Cardinal Espresso Bar on Main Street Newmarket is a favourite place to write — her ideas for her books and short stories are triggered by interesting articles she finds in newspaper archives, she said.

A passionate historical researcher, Pattenden said she chose the Victorian period as her setting because forensics weren’t available to assist in solving crimes.

Tracy L. Ward, author of eight books, is also inspired to write historical mysteries.

Her Marshall House mystery series, which are all Amazon bestsellers, are consistently ranked in the top 10 in their category, she said.

Warm Hands Cold Hearts, her seventh and newest in the series, features the return of the brilliant, young Dr. Peter Ainsley, a morgue surgeon in 1868 Victorian London, and his high-born sister Margaret Marshall, who solve crimes using early forensic science.

“It’s like CSI meets Sherlock Holmes with a little bit of Jack the Ripper thrown in,” said the former community newspaper journalist, a Barrie-area resident working part-time at the Barrie Public Library.

She enjoys the meticulous medical research required for her books, including Chorus of the Dead, Dead Silent, The Dead Among Us, Sweet Asylum, Prayers for the Dying, Shadows of Madness and Mercy Me.

The time period saw rapid developments and changes in medical practices and knowledge, at a pace similar to the changes we see today because of technology, she said.

“Things were being discovered so fast, people were living in both worlds.”

With her first book published in 2012, the prolific author said she is “very disciplined” in her writing habits, setting daily goals that vary from 1,000 to 2,000 words.

John Worsley Simpson, a former Newmarket resident and retired daily newspaper reporter and editor, admitted there is a little bit of himself in the eccentric modern-day Toronto police homicide detective, Harry Stark, featured in his series of four mystery books.

His fondness for his seriously flawed main character is evident as he begins describing his faults: a “real curmudgeon” with a drinking problem, who works alone but doesn’t mind taking credit for other’s successes.

The trait they most definitely share, Simpson admitted, is a “nasty” habit of correcting others’ grammar.

The Barrie resident, who “just love(s) storytelling”, described his books as character and plot driven, with intricate stories that he carefully researches for accuracy.

His crime writing career got off to a bang when his first novel, Stark, was a runner-up to Kathy ReichsDeja Dead in the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards in 1997.

He has written six books, including Stark Choice, Stark Shadows, and Death Never Says Goodbye.   

Sharon A. Crawford, a former Aurora resident who was a longtime Toronto daily and local freelance journalist, sets her series of books in the fictional town of Thurston in Cooks Region, using real-life Newmarket and Aurora of the 1990s as inspiration.  

“Smart and spunky” private eye Dana Bowman, and her Attic Investigative Agency partner and fraternal twin Bast Overture, solve mysteries in the Beyond Series.

Beyond Blood kicked off the series, followed by Beyond Faith, in which extortion, stalking, fire, vandalism, secret adoptions, a bank robbery, assault and murders all have a part to play. She has also authored a collection of dark short stories, Beyond the Tripping Point.

With a grin, Crawford said she loves writing mystery novels because “I can commit crimes without getting caught.”

“Seriously, I am big on justice,” she said. “An author is free to make the bad guys — or gals — get their just desserts, which doesn’t always happen in real life.”

Crawford’s life of crime also includes roles as an instructor and workshop presenter, as well as being the host of Crime Beat Confidential, a bi-monthly crime-interview series on

The title of Toronto author Lorna Poplak's first book, Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada, makes it clear where her interests lie.

The fascination with hanging as punishment for crimes was sparked in her native country, South Africa, Poplak said, as she then begins to rhyme off statistics: hanging was abolished in Canada in 1976, the last hanging was in 1962 at the Don Jail, and 704 people were hanged, 11 of whom were women.

Crimes meriting hanging were murder, treason and rape, though no one was hanged for rape and one person, Louis Riel, was hanged for treason in 1885, she said.

Published in 2017, the darkly humorous non-fiction book about crime and punishment in Canada’s first century also examines the relevance of capital punishment today.

Poplak, also an editor, proofreader and fact checker, relied on newspaper records for much of her research.

“Archival newspapers were the most interesting source,” she said. “The stories at that time were very detailed, telling you even what the prisoner ate the morning of his hanging, and describing the last scene with his wife and family.”


Debora Kelly

About the Author: Debora Kelly

Debora Kelly is NewmarketToday's community editor. She is an award-winning journalist and communications professional who is passionate about building strong communities through engagement, advocacy and partnership.
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