THE RIDE TO CONQUER CANCER: RIDE #4 Don Valley – The Beaches- Exhibition Place- Downtown Toronto

50 km done! Thank you wonderful Donors!!

Hello Readers!

Saturday August 29th was the 2020 virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer – and my 4th and final pledge ride of 50 km.

On Friday I picked up my official blue jersey from the mid-town Ride office. Distancing in the line-up, I  happily ran into a friend from yoga class – and fellow rider. We almost didn’t recognize each other with our masks on.

The virtual event was a new experience.  Saturday morning I dutifully logged onto YouTube to  listen to the opening speeches, which were inspiring – and short.  I learned that 4000 Riders would be cycling throughout Ontario – and indeed all over the world, even in the mountains of Columbia.

Speeches done, I set off on my final 50 km.  It felt strange not to see Niagara Falls at the end and to ride solo. The sky looked ominously dark. The weather report called for scattered thunderstorms. But so what – I’ve ridden through thunderstorms on The Ride before.

Lyndhurst Hospital gates

I cut down through Leaside and entered Sunnybrook Park through Lyndhurst Hospital. The big hill down was slick from the night’s rain and my sunglasses fogged up immediately from the humidity. I took it slow.

The sun came out as I passed the dog park and paused to wipe off my glasses. Then off for a beautiful, easy morning ride through the park. Very few people about.  I met my first fellow Rider halfway along the trail. The poor guy was fixing his punctured tire, but kindly refused my offers to help.

They do NOT look like elephants

Thinking, been there, did that on Ride #3 and wishing him the good luck I had,  I reach “The Teeth” and turn south onto the Don Valley trail.

Gargoyle park

The Upper Don Valley trail is getting busy. MAMELS, runners, dog walkers, other cyclists. I wave to a corporate team of Riders at the Pottery Road crossover and embark on the equally busy Lower Don path.

Sad to see the official, i.e. commissioned, street art murals steadily defaced by “tags” this past season. The murals in the tunnel of the Belleville underpass are pretty much obliterated.

Diver defaced but Garfield stands strong
Exit from Belleville underpass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Lakeshore, I turn east and head under the concrete arches of the Gardiner toward The Beaches. I pass many icons: Ashbridge sewage works, the movie studios, Canadian Tire mega store and the skater’s park with its cool art.

Street art and tags encouraged here

It’s now mid-morning and the beaches are getting really crowded despite the many signs warning to “keep ur distance”.
Pedaling feels remarkably fluid and fast.  I know from experience that this means strong headwinds from the west behind me. I zoom along in top gear, thinking smugly how well my training has paid off, but when I turn around…

At the turnaround by Balmy Beach I prepare myself for a slog.

Beautiful garden at turnaround

 

 

The Beach and dredging in the harbour

 

 

 

 

Riding against a headwind can be a humbling experience. I cope by gearing down and “spinning”. In other words, my feet go round and round the pedals in low gear like a hamster on a wheel. Several stony-thighed MAMELS pass me, but they may not know an endurance runner’s secret: always conserve energy.

Halfway!
NOMS!

I reached the 25 km halfway mark at the Beaches turnaround. Delighted to rendezvous with Ed at Balzac’s cafe in the Distillery District to nosh down my reward of coffee and delicious chocolate banana muffin!

Fav stopover in the Distillery District

By the time we’ve finished our coffee break, the skies have cleared. I head west in brilliant sunshine, cross over Lakeshore and take the crazy-busy Queen’s Quay bike trail. At least no construction trucks today.

I pass and wave to many Riders wearing the blue RIDE ON bike jersey.  The headwinds have subsided somewhat.  At Princes Gate  the southern half of Lakeshore Blvd has been closed off to traffic, allowing more space to humans. (Maybe Toronto’s imitating Paris which closes the road along the Seine every Sunday morning so that cyclists and walkers can enjoy the river bank in peace.)

This is too good to pass up. Besides, for every Ride, the City of Toronto closes  Lakeshore Blvd to allow 5000 Riders to get to Mississauga. The weather turns stormy again by the time I reach the end of Exhibition Park.

Seagulls only, no Riders in this empty parking lot

For nostalgia, I cross through Exhibition Park. Normally the crazy, sleazy Ex would be in full swing now. Ed loves it, especially the “Pure Foods” like deep fried butter and Canada’s favorite, Tiny Tom donuts.   Sadly, Tom Brazier, the founder died earlier this year but his family will be carrying on his well-loved business. (See the history on video on the Tiny Tom Donut website.)

I return to the lakeshore trail via a handy pedestrian bridge and turn east for home. I’m already at 42 km!

Getting there

Because it’s Saturday, I decide to try the bike lanes through downtown Toronto. At Spadina, I take a new  trail through the generically-named Southern Linear Park, pass The Dome and the Aquarium (you can get Tiny Tom donuts there) and pay tribute to the great Steam Whistle Brewery.

Heading home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front of Steam Whistle brew pub
Riders reward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the very first Ride in 2008, Steam Whistle has been rewarding thirsty Riders with TWO beers at the end of each day. (Ed as road crew gets his beer!) Here’s me celebrating the end of my very first Ride.

Steamwhistle forever!

I’m really impressed with the new bike trails through downtown. I remember biking to work during various TTC strikes wondering if I’d make it home in one piece. Now I spot Bike Share everywhere. Progress at long last!

Up Simcoe, a short dash along Queen St., then onto Bay St. with its single lane reserved for buses, cabs and cyclists. I definitely feel rain drops now and eye various options for shelter just in case.

Despite the thundery-looking heavens, I take a minute to salute Queen’s Park, my old employer and  IT client. At the site of what was probably the ugliest government building in Ontario, there’s an enormous multi-story wrapped in flapping construction paper like an erstwhile Christo / Jeanne Claude artwork.

The building I remember – where we IT consultants were consigned – was a square cement low-rise, dingy, poorly lit and without a single bit of decoration.  For years, it housed the Ontario Publications book store on the ground floor. (Please contain your excitement!)

Vast improvement though NOT Christo / Jeanne Claude

The most remarkable thing about the building was its survivability. Perhaps its dowdiness convinced taxpayers the Government of Ontario wasn’t wasting their money (ha!ha!).

But even the most hardy disappear in the end. I’m not sure if this glass tower will be housing civil servants or condo dwellers.

Up Bay Street and down Belmont Avenue, the site of the legendary Toronto Truck Theatre where Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap had its longest run outside of London, England. The Canadian version of  Mousetrap opened on 19 August 1977 and closed on 18 January 2004 after a run of 26 years and over 9,000 performances. The only person who ever guessed the murderer was our daughter, who was about 9 at the time, because she noticed that…sorry, no spoilers.

Up Yonge Street, dodging traffic, aiming to cut through the St. Clair reservoir. No luck, it’s still under construction – for nearly two years now.

I steel myself for more risk-taking adventures (Yonge does not have a bike lane) and turn in to Mt. Pleasant cemetery just north of Heath St. I finish my ride in the calm and peace of its roadways. No traffic, the sun bursts out and before I know it, I’m home and done.

At 5pm I logged back on to YouTube for the closing speeches. This year The Ride raised $7 million, nearly 50% more than the organizers had anticipated.

THANK YOU WONDERFUL DONORS!!

4th Ride done!
My faithful bike!

 

 

 

 

RIDE #3 – The Ride to Conquer Cancer – Bayview Extension, Underpass Park, Queen’s Quay, Humber River Trail, Annette/Dupont, Rosedale and Mt. Pleasant

Hi everyone!

Obey COVID raccoon or else!

Beautiful morning on Monday, August 24th for the third of my pledged four 2020 Rides to Conquer Cancer.

In Ride #2,  thunderstorms drove me back closer to home, so today my goal was to head west along the lake shore to the Humber River trail. But the best-laid plans…

I zipped down Bayview extension, passed the warning raccoon and opted for the section of the Don Valley trail that runs along the eastern edge of Bayview. I ride past the Brick Works (and the sadly closed Cafe Belong) down to Rosedale Valley Road.

Happily I discover that Toronto City has put in a bike path along Bayview itself as far as River Street. Traffic is a little hairy, but manageable.

Crane collapse on River Street

Up the hill to River Street and the falling cranes thereon (read article here).  Scary to think that the day before the accident, my cycling buddy and I rode under this crane. Holy  dodging a bullet!

Historical sign. Photo by Rick Harris (no relation).

I zoom past the Toronto Humane Society, where I volunteered as a “cat groomer” many years ago then cross through the Canary District to get to Lakeshore.

Funnily enough the legendary Canary restaurant was one of the most celebrated dives in Toronto. Whenever we drove by it, I dared myself to eat there, but I never had the guts –ha, ha– to do it. The building has a storied history – warehouse, school, artist apartments – and even starred in films shot in Toronto. (I’ll be writing up the late, great Canary in a future blog.)

Old man and dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new street through the Canary District takes you under the Gardiner Expressway. There I ran across Underpass Park, one of Toronto’s better efforts to beautify the  grottiness under the cement arches the raised highway. There’s a children’s playground and lots of interesting street art.

Flamingos et R. Crumb inspired art

I carefully heed the pedestrian signals to avoid getting flattened by the mad traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard. All going well all, as I ride along the Queen’s Quay when thump, flap, flap, flap! It’s a sound cyclists know all too well – I’ve a puncture in my rear tire.

Punctures are an unhappy reality for urban cyclists. Bits of broken glass, loose screws, hard plastic, sharp rocks – all are lurking to destroy your inner tube. Earlier this season, I had a “snake bite” puncture: if you go over a curb too hard, the inner tube can twist and you get twin holes. Sigh.

I wheel my bike over to Balzac’s in the Distillery District and enjoy an early coffee break while awaiting rescue via Ed in the Mazda. Slight panic when the internet tells me that my usual bike shop has closed for summer holidays. Then I remember passing by GEARS bike shop on my way through Canary.  A short drive over after rewarding Ed with a latte. Terrific service – they replace my inner tube and I’m back in the saddle within 20 minutes.

By now, it’s late morning and the two-lane Queen’s Quay bike trail is bustling with MAMELs, biking families, mums and babies in strollers. Hard to pass so I settle in to the slower flow. Unbelievable amount of construction with high rise condos going up everywhere.

Ontario place Cinesphere now hidden
Windmill green eco project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to spot Cinesphere, where I’ve seen so many great films. I hope it survives COVID as well as my fav landmark, the windmill demo project. Only a mild headwind today so it isn’t turning.

The crowds thin out slightly. I have to stop for a flock of Canada geese crossing the trail and spot an encampment only 10 feet away from the thunderous traffic on Lakeshore. The Sunnyside Bathing Station is surprisingly open despite COVID.

Canada goose crossing
Homeless camp next to Lakeshore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunnyside is still open

At long last the “millennial” white pedestrian bridge over the Humber is in sight signaling the turn north onto the Humber River trail. Close by the bridge are the twin Palace Pier towers.

Palace Pier murder scene

In 1981, Patrick Kelly, an undercover RCMP officer, tossed his wife off  the 17th floor balcony of the building.  He was convicted of first degree murder in 1984. His trial revealed that he’d turned to the dark side, working with organized crime to fund his extravagant lifestyle as well as his extra-marital love affairs.

He made parole in 2010 only to have it revoked in 2012 because of his relationships with women and insisting on cash payments for his antiques “business” in Prince George. By 2016, he was out again, living on Vancouver Island. Caveat emptor – indeed caveat everybody.

Otter and fish street art

The trail along the western edge of the Humber River is lightly travelled today. I’ve had it easy so far since the roads have sloped down to the lake. Now I’ve got a few heart thumper hills until I emerge at Old Mill and Etienne Brule park to tackle the toughest climb yet.

Even at my fittest, I’ve never made it all the way up Humberview, a killer hill complete with hairpin bend, impatient drivers, etc.  I walk up my usual bit then dive into the shady alleys of Baby Point.

Baby Point alley way

A friend lives nearby. I’d always pronounced it “baybee” but in fact, it’s “Babbee”, the name of  French fur trader, Jacques Bâby. Not a very nice guy though.

Recently the plaque below appeared near the stone gates of the enclave. It was created and funded by a white person with a social conscience. Not a comfortable truth to learn that Canadians also enslaved Black and indigenous people.

Needs no explanation

From here it’s a long hot ride along Annette and Dupont over to Summerhill. I stop along the way at one of my fav Starbucks at Christie for a cold drink. It’s housed in a former bank, but of course, the usually crowded cafe is much diminished because of COVID. There’s no place to sit down outside so I take a walk break and enjoy the street art along the way.

The Justice League!
Summerhill Station now LCBO!

For many years, this Summerhill landmark, the former North Toronto station stood neglected. Built to rival the downtown Union Station – the tower is copied from the Venetian bell tower in St. Mark’s Square – it fell into disuse by WW2 though it continued to function as a liquor store. It’s now one of LCBO’s flagships. Read its full history here.

Finally I’m on the home stretch. A shady cool ride through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.  I do a short loop past The Boys and reach home for 50km!

Fav memorial – girl reading
Home at last!

 

RIDE #2 – The Ride to Conquer Cancer – Sunnybrook – Taylor Creek – Moss Park -Rosedale and the Belt Line

Gates to Lyndhurst Hospital

Greeting Readers!

On Monday, August 17th, I headed on Ride #2 of my pledge to do 200 km in August, the distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

The morning was perfect, one of the most beautiful this summer. Cool, sunny, no blustering head winds.  I headed down through Leaside into Sunnybrook Park through the Lyndhurst Hospital entrance.

I’m familiar with the rehab hospital because a friend spend several months there after a bad car accident. He’d travelled down to the USA to buy a vintage sports car, but on returning to Canada, he slid off the road. The problem: the rubber in the vintage tires had gone hard with age and lost all traction. Happily, he made a remarkable recovery.

The other reason, I’m familiar with Lyndhurst is because of the killer hill down into Sunnybrook. During my marathon training days, we used to run UP this hill. Fortunately today, I am biking DOWN.

Creek in Sunnybrook

Past the dog park and along a picture perfect creek . Few people out this Monday morning other than the usual runners, hikers and dog walkers.

The wild flowers are out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tricky aspect of  Sunnybrook trails for cyclists is negotiating the narrow, heavily used pedestrian bridges. I’m less worried about COVID than I am about blunt force trauma, having nearly been crashed into numerous times by MAMILs (cyclist pejorative for obnoxious middle-aged men in lycra). Luckily I cross over the Don Valley pedestrian bridge with no incident before stopping at  “The Teeth”.

Teeth or elephants – you decide

Allegedly the artist created the concrete structures to be elephants that would blend with nature. Hence the trees growing out of them.  But for Toronto runners “The Teeth” are a landmark for running routes. And, yes, I agree they really look like molars.

Nasty narrow pedestrian bridge
Memory spot

Today, I decide to head east into Taylor Creek Park, a trail with numerous dread pedestrian bridges over rocks and running water.  My luck holds  – few MAMILs crushing everyone in their path to score their Personal Best time! I take a breather to check out an impromptu memorial along the way.

The stones remind me of the lovely Jewish tradition of leaving a stone in the cemetery after visiting a loved one.

The main trail ends at Dawes Road. To get to Victoria Park, I cross  yet another pedestrian bridge and bike through an underpass with some neat street art. After this the trail is mostly a gravelly track that gets muddy and floods after a rain.  The climb up to Victoria Park is another heart thumper.

This is my Test Hill. If I can make it up all the way in my “Granny Gear” or the lowest possible on my hybrid, I’m fit enough for The Ride.  But since, the Ride has gone virtual, I bike up the first half and walk up the rest.

Underpass street art

Down the Victoria Park bike path across Danforth. This heavily trafficked road is a bit nerve-wracking, because my riding buddy once took a header over the handle bars after hitting a pothole beneath the underpass.

 

 

Kids care about the environment

Over to the safety of Scarborough Road for a straight run down to the Beaches. I pass by Adam Beck school with its colorful murals. This is one of my favs.

Beautiful Lake Ontario

Today the weather cools noticeably as I near the lake.  It and the boardwalk are especially lovely today.

A strong headwind as I pedal toward the Distillery District and my usual reward at Balzac’s cafe.  While munching down my muffin, I see thunderous clouds building in the west.

Change of plans, the route through to the Humber will have to wait until Ride #3 or #4.  I charge north, taking the bike path along Sherbourne making for home.

Moss Park mural

This is a sad route; I call it the Economic Disparity Route. It passes by Moss Park arena and the neighboring homeless shelter. During COVID, many more homeless are wandering the streets often shouting, in distress, deluded in the middle of traffic.  Cop cars and emergency vehicles every time this year when I’ve passed through – and that’s a lot.

Enough said

Sherbourne crosses over into Rosedale, once of Toronto’s wealthiest enclaves. To my surprise I see people camped out in a parkette within a stone’s throw of  multi-million dollar mansions.

Thundery weather over Rosedale

 

 

 

 

Encamped in Rosedale

 

 

 

Summerhill pedestrian bridge again requires careful negotiating. I usually walk my bike over to dodge schoolkids, nannies with babies, seniors and of course, the ubiquitous MAMILs.  Some neat street art on the crumbling concrete walls bordering  the steep hill of McPherson Drive.

My fav: Ghost Car

From here it is short pleasant ride through Moore Park into Mt. Pleasant cemetery.

Keeping a watchful eye on the threatening weather, I finish off the distance via the Beltline and looping through Mt. Pleasant. There are enough hills and gradients to keep my heart pumping.

Almost done for Ride #2, I pause by one of the Mt. Pleasant icons, a memorial to two young men who died within months of each other. The plaque reads: Why has God picked all his beautiful flowers first. There is a love story here.

I make it back home just before the rain.

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Cover Reveal for A Grave Diagnosis

Sara Carrick, book cover artist extraordinaire, worked her magic for the upcoming anthology, A Grave Diagnosis.  All 35 authors voted and overwhelmingly this amazing cover was the favorite.  Here it is!

 

The launch date this fall will be announced shortly!

RIDE #1 – Ride to Conquer Cancer – Fort York and Don Valley

Greetings everyone!

Every year since The Ride to Conquer Cancer began in 2008, I’ve ridden the 200+km to Niagara Falls to raise funds for cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.  Anno Horribilis, otherwise known as 2020, nearly put at stop to it.  But cancer never sleeps – and neither did the organizers of the Ride.

On August 29th, I’ll be doing the virtual Ride – wearing my 2020 jersey picked up in observance of all COVID protocols.

As a big thank you to my wonderfully generous donors, many of whom continue to support me year after year, I pledged to do four Rides of 50km each – the 200km distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

Beltline icon

Monday, August 10th,  Pledge Ride #1 :

I headed out along the Beltline Trail to Allen Road, which this early fortunately stayed safe with only the odd dog walker or runner.

School kids mural in Cedarvale

The bike trail now ends short of Eglinton, so I took side streets over to Strathearn and coasted down into Cedarvale park. The trail runs past the dog park (deserted) and plunges into the ravine.

I have fond memories of chatting with an elderly dogwalker, the self-appointed Keeper of Cedarvale, who shared my love of street art and showed me the children’s mural.

Read more about my encounter here.

It’s a nasty, steep, cardiac-arresting climb out of Cedarvale to emerge at the TTC stop St. Clair West. Down to Spadina and past Casa Loma, Henry Pellatt’s grand folly complete with full body shower and secret passages!

Henry Pellatt’s folly

Built more than 100 years ago,  the castle is a maintenance  nightmare. Henry Pellatt went bankrupt, abandoned it and ended up rooming with his butler. In 1924, the City of Toronto seized it for unpaid taxes – and ever since has tried to offload its costly upkeep onto the private sector.  This back-and-forth game continues to this day. As does the castle’s cycles through ruin and renovation.

Message for politicians

A few years ago, the City was forced to take charge of this famous tourist attraction and film location (X-men,  Chicago, Titans, etc.). The bureaucrats were so desperate, they even allowed the Crime Writers of Canada to meet there. A glorious and transient privilege.

West along Davenport then south along Christie toward Lake Ontario. To my surprise I ended up at a Millennium-bridge type pedestrian bridge called Garrison Crossing: in fact twin Millennium bridges. Underneath the Gardner, I discovered beautifully paved bike lanes  and an full community entertainment space next to Fort York, The Bentway , all deserted because of COVID.

 

Quasi Millennial Bridge
Gardiner Art Gallery – Bentway

Gardiner Art Gallery – Cherry St.

 

Along the newly refurbished bike lanes by the shores of Lake Ontario, Queen’s Quay to Cherry Street and the Distillery District. I stopped at Balzac’s, my favorite cafe, for a coffee and muffin, enjoyed despite necessary physical distancing in the shade of my non-favorite work of corporate art. Some days I wish it suffered the same fate as the corporate art in Fight Club!

 

The cyclist is not me!

Coffee over, I head back up the Don Valley bike trail, a much-travelled training route. Lots to admire along the way from the indigenous street art under the Gardiner to sanctioned murals and graffiti.

Comb and tags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s even a gargoyle sculpture garden!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I branch off from the Upper Don Valley trail  and head through Sunnybrook Park, Leaside for a lap round Mt. Pleasant cemetery to make up the distance.  The first 50 km are done!


NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Meet me at When Words Collide!

Greetings Readers!

Last year I had the best time at the wonderful multi-genre festival, WHEN WORDS COLLIDE! in Calgary, Alberta. I was part of a crime fiction panel and learned about coz-play and writing children’s books.

I also had the privilege of reading at Noir at the Bar and getting to know the great authors and editors behind Coffin Hop Press, the publishers of The Dame Was Trouble.

Visiting Calgary also became a sentimental journey.  My childhood can best be described as unsettled. Five of my early years were in Calgary – where we lived in three different houses.

Strangely enough my memory of Calgary as a patchwork of disparate cityscapes proved to be accurate. And one of my old homes still exists! There I had a magical conversation with the current owner. (Stand by for a Surreal Trapdoor blog.)

Because more importantly,  WHEN WORDS COLLIDE 2020, will be on Zoom this week, from August 14 to 16th.

Best of all registration is FREE!! Register here.  THE PROGRAM AND LINKS IS NOW UP!!

I’m delighted to one of the TEN Mesdames of Mayhem who are on the conference. panels.

We Mesdames have our very own panel, Meet the Mesdames of Mayhem, Saturday, August 15th, 4pm (Toronto time), 2 pm (Mountain time). (Donna Carrick, Rosemary McCracken, Madona Skaff, M. H. Callway moderating.) 

Donna Carrick
Rosemary McCracken
Madonna Skaff

 

 

 

 

We’re also out in force for The Long and Short of Crime, Saturday August 15th, 2 pm (TT), 12 noon (MT). (Jane Burfield, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Caro Soles, M. H. Callway moderating.)

Jane Burfield
Lynne Murphy
Caro Soles

 

 

 

 

Be sure to check out friends and authors Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell and Lisa De Nikolits.

Jayne Bernard
Lisa De Nikolits
Melodie Campbell

 

 

 

 

Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell   Plot vs Character, Crime Fiction’s Eternal Grudge Match, Friday, August 11th 3pm (TT), 1pm(MT) 

Lisa De Nikolits, Caro Soles,  Can the Crossover Fit the Crime? Saturday, August 15th, 12 noon (TT), 10 am (MT)

Jayne Bernard, The Heroine’s Journey, Sunday, August 16th, 1 pm (TT), 11am(MT) ; From the Mean Streets to the Deadly Wilderness, Sunday, August 16th, 3pm (TT), 1pm (MT); Diversity in Speculative Fiction, Sunday, August 16th, 5pm (TT), 3pm (MT)

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock is an  accomplished author of poetry and short fiction. She has read and performed at a gamut of live venues in Toronto.  (Read more about Heather’s accomplishments  here in Goodreads.)

I became friends with Heather through our mutual friend, Toronto Poet.   Ed and I have enjoyed her readings at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and The Redhead Revue. We all share a love of things retro, especially very bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s.

I was delighted when Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar was published by Inanna Publications. This independent press focuses on literature by and about women and is also the publisher of two dear friends and authors, Lisa De Nikolits  and Caro Soles.

Set in the depths of the Great Depression, Filthy Sugar describes the often tawdry adventures of  19 year old, Wanda Whittle, who uses her beauty and her sexuality to get out of poverty. She ends up cruelly exploited – as a burlesque dancer, a sex worker and even as a “redeemed woman” for a tabloid – because she trusts or falls for the wrong guy.  But Wanda is a fighter and in a great twist at the end of the novel (no spoilers!), she takes back control of her own life and finds real love.

It’s a credit to Heather’s terrific skills as a writer that she can unsparingly portray the romantic traps and sad situations that Wanda falls prey to and yet embody the pages with such vitality, you can’t stop turning the pages.

Heather submerged herself in the history of 1930’s culture –  even listening to 1930’s music while writing – and her passion for the period creates magic on the pages.  (Each chapter is referenced for history buffs.) Here are just a couple of my favorite lines:

  • When the lights are dim and the cigarettes are lit, the dames look like ladies and the mugs look like gentlemen and nobody sees the blood on your shoes at the Bow Tie.
  • When the only things alive are the rats in the walls and the little vampires under my mattress, it’s high time to blow.

I especially love Heather’s portrayal of 1930’s street talk.  Some of the phrases are historical (she includes a dictionary at the end of the book) but the best ones, she created herself. Here’s a sampling:

  • Slug burger – a poor person’s burger served on stale bread
  • Crepehanger – a cynic
  • Flock of salami – bullsh*t
  • Underwood banger – a reporter
  • Filthy sugar – dirty money

Underwood banger and best of all, filthy sugar are Heather’s own phrases. History is the loser!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Five stars!

My Story on Audio

Great news!

My long story, “Brainworm”, is featured on Donna Carrick’s Story Stocking, Part One on July 22nd and Part Two on July 29th.  “Brainworm” first appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

In the story, Fiona, a middle-aged woman worn down by looking after her difficult stepmother, has a near miss on the highway during a biting winter blizzard. The shock forces her to face the danger about to devour her.

Click here to tune in to this podcast.

EAT THIS BOOK: Rolling Thunder by A. J. Devlin

I had the pleasure of meeting AJ Devlin at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver in 2019. We ended up sitting next to each other at the Crime Writers of Canada pub dinner and really hit it off. It turns out that AJ spent many years in Hollywood as a screen writer and our daughter, Claire, works in special effects so I know how tough the film biz can be. And we bonded over the challenges we’d both had to overcome to be traditionally published.

 

AJ’s first crime novel, Cobra Clutch, found a home with NeWest Press. It introduced “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead, a former pro wrestler turned private eye. I loved it! Like pro wrestling, Cobra Clutch has it all: comedy, great characters and over the top action. (The shoot-out on Lion’s Gate Bridge is my personal favorite.)

Cobra Clutch was nominated for a Lefty Award and went on to win the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award. Not bad!

So I was eager to read Jed Ounstead’s next adventure, Rolling Thunder. I’m delighted to report that it’s great fun and a great read. Jed is in fine form as he dives into the world of roller derby. The coach of the Split Lip Sallies, whose stage name is Lawrence O’Labia, has disappeared days before a critical match. (Lawrence’s real-life name is even ruder.) The roller derby team hires Jed to find him.

Running Lawrence down lands Jed in enormous danger as he searches through Vancouver’s seamy side. Is it gambling? Drugs? Larry’s secret fondness for the (gay) leather scene? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

AJ has a gift for witty names and dialogue. He populates the pages of his thriller with hilariously weird characters, among them: an effete bookie who races dachshunds, an excruciatingly amateur talk show host and a 300lb roller derby star who likes to whack men’s butts. Jed gets lots of action in and out of the ring. The fight scenes are especially well-written: gritty and visual.

Rolling Thunder hits all the marks for a PI thriller. Thoroughly recommended. 5 stars.

Available on Amazon.ca in print and e-book.

 

WANDERINGS IN THE PLAGUE YEAR #2

COVID forced the pause button down on modern society. And the intensification of social media meant the whole world watched George Floyd get murdered. Yes, let’s use the right word – murdered over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Many times I’ve handed a $20 bill to a cashier who semi-surreptitiously checked it out with a UV light under the counter. What’s the worst that would have happened to me if it looked fake? The cashier would simply have handed it back  and told me it’s phoney.

Because I’m white.  Also I live in Canada.

As a kid, I witnessed the shootings at Kent State University on the TV news. The image of state troopers firing into and killing unarmed student protestors seared into my memory forever. Up until then, I believed the world was the way society and my folks told me it was. That day I began to see the way the world really is.

I’m hoping there’s an upside to the ubiquitous spying technology we’re so addicted to. (In case you missed it, our phones are turning us into “Little Brother”.) But amidst FAANG’s avid personal data collection, the truth occasionally slips out.

Will public outrage reach the critical mass needed for meaningful action? Does this mean Revolution, Baby?

Maybe.

Maybe  this time it’s really gonna be different.

So I biked through Toronto’s Graffiti Alley to take in the street art memorializing George Floyd. Here’s what I found. The pics speak for themselves.

 

 

 

Graffiti Alley runs a short block south of Queen, east-west from Spadina to Bathurst. It’s gritty, the paintings multi-layered and ever-changing. Check Google Maps for location.