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 Thunderhits all the marks for a PI thriller. Thoroughly recommended. 5 stars.
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 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.
It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season. This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.
At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof. No structural damage – whew!
As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it. And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.
It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…
Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.
The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…
While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?
Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.
OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.
Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.
More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?
“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”
The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage. You reach it via a trail through the woods. As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.
“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.
So round the pond we went – a fair distance over ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.
It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.
After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.
We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….
In business school, I learned that my job-survivalist strategies in the bureaucracy had a name: NETWORKING. To push through the inertia of the Ministry, I had to call on my friends for help. And trade favours for favours.
It took years to build my network, to gain friends from shared job successes, catastrophes or bosses from hell. But business profs urged a more active approach: Get out there, meet more people, throw your business card to the winds, attack and build your NET.
So I did – and discovered that gold, when it landed, always came from an unexpected direction.
Me? In the movies? NO WAY! Unlike the Ellen Burstyn character in Requiem for a Dream the last thing in the universe I want is to be on TV. Radio is fine (and I had a fab time as Alison Dore’s guest on Sirius) but the shock seeing of myself as others see me – GACK!!
Cat and my dear friend and author extraordinaire, Lisa De Nikolits, connected right away. They invited me for coffee and I thought, why not? Coffee and company, what’s a better way to spend an hour NOT writing!
The hour turned into three hours of lively and thought-provoking discussion. And after I viewed Cat’s wonderful documentary, Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure, I knew I had to make the Mesdames film happen.
The first hurdle: money! Cat planned to approach the CBC. Oh, well, I thought. I have several friends and my own daughter, Claire Callway, is in the film biz: the chances of a film ever getting financed are really low. BUT CBC came through.
Over the next several months, Cat and crew filmed miles of footage, interviewing many Mmes individually, including myself. How would Cat distill all this material into a coherent 15-minute film?
We had a lot of fun, including a garden party at my house where the weather cooperated beautifully. The atmospheric picture above is from the footage shot at the wickedly macabre Darling Mansion decorated mostly like a Victorian bordello. Here are some pics: a visit is highly recommended.
In my former life as a management consultant, I grew comfortable with chaos. When you walk into a work place experiencing problems, you’re overwhelmed by the trees of a prickly forest: the client’s urgency, too much or too little of the right data, human emotions, office politics. Fortunately, I liked to dive right into the metaphorical shark pool and swim around until patterns emerged. And soon I’d hear a phrase that crystallized those patterns into a solution.
Ironically, for our film, the person who uttered the key phrase was me. Cat had asked me why I liked writing crime fiction. To me, I said, it’s spiritual comfort food. When I open a mystery novel, I know that no matter how horrific the crime, by the end of the story justice will be done. And we all know life isn’t really like that.
In Cat’s film, The Mesdames of Mayhem, she shows that early life traumas propelled us to create crime fiction. There we can serve up justice to those who so richly deserve it! Cat focused on four of my friends: Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick and Lisa De Nikolits. I’m there, too, flitting in and out: I even get to show off our latest anthology, In the Key of 13.
Word was that Cat’s film would make you laugh – and make you cry. On October 25th, I opened up the YouTube link and watched The Mesdames of Mayhem alone in my studio. It was a brilliant, emotionally intense experience, the work of a gifted professional.
I laughed, I cried! And you will, too, dear readers. HERE IT IS:
And 13 Claws struck gold at the Arthur Ellis Awards with a win by friend and fellow Madame of Mayhem, Catherine Astolfo for her story, “The Outlier”.
This is a tale so noir, Jack Batten, the Toronto Star critic said: Catherine Astolfo’s story involving a pig, for example, offers an intriguing way of giving Paul Bernardo himself a case of the chills.
Not to forget that we received THREE further nominations for “There be Dragons” by Jane Burfield and “The Ranchero’s Daughter” by Sylvia Warsh and my own novella, “Snake Oil”, about which Jack said: M. H. Callway’s tale mixes snakes and the real estate business in a way that will make readers run a mile from both.
APRIL 18TH, the Arthur Ellis short list event was a triumph for the Mesdames of Mayhem – and a personal boost as well!
My fingers were crossed for one, maybe just one, nomination from our third anthology. I could not believe my ears when not just one but FOUR of us are finalists. And that includes my noir novella, Snake Oil!
Three fellow authors and dear friends have their stories nominated:
Excited about the launch of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws, which I believe is our best collection yet.
Many years ago, my friend and fellow author, Jane Burfield had the idea for an anthology that centred on animals: animals as heroes – or villains. In 2016, our publisher, Carrick Publishing, gave us the go-ahead and here we are, better late than never.
Jane is a champion of encouraging new writers. The Mesdames held a contest and three authors new to the crime fiction genre, Mary Patterson, Roz Place and Marilyn Kay, have stories in the book.
If you’re in the Toronto area, do join us at the launch. There will food, drink and readings. Come out and support our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street.
Saturday, April 29th was the third annual Authors for Indies, a day on which authors and booksellers together celebrate independent book stores. In previous years, I’ve had a great time at Books and Company in Picton and Book City at the Beach in Toronto.
So imagine my delight when I learned that the Village Bookshop in Bayfield was one of the participating indie bookstores this year. Bayfield lies 10 minutes south of our family cottage in Goderich (of tornado infamy) and this was a great opportunity to meet some Huron County writers.
The Village Bookshop has a fairy tale setting in the heart of Bayfield, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario. Many years ago, this lovely yellow building housed a bakery and tea room. Sadly, it closed, but happily The Village Bookshop moved in. Golden hardwood floors, an eclectic mix of books for all tastes, a children’s play area and an emphasis on local authors -what’s not to love!
Bayfield’s bookstore has a long tradition of supporting authors. A few years ago, my friends Cathy Astolfo, Janet Bolin, Alison Bruce, Mel Campbell and I had a wonderful time as authors at a mystery-themed literary festival.
Martha Beechie, the present owner, loves to support local authors. She spoiled us on April 29th by serving sparkling wine, local craft beer and pastries from Goderich’s beloved Culbert’s Bakery!
I joined local mystery author Judy Keightly and Andy McGuire, poet and new father, in meeting local readers. Windigo Fire sold out immediately as well as all my consigned copies of Glow Grass and 13 O’clock. (Should have brought more!)
In between writing mysteries, boating as well as creating and producing plays with Bayfield’s community theatre, Judy and her husband are embarking on a new adventure. They are the new owners of a vineyard. Huron County promises to be the next wine-growing region of Ontario.
The Village Bookshop shares space with an artist who teaches painting during the summer months. Luckily, the only fox in the area is the one decorating the studio wall because Martha owns a brood of chickens who provide fresh eggs every second day. A pretty, fluffy-feathered breed, Martha has named each bird after a distinguished author.
My personal favorite was Munro named after Huron County’s most distinguished local author: Noble prize winner, Alice Munro who wrote her world famous stories in nearby Clinton, Ontario. Martha let us in on a secret: Ms Munro slips into The Village Bookshop from time to time to sign her books.
Next time you are visiting the Grand Bend or London area, drive a few miles north and Eat the Local Books in the Village Bookshop.
I’m delighted to announce a the print launch of my collection of short crime fiction, Glow Grass and Other Tales, now available on Amazon.
Glow Grass includes my Arthur Ellis finalist novella of the same name as well as Derringer finalist, “The Ultimate Mystery” and Bony Pete First Prize winner, “The Lizard”. The stories are dark, but book-ended by two light-hearted comic turns, “Kill the Boss” and “Amdur’s Cat”. In each tale, justice is served, though it may be slightly twisted.