2009 shortlist

Kill All the Judges by William Deverell (McClelland & Stewart) William Deverell has built a reputation in Canadian letters as not only one of our finest crime writers but one of our best writers, period. Kill All the Judges is a sequel to Deverell’s 2006 novel, April Fool. The puzzle it presents is this: is someone systematically murdering British Columbia judges? That is something that “legend of the B.C. bar” Arthur Beauchamp sets out to solve. That he must do so in the midst of defending an accused killer while his wife runs for office in a federal by-election leads to some situations that might be described as fast-paced, complex, madcap and highly inventive. As a storyteller with a wonderful sense of humour, the author has written a book that will entertain readers whether they are fans of crime fiction or not.

Kiss the Joy As It Flies by Sheree Fitch (Vagrant Press)

“Funny, heartbreaking and thought-provoking” is how January magazine describes Sheree Fitch’s book Kiss the Joy As It Flies.  Mercy, the central character, is a 48-year-old woman who is suddenly confronted with her potential mortality and sets about to draft a “to do” list and get her life in order. Mercy wonders what her legacy will be but comes to realize, in the course of a week, that nothing turns out the way you expect. With a poet’s sensitivity and a dark sense of humour, Sheree Fitch has written a book where the central character is fully realized and believable. The fact that she can do this by mixing humour with sadness and wisdom is a remarkable literary feat.

Never Shoot A Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo by Mark Leiren-Young (Heritage House Publishing)

Never Shoot A Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo is a memoir that outlines author Mark Leiren-Young’s experiences as a young reporter in the B.C. interior. This book houses more wacky characters than many good-sized novels. Trouble is, the characters Mark writes about are real people! He is able to tell of one comic misadventure after another while he was a 22-year-old newspaperman in the town of Williams Lake, B.C., such as stumbling onto an armed robbery his first day in town, living as an “honorary woman” at the Williams Lake Women’s Centre, and being declared public enemy number one by the contestants in the local Stampede Queen pageant. These kinds of incidents proved to be fertile territory for Mark’s sense of humour and witty observations. Three of the five quotes at the front of the book mention or make comparisons to Stephen Leacock and his writing. Is it any wonder that Never Shoot a Stampede Queen is a 2009 nominee?

Uproar by Jack MacLeod (The Porcupine’s Quill)

Jack MacLeod, a serious political science professor by day – at least until he retired from U of T in 1996 – has shown with his book Uproar that he can be a very funny writer as well. This long-awaited new novel and sequel to Zinger and Me tells the story of a marriage breakup and a career in decline and gives thoughtful, serious insights into the recent past. For an author to tackle these subjects and tell a story in such an entertaining fashion is quite an accomplishment. Zinger, one of the central characters in the book, is such a remarkable creation that Don Harron has called him “one of the most memorable characters in Canadian literature.” High praise, indeed, and part of the reason that Uproar  is on the short list for the 2009 Leacock Medal.

In the Land of Long Fingernails by Charles Wilkins (Viking Canada)

In the Land of Long Fingernails is the hilarious memoir of a young man coming of age in – of all places – a graveyard. In the summer of 1969, university student Charles Wilkins is hired to work in a huge Toronto cemetery. Given the cast of characters – the live ones, that is – who tend to the needs of the dead and the newly dead, it is no wonder the stories Wilkins tells are at once ghastly and comic. The author finds himself both fascinated and repelled by the comings and goings in the graveyard. A mid-summer gravediggers’ strike, the disinterment of a victim of an unsolved murder, witnessing the nearly mortal combat between crusty boss Scotty and free spirit Luccio…. all these make for not only fascinating reading but a surprisingly sophisticated degree of humour. This is a worthy nominee for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

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