Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

John Moss

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John Moss writes mysteries because nothing brings life into focus like the murder of strangers. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2006 in recognition of his career as a professor of Canadian literature with over a score of books in his field, John moved progressively away from literary criticism to creative writing, before settling comfortably into the Quin and Morgan series which now occupies his writing efforts full time. He and his wife, Beverley Haun, whose book, Inventing ‘Easter Island’, grew out of her work as a cultural theorist and their travel adventures as scuba divers, share a stone farmhouse with numerous ghosts in Peterborough, Ontario. Recently sidelined from his diving avocation (he was an instructor in both PADI and SDI programs), John and Bev have no intention of giving up whitewater canoeing and cross-country skiing with old friends, or taking long hikes in interesting places around the world.

John is professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa and Beverley most recently taught in the Queen’s-Trent Concurrent Education Program. Their daughter, Beatrice Winny, MA, is a Registered Graphic Designer in Guelph, Ontario, while their daughter, Laura Moss, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Literature at the University of British Columbia and their other daughter, Julia Zarb, PhD, is CEO of Zarb Consulting in Toronto. They have six grandchildren, Clare, Maddy and Olivia Zarb, and Simon, Owen and Charlie Cutler.

As a boy, John declared he wanted to live a life of adventure. So far, so good. He has participated in many endurance sports, including the original Ironman. He swam the Hellespont, and ran the Boston Marathon eleven times. He has dived in wondrous places, ranging from the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef to Tahiti, Easter Island and numerous sites in the Caribbean. He has trekked through the Barren Lands on his own for twenty-eight days and with his brother, Steve, and then with Bev, across major portions of Baffin Island. At different times he has raised horses, bred dogs, kept swans and cultivated bees. He remains astonished at being alive, a sentient self-conscious part of the universe. Writing mysteries is the best way he has found, yet, of exploring the breadth of a full life and its inevitably ominous end.

His website is

Ten Questions with John Moss

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

John Moss:

My first publication was a poem in the Huron College literary magazine, Quarto, in 1959. My first book was Patterns of Isolation, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1964. It sold 10,000 copies, which was pretty good for literary criticism back then, especially dealing with Canadian literature.


Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

Grave Doubts: A Quin and Morgan Mystery

By John Moss

The discovery of two headless corpses dressed in colonial clothing and locked in a grisly embrace draws Detectives Miranda Quin and David Morgan of the Toronto Police Service into a strange mixture of sex and death that ultimately threatens their own survival. The line between life and death is sometimes obscure... Beginning with morbid curiosity, Miranda and Morgan get caught up in a story of inspired depravity. Through revelations in such diverse locations as a Toronto demolition site, a lonely farmhouse on Georgian Bay, the crypt of a derelict church, and inside the murky depths of a shipwreck, this strange account of love, lust and murder builds to a horrific crescendo.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Scenes of the Crime

Scenes of the Crime

It’s been a week now since the annual Wolfe Island Mystery Lover’s Festival, Scene of the Crime. This was my second go at it, the first as a speaker, panelist, and honoured guest. And the guests were honoured, no question of that. In a setting that is somehow outside the normal sweep of time, where tourists and mystery buffs wander the main streets of the idyllic island village in search of ice cream cones and tales of murder, we were befriended, celebrated, and applauded by people who love books. For the writers and readers alike, it was sheer delight.


I do not often sign petitions and I am not a member of the Liberal Party but I just signed the Liberal call for the resignation of Bev Oda, for her dispicable behavior which demeans the position of cabinet minister and demeans us collectively in the process. Politics, it seems, is the last refuge of scoundrels. If a person is to be designated the Honourable or the Right Honourable, it should be because they deserve it. Ms. Oda has behaved disgracefully, and the Prime Minister has behaved disgracefully. They do not deserve any title other than “Politician,” which is a shameful honourific in today’s federal politics.

Blog, A Verb

I wonder how many blogs are about blogging. The winter is rolling along and I haven’t blooged in months. It isn’t that I haven’t thought about it. To blog or not to blog! I’ve been busy but the whole point of blogging is to share what you’re busy doing and thinking, so that’s no excuse. I did have a quadruple bypass, but that’s no excuse, either. The surgery is well behind me and I have more energy now than I’ve had in the last few years. So. I’ve been writing a new mystery, re-writing, polishing, re-polishing, and I’m at last pleased with it, but will go back and re-re-write, re-re-polish, and see what we have. A good novel, I hope. A mystery called “Lindstrom Alone.” It’s the first in a series! And I’m back to tearing our house apart and re-building.

Hey Randy

A good friend of mine just reminded me how long it’s been since I last blogged (sounds like something you’d take a laxative for). I’ve been distracted, but I’ll get back on track. I have to go in for a bit of surgery this Friday and, in a week of two, I plan on catching up on my blogs (sounds vaguely offensive, but at least I’m not going to tweet). In the last few months I’ve been forced to take things easy, but I’ve been writing with a vengeance.
The third in the Quin and Morgan series is coming out early next winter. We’re still wrestling with the title. I’d prefer The Reluctant Assassin. My publisher wants the zombiesque title, Reluctant Dead. We’ll see who holds the power here … As if!

Vive the Difference

One advantage to writing a blog read by only a few is that anything I say can have a large impact and little consequence. So, here goes.

Recently, there has been an uproar about Supreme Court judges having to be bilingual. This precludes 80% of Anglophone Canadian lawyers from consideration; but it also demands that Francophone judges be professionally adept in English, which is not so limiting only because they have had to learn English to survive in a North American world.

Where's Barbara Budd!

Without Barbara Budd, As It Happens is just another radio program. How on earth could CBC brass possibly have made such an egregious error. When a radio program achieves the status of cultural tradition, leave the bloody thing alone! The banter is gone, the wit and the warmth are gone. I did an informal survey of listeners: every single one was irritated to outraged by the arbitrary removal of Barbara from the show. Shame on CBC for its insensitivity to listeners' preferences. She was part of our collective Canadian lifestyle. CBC has turned many fans into mere listeners. Lingering over dinner to hear AIH appears to be a thing of the past. If the brass don't answer to listeners, just who the Hell do they answer to?

Sex, Violence, and Other Mysteries

This was something I posted on a DorothyL listserve discussion (April 26) which I thought might be of interest:

Stranded at Hazlitt's in Soho

There are worse ways to be stranded abroad than in Hazlitt’s Hotel in Soho. I’d rather be home about now, since in a couple of days there’s a mystery gala in Picton, being held in association with Books & Co, where I was to be one of the writers to read a bit and talk about murder. I’m assuming Rick Blechta, Mary Jane Mafini, Michael Blair, John David Carpenter, Vicki Delany, Violette Malan, and Janet Kellough will still be there for the April 22nd event. I’ll still be at Hazlitt’s.

Yann Martel and What’s Her Name

As a writer, you have a better chance of falling into a pot hole on main street and ending up among talking rabbits and erasable cats than snaring a publisher’s advance in the millions. Yet it happens. Yann Martel is apparently getting somewhere around three million for his new novel. More incredibly, a woman in Nanaimo is pulling in over a million for her first, repeat, first novel. Yes, it does happen.

Anthem Grammar Appalling

“True patriot love in all thy sons command.” By all means, let’s change the words to “in all of us,” but maybe we could fix the grammar in the process. No-one seems concerned but, dammit, the line, even now, should read “commands.” It is patriot love that is commanded, not the sons who command or the sons’ command. It may not sound quite so mellifluous to say, “in all thy sons commands,” but changed to “in all of us commands,” it sounds even better than the present syntactically-challenged doggerel.

That Is NOT Who

Eric Duhatschek, Globe and Mail, February 18, 2010:
Hiller, the Anaheim Ducks' goaltender that made J.S. Giguere expendable, is a tall, fluid lefthander that many of the Western Conference-based players on Team Canada see frequently.
No comment. My last blog on grammar!

Dr. That and the Death of Who

I have just deleted my extensive collection pertaining to ‘that,’ the usurper. ‘Who’ as a relative pronoun is dead. I’ve been gathering the most egregious examples of its passing for the last few weeks. This morning, however, the ever-fastidious Russell Smith gives ‘that’ his imprimatur in a Globe and Mail column about asking guests to pitch in with dinner. If Smith has gone over, then my list of CBC newswriters, Maclean’s scribes, and scripted politicians is redundant. In the abject spirit of surrender, I quote Mr. Smith: “The separate kitchen is really only useful for those with servants that can cook and bring out food …” I can hear my mother whispering urgently from the celestial wings, “who, who, who, Mr.

Everybody Drinks, Nobody Thinks

A reviewer paid me a gratifying compliment recently by suggesting the relationship between Miranda and Morgan in my mysteries is akin to Hammett's Nick and Nora in “The Thin Man” series. It turns out there isn't a series, just one novel stretched beyond recognition in a succession of movies. Like Hammett's best known work, The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Thin Man (1934) is familiar as a cultural icon, but I had never read either so I thought I'd give them a try.

Judging the Judges

One of the mysteries that has interested me most over the years has been the absurd and elusive criteria for selecting judges for book awards in this country. Thomas Hodd has written a superb essay, published in The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, January 5th, in which he boldly argues just this. Check it out.

Before taking up writing mysteries as a suitable vocation for a retiring fellow like myself, I taught Canadian literature for decades and toiled in academe as a literary critic. I was in the business of exercising taste and judgement to illuminate literary quality. There are scholars and there are critics: scholars don’t judge but critics do.


We just returned from a dive holiday in the Galapagos Islands. We had planned for three years for this, and it was worth every penny spent, every moment of anguish as we came to terms with the fact that in this most sacred and inaccessible diving destination on the planet, I couldn’t dive. I say “we,” because I think it was almost as hard for Bev to see me standing at the rail of the dive boat, as it was for me, while she sped off in the zodiac to plunge into awesome currents and be surrounded by sea lions hell-bent on playing among the divers and fifteen-foot hammerhead sharks driven by curiosity (not hunger) to swim among them, checking them out.

To Review the Reviewer

Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of fiction for a variety of publications, ranging from The Globe and Mail to Canadian Literature. That was an extension of my job, teaching university and working as a critic. Now, my major occupation is writing mysteries. I think my past has made me less anxious about reviewer response to my own work and at the same time more pleased by the accolades. But I find myself in a curious position. I still write the occasional review. Do I review as a critic or as a creative writer? A mystery writer? Or as an objective reader (even though there is no such thing)?

Of Shoes and Ships

…and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.
I said to Bev at dinner tonight, I hope it’s teaming rain tomorrow, then I can stay in and write all day. I paused, then said: I hope it’s warm and sunny tomorrow, then I can go out and work on my wall (a stone wall that I’d like to finish before it snows). How lucky am I, how incredibly lucky! Nearing seventy and there’s so much to do. A new novel, a new wall. The idea is to make them both seem inevitable, like they’ve been here, in the world, forever.
Downtown Bookstore: Owen Sound

Graves Matter

It’s been quite a while, now, since The Hamilton Spectator has published a column by Don Graves, one of the premier critics in the country, and the only reviewer of note to focus on Canadian mystery titles. Recently in the Word on the Street festival in Toronto I sold quite a few books. Almost every sale was to a reader of either Margaret Cannon in The Globe and Mail or Don Graves in The Hamilton Spectator or on The Spectator’s website. Mystery novels have huge sales in Canada and, although often ignored in favour of so-called “literary” writing, some of negligible significance, they need and deserve a sound critical representation. Graves provides this, not just for Hamilton but for the whole country.

Gloria Glendinning, How Quaint

It is irritating enough to endure the condescension of a British writer who knows virtually nothing about Canadian culture, but when that writer is Victoria Glenndining, a novelist, biographer, and critic of note, who otherwise commands considerable respect, it is sad. She was, after all, educated at Oxford and many of us weren’t. For those not up on the international furor, Glendinning recently served on the Giller Prize jury and subsequently, in The Financial Times, September 12, showed clearly why she should have graciously declined. As a mystery writer, I don’t expect ever to be subject to her judgement, literary or otherwise.

Crimes and Punishment

(My response to the escalating and arbitrary divisions between “literature” and “genre” writing, especially in Canada. I promise my next entry will be more chatty.)

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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