Winter in Montreal can be – and usually is – a cold and unforgiving season.
This is quite so not only to residents and visitors, but also to the homeless population, in which those unfortunate individuals have to deal with the snowstorms, howling winds and sub-zero temperatures with very little warm protection. And it’s even more so with the segment of Montreal’s homeless population who originate from the North, where its indigenous citizens go south in hope of relief from the harsh way of life in their remote towns and villages. However, the misery they endure on the streets of Montreal is definitely not much of a difference.
And when the frozen body of a young Inuit women is discovered below a downtown Montreal overpass following a major snowstorm, it’s another murder case for the duo of SQ Detective Inspector Romeo Leduc and his girlfriend, Dawson College teacher Marie Russell, to solve and at the same time, bring to light the plight of violence against homeless people. This is the cold, tragic premise of Ann Lambert’s second Leduc-Russell mystery novel The Dogs of Winter.
“I love my city. It’s the most extraordinary city in the world and there is no city like it on the planet,” said Ms. Lambert during a recent phone interview. Born in Montreal, she spent most of her life living between the West Island, the Plateau and NDG, and also loves how its citizens are a blend of different people who live a relatively peaceful fashion. “Although Montreal has its advantages and disadvantages, I wanted to make the city of Montreal an important character in my book. I especially love it in the winter, and feel a great deal of comfort when it’s hit by big snowstorms.”
Besides utilizing Montreal as the main canvas for the book, she also wanted to focus on the city’s dark side during its cruelest time of the year, especially when it came to such issues as homelessness, systemic racism and sexual violence against women.
“In The Dogs of Winter, I wanted to look at these issues as a fiction writer. While working at Dawson College, I have always seen homeless people hanging out at the nearby Alexis Nihon Plaza, and it has always bothered me about the cause of homelessness and why it happens, not to mention how helpless people are pushed down in western society and the economic injustice that goes along with it,” she said. “As well, I have always been concerned about how sexual violence against women has intensified so much and has come together with its own implications in systemic racism and social injustice.”
As well, Ms. Lambert likes the rare mystery novel dynamic of a man-and-woman couple who are complete opposites, yet are in a relationship, who team up to solve crimes, which is what the reader gets with Romeo Leduc and Marie Russell (which kind of harkens back to Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s 1933 novel The Thin Man, which spawned a series of popular movies between 1934 and 1947).
“I really liked the tension, conversation and conflict that emerges from Romeo and Marie as they try to solve these murders and sexual assaults that have become rampant in the novel,” she said. “You also get the chance to see the crimes and their implications from Marie’s point-of-view, which allowed me to tell the story in a more complete way.”
Although Ms. Lambert possesses a theatre background (besides teaching English literature at Dawson College, she wrote, produced and directed plays with the Dawson Theatre Collective for 12 years), she admits that she enjoyed the experience of writing a novel – in particular a mystery novel – without being bound to the restrictions that go along with writing a play.
“A mystery novel is like a genre with so many sub-genres. I like the joy of the page-turner because it’s mostly plot-driven, and you’re allowed to include more complex characters to give the story more depth and complexity. I have always liked following clues and solving puzzles, so I wanted to write mysteries like The Birds That Stay and The Dogs of Winter because they’re the type of books that you can read on vacation without having to think too deeply about them,” she said. “Remember, murder is the greatest violation in humanity, especially when it’s set against social, political and historical backgrounds.”
And The Dogs of Winter is the type of book that should be part of your Christmas vacation reading. It’s an engrossing mystery of murder most foul during a cold, unforgiving season. And it takes the wits, wisdom, know-how and “opposites attract” back-and-forth modus operandi of the most unlikely crime solving duo around, in order to get to the bottom of a series of heinous crimes that cry of the echoes of three of the most socially relevant and dire issues that affect our world today. It’s a red-hot potboiler that effectively pierces through any kind of bone-chilling cold.