Norbert Spehner | A veritable encyclopedia of Quebec thrillers

A great reader of detective novels – he reads a good hundred a year -, the former collaborator of The Press Norbert Spehner has just published the third volume of his series of bibliographical essayss, The detective novel in French America, in which he lists, among other things, all the thrillers written in Quebec during the last decade. We took the opportunity to talk to him about this booming genre in La Belle Province.

Q. What characterizes the detective novel in Quebec, in your opinion?

As with all thrillers, the basis is the crime, the investigation. And in the Quebec thriller, we touch on all genres: it goes from thrillers to historical novels, detective novels, etc. In Quebec, almost everyone, or almost, among the major publishing houses, now publishes them. In my opinion, there are two aspects that characterize it. The first is the tongue, which introduces a particular note. And then there is the territory. We are not in the settings of Swedish or Icelandic thrillers, but we still have special settings. Moreover, at Héliotrope, the collection [noire] has a basic requirement, that is to say that a region of Quebec must be highlighted in the thriller in question. So that gives, for example, the novel by Maureen Martineau which takes place in a zec. […] Or, we have thrillers that take place in Montreal in specific neighborhoods; local problems are nevertheless universal – street gangs exist everywhere – but we have our own particular gangs. Regionalism in crime fiction is, moreover, a global phenomenon; everywhere, we are attached to regions.

Q. Has the Quebec novel managed to carve out a place for itself abroad?

It is a new phenomenon. All of a sudden, two or three years ago, it started to happen. There is Patrick Senécal who broke through in France and who is very popular – even if it’s more on the side of horror than detective novels. Lionel Noël, Guillaume Morrissette, Andrée A. Michaud – who won all possible and imaginable prizes [en France]. […] It thawed out, but don’t kid yourself, it’s not big waters: there are about ten authors now [qui percent en France] and it starts with the Anglo-Saxons. Roxanne Bouchard, for example, has been translated into German and English; Mario Bolduc is translated into English.

Q. Which Quebec thriller authors have you discovered over the past decade and continued to follow?

There is Martin Michaud, who is one of the great tenors of Quebec thrillers; I have read almost all of his books. Jean-Jacques Pelletier, who asserted himself. André Jacques – I really like his series with his antique dealer. Over the past two years, I have been pleasantly surprised by Jean-Louis Blanchard. Another author that I really liked and that I still like, moreover, is Hervé Gagnon, with his historical series which begins with a hunt for Jack the Ripper; I regret that he gave up to move on. There’s also Eric Forbes, who only wrote one – Amqui, at Héliotrope –, but which I found quite sturdy. The very last one I read was the beginning of a series by Catherine Lafrance, The astonishing memory of ice cream ; it is very promising for the future.

Q. What are the qualities of a good thriller, in your opinion?

There must be, in the very broad sense of the term, a mystery. That a question is asked somewhere, which tickles us and for which we want the answer. And that is important from the first chapter. There has to be punch at the beginning and then a rhythm and a certain style – it’s fundamental. What is important, too, is the main character. If you have a slap in the face, it won’t work. Unless it’s Sébastien Bergman, for example, from the Dark Secrets series, where we end up being interested in him because he’s special. […] The problem is that now I find that there are too many [de romans policiers] ; the explosion is international. It repeats itself a bit and it becomes difficult to be original. We navigate a lot in clichés, in agreed situations. The perpetual serial killers, I am no longer capable of, especially since they are less and less credible, with complicated rituals… I read less and less what is called the domestic psychological thriller, too.

The detective novel in French America – 3 (2011-2020)

To read

492 pages

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