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"I have spent nearly all my time in...Canada" [HOUN]

The closest high school to where I lived in Waterloo, Ontario, for many years is Kitchener Collegiate Institute, the alma mater of Margaret Sturm and Kenneth Millar. If those mentions don't ring a very loud bell, it may be that you know the two KCI grads under other names: Margaret Millar and Ross Macdonald, two of the significant figures of mid-20th-century American crime fiction.

I wish I could say "Canadian" crime fiction, but the duo, who married in 1938, spent most of their adult lives in California, and set the majority of their work there. (Millar did use Canadian settings on a few occasions, notably The Iron Gates, published in 1946.) Canada does its best to take pride in them, and I know I was not the only researcher to visit the KCI library to find a copy of the student literary magazine in which Millar's first short story appeared in 1931.

I said little about those two sort-of-Canadians in an essay about Canadian crime fiction that I wrote as a graduate student in 1973. The essay itself is lost somewhere in my archives, but I have many of my notes, as well as a practically illegible handwritten memo from the professor, who I suspect knew nothing about the subject, calling my work "scholarly."
I analyzed and classified about a dozen novels, and there's some evidence that I thought at the time those were all the Canadian mysteries there were. If I did, I was wildly wrong; even then, Derrick Murdoch, the first president of The Bootmakers of Toronto, was writing extensively about such fiction in the Globe and Mail, and later David Skene Melvin, BSI, would add to the literature with several anthologies, notably Crime in a Cold Climate, that offered samples of CanLit dating back to the 1880s.

A few of the Canadian novels I examined were actually set in Canada, such as Hugh Garner's 1970 The Sin Snipe. But more of the books were like those of Millar and Macdonald, essentially American even if the authors were nominally Canadian. For example, The Long Way Down is set in Virginia Beach, of all places, though it's the work of a Canadian, Douglas Hall, who's still at it four decades and two dozen mysteries later.

These observations are a prelude to what I want to say about Elementary, She Read, the new novel by Vicki Delany, who lives not far from me in Prince Edward County, Ontario. I have not read any of Delany's previous books, and I am so clueless that I didn't actually know her name even though she has served as president of Crime Writers of Canada and produced more than a dozen successful books. But I could no longer overlook her, of course, when she started writing about Sherlock Holmes.

Elementary, She Read is billed as "A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery," signalling that there are going to be more books with the same setting and central character. The character is Gemma Doyle, no known relation to Arthur Conan of that ilk, who has (and cleverly demonstrates in almost every chapter) a remarkable Holmes-like ability to observe and make deductions. The setting is a smallish town on Cape Cod in Massachusetts — not, obviously, part of Canada. Delany is, in fact, following in the footsteps of Millar, Macdonald, and the rest; and who can blame her for paying attention to where her potential market is to be found, something even ACD did in his later stories?

This book, published in spring 2017 by Crooked Lane Books, is squarely in the "cozy" mystery tradition. Its young woman narrator/sleuth who enjoys an on-again, off-again relationship with a hunky police detective will be familiar to readers of Joan Hess and, for that matter, Janet Evanovich. The author Delany's book most reminds me of, however, is Charlotte MacLeod (Alisa Craig) — who is, what do you know, another Canadian setting her action in (frequently) Massachusetts.

The most distinctive feature of Elementary, She Read, at least for you and me, is its setting in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, associated with Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. I won't belabour the details, so let's just say that while most would-be-Sherlockian novels are a bit heavy-handed and tone-deaf (yes, even Graham Moore's The Sherlockian), Delany seems to get the Irene, Beeton's, Strand, and Speckled Band allusions exactly right. She also refers in a natural way to Cumberbatch collectibles… and to Jewel of the Thames, the first young adult novel by yet another Canadian author, Angela Misri. Oh, and there's a dog called Violet.