• The Au Pair

    Life’s not all a bed of roses for Ashley Smeeton, in her mid-twenties and trying to run a private investigation agency in Montreal despite a temporary cash flow emergency. She’s as surprised as anyone though when she agrees to take a lucrative summer au pair job in the scenic Laurentian Mountains.

    Montreal might be enduring a heat wave, but at Columbine Lodge, occupied by a few generations of immensely wealthy Sampsons, things are heating up as well. Between the mystery that surrounds four-year-old Meade and her beautiful, complicated mother Layla, and the lingering mood of past suffering in the old lodge, Ashley quickly realizes she’s in for an interesting ride.

    And then there’s the proliferation of summer romance-quality men.

    By the time the unexplained deaths commence, Meade has thoroughly succeeded in getting under Ashley’s skin. But the odd little girl with the big gift is by no means the only one in danger.

    Release: October 2017

    Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK Wild Rose Press Barnes & Noble fnac kobo
  • After The Winter

    Rudderless after a series of setbacks, a wealthy young Montrealer named Sally Ryder discovers her dead mother had a secret life and she has an unsuspected half-sister. Helena Lane has written to Sally, inviting her to Midwinter, an isolated estate in the Eastern Townships. But before they can meet, Helena and her husband die under disturbing circumstances.

    Sally feels compelled to visit Waverley anyway for a few days, to learn what she can about the sister she never knew. Her first shock is to find that Howard Lane has left everything, including Midwinter, to his beautiful secretary Janine. During a storm, Sally is unexpectedly snowed in over the holidays with Janine and an assortment of Midwinter guests and locals, including a nine-year-old budding sleuth named Ashley. It isn't long before Sally becomes entangled with a gruff young doctor from Boston in an effort to uncover the truth about her sister's mysterious life, and death.

    Meanwhile, the bodies pile up.

    Release: August 2017

    Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK Wild Rose Press Indigo

About Anna

Anna was born in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things too numerous to mention/best forgotten. She was semi-finalist for the US Katherine Paterson YA prize and for Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award in the unpublished category. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and domestic suspense. AFTER THE WINTER is her first published novel. (more →)


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Two Book Giveaway

Yes, that time has come.  The Au Pair is released today, and to celebrate there’s a giveaway.  If you sign up to receive email notifications from this website (my occasional blogs, basically) you’ll be in the running for a prize of two nice trade paperbacks of both my books, After the Winter and its sequel The Au Pair.  The deadline is October 31st at midnight, so don’t delay.  This is a pretty new website, so anyone who already signed up is eligible as well.  How do you follow me?  It’s easy, click Follow and/or see my Contact page.

Kirkus Reviews approves: AFTER THE WINTER

The discovery of a secret half sister leads a woman into a web of deception and intrigue in this debut novel.

At 23, Sally Ryder finds herself unmoored following a betrayal by an unfaithful fiance. Then an article in a Montreal paper brings news of a sudden loss. Helena Lane, Sally’s half sister, was killed in a car accident along with her husband, Howard, while returning to Midwinter, their estate in Quebec. Sally had learned her mother was previously married after receiving a letter from Helena explaining the family connection and expressing a desire to meet Sally. Despite her sibling’s death, Sally wants to learn more and travels to Quebec. While staying in the town of Waverley, she befriends Dr. Tom Munro, Howard’s childhood friend. They are shocked to discover that Howard’s secretary, Janine Douglas, will inherit the entire estate, and their surprise turns to suspicion when they meet her friend Carson DeWitt and his sister, Debbie, who have a keen interest in Janine and Midwinter. Sally and Tom’s probe leads them to suspect Helena’s and Howard’s deaths may not have been an accident. As their attraction deepens, they are in a race to uncover the truth before tragedy strikes again. Dowdall’s impressive novel is an entertaining and suspenseful entry in the gothic mystery genre. The setting is a key component of the tale, and Quebec and Midwinter are vividly rendered. The author captures the unique rhythms of life in this picturesque community, from the locals who call Quebec home to the wealthy newcomers seeking a second residence. The strong setting is matched by her well-developed characters. Sally is an earnest and intelligent heroine whose investigation into Helena’s death leads to an unexpected romance with Tom. Their relationship develops slowly in scenes that crackle with amorous tension. The supporting cast includes the mysterious Janine and the precocious Ashley Smeeton, a 9-year-old with a love of Nancy Drew books and dreams of becoming a detective. Dowdall’s fast-paced narrative unfolds like a classic Agatha Christie mystery, with unexpected and satisfying plot twists.

Atmospheric romantic suspense in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier.


The Middle of the Night

Popular Montreal newspaper columnist Bernard Mendelman has been kind enough to recommend my book to Hillary Clinton, which is of course him being nice to a new writer, and also dangling a hook for his readers.   But Hillary’s taste in Eastern Townships murder mysteries must be familiar to most Canadians now, since her recent high-profile visit to Louise Penny.

Once in a while you read about Hillary’s reading preferences.  How do people know these things?  Regardless, as well as Louise Penny, she apparently likes Jacqueline Winspear.  Sometimes a pundit will take a swipe at this preference for the cozyesque (it’s always open season on Hillary, and as if the reading of dark thrillers and/or serious fiction were a virtue.)  Me, I read everything.  But Penny and Winspear are both near the boundary of my tolerance for this type of light crime writing, which some people call cozy and others call classic golden age detective stories.

Funny, maybe, because AFTER THE WINTER, with its romantic suspense elements, its detailed descriptions of the social sphere and meticulous meting out of justice (my way), probably falls into that category.  Not to mention my second book, THE AU PAIR, out October 11, which has as an important theme child care for pete’s sake!  I like to think I write Gothic Cozy, mingling the fear with the domestic, both its pitfalls and its comforts.  No one has yet offered Gothic Cozy as a category, so I’m offering it.

Anyway, back to Hillary.  When I read Winspear in particular I wonder, I really do, at the woman who after Angela Merkel was once the world’s most powerful woman, on the hook for Benghazi, reading about these uncomplicated and decent people (in some cases the virtue positively shines) surrounded by evil that they will manage, somehow, to push back.  I wonder in particular about the exact nature of the appeal.

Years ago I read an interview with a Yale professor, eminent in her field, which I think was science or engineering, but who’d had a lot of hardship in her life, an inordinate amount.  She was a widow, she had four children.  I was raising a young kid myself then, so I related, although the pressures on her had to be much much greater, or at least, very different, than mine, since I had deliberately picked a camouflaged existence in the slow lane.  Anyhow, this Yale professor said in the interview that it was novels that saved her.  Maybe a few other things as well, but it was the novels she dwelt on.  She talked about the stack of books by her bedside table that she could never do without.  These books were for 3 am reading, reading when she woke in the dead hours of the night and thought too much about everything, and there was only fiction to distract her and take her to the morning.

I’ve no trouble imagining Hillary Clinton reading Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear for much the same reason.  If anyone is more intimately acquainted than most with the real world, with the noir in life, with the disturbed nature of the times we live in, it’s Hillary surely.  And who better than she to understand the necessity of a temporary escape, and the benefit of it.  So the next time you hear someone dissing light escapist fiction, just remember:  don’t assume people read escapist fiction because they’re weak or can’t face reality.  Sometimes, they read it so that they can go on facing the no-good-outcome challenges confronting them and shouldering the heavy burdens that most of us would never ever willingly take up.


My Conversation with Joanne Guidoccio

In which I chat with Joanne Guidoccio, Canadian author of the Gilda Greco mystery series

Tell us a little bit about your series, including where the idea originated?

Too Many Women in the Room is the second book in the Gilda Greco Mystery Series. Based in Northern Ontario, these books feature a fifty-something Italian woman, her relatives, deserving and undeserving men, food, and murder.

While undergoing cancer treatments, I gravitated toward cozy mysteries. After devouring over fifty books in that genre, I imagined the following scenarios: What if a lottery winner moves back to her hometown and finds herself involved in a murder investigation? And what if all the victims are blondes? I put pen to paper and started the first draft of A Season for Killing Blondes. It was released by The Wild Rose Press in June 2015. 

A Different Kind of Reunion, Book 3 in the series, will be released in the spring of 2018.

Who are your favourite writers and why? What writers have influenced you?

I admire late blooming authors who have launched successful second acts. Two favorites come to mind: Maeve Binchy and Louise Penny. Their novels and writing journeys have inspired me to launch my own second act as a writer. From Maeve, I’ve learned that success is not a pie where only a select few have access to the slices. I’ve taken several pages out of Louise’s disciplined approach to structure my own writing practice.

Where do you see your writing going next?

I intend to write more books in the Gilda Greco Mystery series.  On the back burner, I have a cancer memoir and a collection of angel stories.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have set times of day/number of words? Do you have a favorite writing place or routine? What do you drink, listen to, avoid, need … to write?

When I retired and started writing full time, I expected to be inspired each day. Everything was in place—business cards, new computer, dreams of a runaway best-seller—but my underdeveloped writing muscles refused to budge.

After some experimentation, I came up with a daily regimen. Nothing too dramatic, but it works for me. I like to sleep in each day and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. But after my second cup of coffee, I start writing. My goal –1,000 words a day. At first, I used the oven timer to keep me on task, but that annoying sound reminded me of incessant school bells, so I invested in a bird clock. Each hour, one of my feathered friends, among them the Downy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, and Great Horned Owl, chirp and remind me to pace myself. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Experiment until you find your own unique voice and a warm, supportive environment where your words can flow freely. Sign up for creative writing courses—online or offline—that expose you to short stories, children’s and adult writing, creative nonfiction, and poetry. And, most important of all, enjoy the journey.

What’s the best advice someone gave you?

“It’s okay to fall out of love with your manuscript.” I received this advice from Brian Henry, a creative writing instructor at Ryerson University. During one of his workshops, he recommended putting manuscripts aside before starting the editing process. He didn’t specify a timeline but stressed that we can’t improve our work until we fall out of love with it.

Thank you Joanne!

Book Summary

When Gilda Greco invites her closest friends to a VIP dinner, she plans to share David Korba’s signature dishes and launch their joint venture— Xenia, an innovative Greek restaurant near Sudbury, Ontario. Unknown to Gilda, David has also invited Michael Taylor, a lecherous photographer who has throughout the past three decades managed to annoy all the women in the room. One woman follows Michael to a deserted field for his midnight run and stabs him in the jugular.

Gilda’s life is awash with complications as she wrestles with a certain detective’s commitment issues and growing doubts about her risky investment in Xenia. Frustrated, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers decades-old secrets and resentments that have festered until they explode into untimely death. Can Gilda outwit a killer bent on killing again?

Book Trailer


Buy Links

Amazon (US): https://is.gd/NRjAXT

Amazon (Canada): https://is.gd/1pX3Bn

Kobo: https://is.gd/5VwbTf

Indigo: https://is.gd/o3ZKRW

The Wild Rose Press: https://is.gd/1mns8Q

Barnes & Noble: https://is.gd/NFHdlS


In 2008, Joanne took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Where to find Joanne…

Website: http://joanneguidoccio.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/joanneguidoccio

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorjoanneguidoccio

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanneguidoccio

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/jguidoccio/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7277706.Joanne_Guidoccio




When Your Hometown Newspaper Recognizes You

New novel a unique pleasure for former Cornwallite Anna Dowdall

By Todd Hambleton, Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

An author who grew up in Cornwall has had her first novel published.

Anna Dowdall, who was born in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto, has written After the Winter, a crime novel set in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

“I have many fond memories (of Cornwall), and I still have friends there,” said Dowdall, who lived in the Seaway City from the ages of one to 15.

Dowdall, who attended Ecole Saint Jean Bosco on Eighth Street, has been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things “too numerous to mention (and/or) best forgotten,” she said.

Dowdall was a semi-finalist for the U.S. Katherine Paterson YA prize, and for Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award in the unpublished category.

What’s it like to have a first book released?

“It fills your head with all kinds of unfamiliar thoughts and feelings, and at the same time it’s very pragmatic,” Dowdall said. “You have to work hard to get your name out there, and get some decent reviews.”

Dowdall has known for decades that she wanted to write books.

“(It goes back to) when I was a little kid growing up on Andre Avenue – and learning about the world through the Standard-Freeholder, I might add,” she said. “For all kinds of reasons this has taken a while. . . this somehow adds a unique pleasure to the whole thing.”

Known to read plenty of obscure fiction in English and French, Dowdall thinks Quebec is an under-recognized mise en scene for mystery and domestic suspense.

After the Winter has a wealthy young Montrealer, Sally Ryder, rudderless after a series of setbacks, discovering her dead mother had a secret life, and that she has a half-sister. Helena Lane has written to Sally, inviting her to Midwinter, an isolated estate in the Eastern Townships, but before they can meet, Helena and her husband die under disturbing circumstances.

Sally feels compelled to visit, though, to learn about the sister she never knew. But her first discovery is a shock: Howard Lane has left everything, including Midwinter, to his beautiful secretary Janine.

Unexpectedly snowed in with an assortment of Midwinter guests and locals, it isn’t long before Sally becomes entangled with a gruff young doctor from Boston in an effort to uncover the truth about her sister’s mysterious death — and life.

Meanwhile, the bodies pile up.

The novel has already received some critical acclaim, including from Joan Barfoot, an award-winning author who wrote in the London Free Press that After the Winter “has a nicely complicated, sinister plot, a gothic setting, romantic entanglements and some ambiguous characters.”

The best review has come from Dowdall’s daughter, Daisy.

“I suspect she may have been a tiny bit skeptical, (but) when she finished my book, she texted me: ‘Brava brava!! I can’t wait to read the next one now! You have yourself a loyal reader in me,’” Dowdall recounted.

“It’s not easy being a single parent, as every single parent knows, but when you can show your kid something you’ve done like that and they respond, it’s the best of feelings.”

After the Winter has been published by The Wild Rose Press, in New York.

For more information on author and the book, visit www.annadowdall.com.



Book Review

When you get your first good book review, and not from some writer to whom you will be reciprocating, bless their hearts, but from a celebrated writer like Joan Barfoot, I’m afraid there’s no end to your desire to reblog it and mention it at the drop of a hat.  So here is the beginning of Joan’s review, in the London Free Press and several other Postmedia outlets:

“It’s a silent and subtle tip of the hat when Sally Ryder, protagonist of Torontonian Anna Dowdall’s first crime novel, spots a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 chiller Rebecca lying around in another character’s home.

Eighty years on, Rebecca remains a best-selling, much-filmed classic in a genre that might loosely be called gothic crime romance, a subcategory of crime fiction to which Dowdall’s After the Winter also readily belongs, and in which she gives that passing nod to one of the best.

Du Maurier set her tale on her home turf of Cornwall in England. Dowdall, born in Montreal, sets hers in a small Quebec ski-country community during a 1999 winter more or less isolated by a series of brutal snowstorms.

Sally Ryder is a wealthy young Montrealer, a 23-year-old orphan grieving the deaths of her parents and the betrayal of her now-ex-fiance which, since he was also her employer, means she’s now unemployed.

She has a supportive best friend and loads of money, but that’s about it…”

Here’s the rest of the review:  http://www.lfpress.com/2017/08/25/nicely-complicated-but-chronology-confuses

And a post like this deserves a good pulp cover of du Maurier’s classic, so here is that too.  What I like about this one is how spare it is, and yet the elements are there, the enigmatic young woman in the foreground, the Gothic house just visible over the nameless heroine’s shoulder.  The artist has added a nice touch, the famous rhododendrons peeking out from behind the figure’s clenched arms:  because in Gothic suspense, nature has a way of rearing its head…

Toronto Public Library Free Writing Workshop

Writing Workshop:  Light Fiction, Serious Themes

Presenter: Anna Dowdall


Does light have to be trivial?  Does serious have to be boring and strident? Are you a beginning or aspiring writer interested in exploring how genre fiction (romance, mystery, humour, science fiction, fantasy—the kind we all love to read!) can also express the things that are most important to you?

This 2.5 hour workshop will take a hands-on approach to exploring this issue.  There’ ll be:

  • an introduction about “value” in fiction, including who gets to decide it
  • a partnered writing exercise
  • a group discussion with presentations (but no pressure to volunteer)

You don’t need  to be an aspiring writer for this workshop.  Interested readers who’ve wondered about this issue are welcome too.  No preparation is required, but please bring your own pen or pencil and paper to the workshop, a sample of your own writing if you feel like it, and any reading material that you think might offer insight into this issue.

When:  September 30, 2-4:30 pm

Where:  Toronto Public Library, Fort York Branch (registration required through TPL website)

New Release!

Dear friends—

A week from today, on Friday, August 25, AFTER THE WINTER comes out. I’m excited to bring you the first book in a new mystery series set in Quebec, THE ASHLEY SMEETON FILES.

“A perfect read for a rainy afternoon…,” says my first review!

AFTER THE WINTER stems from my addiction to mid-twentieth century domestic suspense, with its impromptu and improbable female sleuths. There’s nothing more relevant today than these deliciously tense tales of women in danger and what they do about it. I decided to try and write something like that, and spike it with a modern ending.

But the classic elements—the wintry Eastern Townships countryside, the slightly Gothic house on a hill, the secrets, the varying degrees of judgment demonstrated by the youthful heroine—they’re all there. If you’re a reader, you’re in for a treat. If you’re a friend (but not a reader), just buy the book already. You can wave it around while casually observing you know the author personally. What a bargain!

Please help me have a great opening week by getting your copy today.

For print lovers, in Toronto you’ll find a nice trade paperback at two city bookstores, BEN MCNALLY BOOKS and SLEUTH OF BAKER STREET. Hurry up and get your copy before they run out.  People tell me it’s popping up in other reputable indie bookstores (like MAC’S FIREWEED BOOKS in the Yukon). Be sure and ask your local bookseller to order it if you don’t see it.

You can buy the paperback and digital versions directly from the online store of my New York publisher, The Wild Rose Press, https://catalog.thewildrosepress.com. Of course, you can also get the print version through Amazon US and the e-book through Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Amazon (CA, US, UK). I won’t tell. If so, to improve my Amazon standing, please think about leaving me a review!

And guess what?  Book 2 of the series, THE AU PAIR, will be out before the end of the year!

With many thanks!

First and Second Natures

A while ago I watched Hitchcock’s film VERTIGO again.  The more I watch his movies the more I love Kim Novak, more than other Hitchcock female leads such as Grace Kelly and probably right up there with the extraordinary Tippi Hedren.  And the more I marvel at the way Hitchcock movies combines excellence with popular appeal…

Sometimes the director cleverly mined novels of the day when making his movies.  I think most people know that THE BIRDS was based on a Daphne duMaurier novella.  Fewer would know that he used Winston Graham’s book by that name as the basis of the script of MARNIE.  And I bet almost no one knows that VERTIGO is based on a French novel called D’ENTRE LES MORTS (1954), by the highly successful French crime novel duo of Boileau and Narcejac (although the book is still knocking around—I saw a translated copy at BMV on Bloor West last week.)

This writing duo thought of themselves as anti-Golden Age crime writers, melding victim and perpetrator to the deliberate frustration of the reader.  Their story is set in France during that strange period at the beginning of WW2 called the Phony War.  They integrate the strangeness (real/unreal) of the time into their narrative of things and people not being what they seem.  It’s an unsettling read.  Hitchcock captures the sickly aspect of it in Jimmy Stewart’s romantic obsession, but it’s Kim Novak’s louche and layered portrayal of Judy/Madeleine that stays with me when I watch VERTIGO nowadays.

Judy and Marnie?  Don’t we really want these flawed enigmas to get away?  I mean, really get away, not fessing up to Jimmy Stewart or forced into marriage with Sean Connery.

While I was writing AFTER THE WINTER, I had such a clear mental picture of the conniving and secretive “confidential secretary,” Janine Douglas, including the last lovely physical detail.  It was only afterwards that I realized I’d based it on the Kim Novak character in VERTIGO, with some Marnie thrown in.

Remember those iconic scenes near the beginning of MARNIE, when we see her systematically disposing of her old identity and dressing for her new part, right down to the Albert’s “custom fit hosiery?” And then, a paragon of sixties fashion, walking away from us at the railway station, carrying her snazzy new suitcase light with embezzled cash?  I don’t want to give away the ending of AFTER THE WINTER, so I’ll just leave you with this…  What if the movie had ended there?

Toronto Gothic

The Canadian writer Margaret Millar was Agatha Christie’s favourite mystery novelist.  For very good reason.  THE IRON GATES (1945) is set in Toronto – the gated park in the book being Toronto’s very own High Park under snow.  The novel falls into the category Urban Ontario Vintage Winter Gothic – a category I might have made up.

You can get plot synopses anywhere, here’s something you won’t. The family lives in a big elegant house overlooking High Park.  The property seemingly continuous with the park, leading one naive and not so privileged character to wonder aloud if the whole park actually belongs to the Morrows.  A very modest detective effort suggests there’s only one place where this is possible. You take some very inconspicuous steps down through trees from busy Bloor Street, on the western side of the park, to narrow Wendigo Way.  Wendigo Way is a lane, not much more than a track, and was probably just that in 1945.  High Park comes right up to the stately old houses that line this lane.  The haunted Mrs. Morrow listens there to the skaters beyond the trees…

Here’s a great blog if you want to know more about Margaret Millar and THE IRON GATES:  http://brianbusby.blogspot.ca/2014/09/margaret-millars-great-toronto-mystery.html