In April on Paris Street, a Montreal private investigator of half-Abenaki heritage takes a case that looks like old-school damsel in-distress rescue but that then turns into something unnervingly different. The narrative weaves working class Ashley Smeeton’s personal story (trying to connect with her Abenaki relatives, the death of a grandmother she’s hardly known, an ill-considered fling with a handsome vaurien) into the story of the privileged young woman, Mirabel Saint Cyr, whose fashion mogul husband hires her.
Against the backdrop of the Parisian winter Carnaval, the job first takes her to the city of lights where she’s drawn into an unsettling world of mirages and masks, not to mention the murderous Bortnik brothers. When Ashley returns to Montreal, a city rife with its own unreasonable facsimiles, the case incomprehensibly picks up again. Convinced she’s being played, she embarks on an even more dangerous journey into deception and uncertainty.
The conclusion of April on Paris Street reveals a long-hidden domestic secret and a recklessly decisive endgame that cause Ashley to question her previous views not only of Mirabel Saint Cyr, but of herself and the world. In a world of masks behind masks, it’s hard to say where the truth lies.
Release: September 2021
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.
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.
Anna was born in Montreal and recently moved back there, which surprised no one but her. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things best forgotten. Her well-received domestic mysteries, After the Winter and The Au Pair, feature evocative settings and uninhibited female revenge, with a seasoning of moral ambiguity and noir. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and domestic suspense.
Anything but a nostalgia memoir, this book dives deep into family dynamics (the author’s parents died of Spanish flu when she was 6), US social history and the problems of memory itself. All with the inimitable Mary McCarthy voice. But you do get your quota of fun nuns, intellectual nuns etc.
This is one of the Harry Devlin mystery books. Gorgeous atmosphere, Liverpool’s old streets descending into winter and the tug of past injustice. The impact of the weird Dickensian gent who approaches Harry and kicks off the lawyer’s detective efforts isn’t wasted, as you find out in the brilliant denouement (last page!) although I can say no more.
Reinvention is a core theme of my own life. A cancer diagnosis at age 49 and a decision to retire at age 53 prompted me to reassess my life goals. An avid reader, I searched for fiction and nonfiction literature that would help me navigate the uncertain terrain. And then I decided to write the books I wanted to read.
In what genres do you write and what do you like about each one?
I write in several genres, among them fantasy, cozy mystery, and women’s fiction. Each of the novels can also be described as boomer lit. Reinvention is the recurring theme and will appeal primarily (but not exclusively) to boomer women and their older siblings.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
No More Secrets can be described as women’s fiction with historical elements. The tagline—A tale of forbidden love, tragic losses, and reinvention—will appeal to anyone who has been dumped, deceived, or demoted.
The ebook is available on all Amazon platforms.
You manage to sneak a psychic into many of your novels. Tell us more about this special interest of yours.
In my twenties and thirties, I attended holistic fairs and visited several psychics. Each time, I would emerge fascinated and often unsettled by their uncanny insights into my life. When I encountered a plot hole with A Season for Killing Blondes, I decided to introduce a psychic who could provide the protagonist with clarity. In Between Land and Sea, a tale of a middle-aged mermaid, a psychic dominates the second half of the novel. That psychic features prominently in the sequel, The Coming of Arabella. In A Different Kind of Reunion, another psychic helps the protagonist solve the murder.
In No More Secrets, Bellastrega, a psychic companion, appears throughout the storyline. With her assistance, the protagonist recovers enough of her health to help her nieces on their life journeys.
Why did you decide to use multiple POVs in No More Secrets?
Originally, I wrote the entire novel in the first person. While revamping the storyline, I decided to add more characters and alternate between the past and present. I still wanted Angelica Delfino (protagonist) to speak in the first person, but I also needed to give her three nieces their own voices. I wanted readers to have insight into the struggles and motivations of the younger women.
What is the most surprising thing you learned about yourself through writing?
A poster child for left brainers, I assumed I would be a plotter. That had been my modus operandi throughout the 31 years of my teaching career. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I felt stymied and unmotivated whenever I approached writing in a structured way. Anything I outlined would find its way into a recycling bin. After several frustrating months, I sat down and wrote organically. Partway through the manuscript, I did experience the “sagging middle.” When that happened, I stopped to outline the next chapter.
My new label: linear pantser.
What are you currently reading?
I have eclectic tastes and love to curl up with women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological thrillers, cozy mysteries, and self-help. I’ve just finished reading and highly recommend the following novels: The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O’Neal, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue.
If you could have a fantasy lunch date with any Canadian writer, alive or dead, who would it be?
I admire late-blooming authors who have launched successful second acts. I would love to have a fantasy lunch date with one of my Canadian favorites – Louise Penny. Each year, I wait with anticipation for her latest release. In life before COVID-19, I attended several of her author events in Southern Ontario. Equally fascinated by her storylines and personal backstory, I took notes and later reflected on her advice and insights.
Angelica Delfino takes a special interest in the lives of her three nieces, whom she affectionately calls the daughters of her heart. Sensing that each woman is harboring a troubling, possibly even toxic secret, Angelica decides to share her secrets—secrets she had planned to take to the grave. Spellbound, the nieces listen as Angelica travels back six decades to reveal an incredulous tale of forbidden love, tragic loss, and reinvention. It is the classic immigrant story upended: an Italian widow’s transformative journey amid the most unlikely of circumstances.
Inspired by Angelica’s example, the younger women share their “First World” problems and, in the process, set themselves free.
But one heartbreaking secret remains untold…
“Go,” Kelly said. “Your aunt is dying, and this could be your last opportunity to spend some quality time together.”
“Her oncologist shared good news last week,” Nora said. “Her blood counts have improved, and the cancer hadn’t spread since her last visit. He mumbled something about a miracle.”
“A miracle?” Kelly’s eyes widened. “Has your aunt been seeing a healer?”
“You could say that,” Nora said as her eyes twinkled. “Right after Christmas, she hired a companion who’s been able to transform her life. I don’t know her real name. My mother calls her Bellastrega—beautiful witch.” All recent conversations with Ma had focused on Bellastrega. Relieved not to have to share her own problems, Nora had encouraged her mother to talk about the beautiful witch who had turned all their lives upside down. Nora enjoyed the weekly updates that sounded like soap operas.
“Is she a beautiful witch?”
Nora shrugged. “My mother mentioned her dyed-blonde hair, too-skinny body, and watery eyes. She’s put Zia on a vegan diet and an exercise regimen. At Christmas, Zia needed a walker to get around, but now she’s walking freely. My mother and aunt are convinced that Bellastrega is a witch who’ll end up robbing Angelica and leaving.” Nora had tried to point out that if Bellastrega’s intention was to steal, it would make more sense to let Angelica get weaker.
“She sounds intriguing,” Kelly said. “I’d go just to meet this woman.”
“Hmm. I guess.” Nora was curious and wouldn’t mind sitting and chatting with the woman about wellness. But from Zia Angelica’s email, it sounded like Bellastrega would leave soon after everyone arrived.
“Think of it as an adventure. How many beautiful witches have you met in this lifetime?”
A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romances, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
Book three of The Ashley Smeeton Files will be coming out next year! I’m thrilled that one of Canada’s top English-language literary presses, Guernica Editions, has picked up April on Paris Street for publication, in their genre-bending Miroland imprint. Like After the Winter and The Au Pair, it’s domestic suspense with a literary flavour and a seasoning of noir. In this book, Montreal private investigator Ashley Smeeton, none more improbably, swans around Paris on what looks like your basic damsel in distress job. Of course it would be nice to know if the Russian mob is really following them–not to mention get a handle on flighty, spoiled Mirabel Saint Cyr. But do you ever truly know someone?
In my late forties, I realized that I no longer enjoyed reading novels with twenty-something and thirty-something protagonists. It felt like poking into the heads and hearts of young women who could easily be former students. While searching for novels featuring an older crowd, I discovered several late-blooming authors (Maeve Binchy, Frank McCourt, Louise Penny) who had launched successful second acts. Inspired, I decided to populate my essays, stories, and novels with Boomer women and their older sisters.
At first, I wrote primarily for the non-fiction market but later gravitated toward cozy mysteries and paranormal romances. The protagonists in both series were fifty-something women facing transitions into unexpected second acts.
Gilda Greco, the protagonist of A Season for Killing Blondes, won $19 million in Lotto 649.
She returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in the murders of four blondes.
Isabella of the Mediterranean Kingdom aka Barbara Davis, the protagonist of Between Land and Sea, faces an uncertain future after she is aged thirty years and given twenty extra pounds to carry. Middle-aged ex-mermaids have very few role models!
I spent two years editing and polishing both manuscripts. Excited about the publication process, I anxiously awaited input from a visiting male author. Our conversation is etched in memory.
He started by saying, “You’ve got an interesting storyline. And I like how you’ve developed the characters. But…”
“Spill it. I taught adolescents for 31 years. I’ve got rhino skin.”
“Most of the characters are old…uh…older. You need to incorporate more young’uns into the storyline.”
“What do you mean by young’uns?” I couldn’t resist using my teacher voice.
“Characters in their twenties and early thirties. That’s what selling now.”
I smiled and thanked him for his advice, determined not to follow it.
I encountered more ageism at some of the writing workshops and seminars I attended between 2011 and 2012. Several instructors urged me to downplay the “boomer” elements in my query letters and books.
“Don’t mention anything about age in your query letter. They don’t have to know that you’re over fifty.”
“It’s okay to have an older woman as a sleuth. She’ll be invisible, and that works well for sleuths. But make sure you surround her with younger and more vibrant characters.”
“Stay away from senior homes, retirement homes, and nursing homes. Don’t dwell on all that negative stuff.”
Thankfully, the writers and producers of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, The Intouchables, Still Alice, and Downton Abbey didn’t even consider such misguided advice. I can’t even imagine finding younger characters to replace Maggie Smith, Julianne Moore, Judy Dench, Bill Nighy, or François Cluzet in any of their outstanding roles.
Encouraged by this Renaissance of boomer movies, I continued to submit query letters to agents and publishers across Canada and the United States. I was thrilled when both novels found homes at The Wild Rose Press and Soul Mate Publishing.
Seven years have passed since meeting with the visiting author. Much has changed in the literary and film landscapes.
Increasing numbers of bestsellers, among them Every Note Played by Lisa Genova, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and TheUnlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, feature boomer and older protagonists. These books address the transition issues inherent in the lives of boomers, among them widowhood, divorce, aging parents, degenerative diseases, and retirement.
At this year’s Oscars, the recipients of the Best Actor and Best Actress awards—Gary Oldman and France McDormand—were both aged sixty. And Dame Helen Mirren rode around on a jet ski during the ceremonies!
A Different Kind of Reunion
While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.
Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.
Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?
A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.
This month I’m interviewing Amazon international bestselling mystery writer, Judy Penz Sheluk. A Canadian, Judy writes two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries (The Hanged Man’s Noose; A Hole in One) and the Marketville Mysteries (Skeletons in the Attic). Her short crime fiction appears in several collections. Judy is also an accomplished freelance writer, and she serves on the Board of Directors of Crime Writers of Canada, representing Toronto and Southern Ontario.
Anna: Because I write something that I (but no one else) calls Gothic cozy, I think a lot about the different kinds of mystery stories out there, who likes what and why. You’ve told me you write “amateur sleuth with an edge.” Can you tell me why you chose this intriguing sub-category and what you think it adds to the mystery genre?
Judy: Amateur sleuth with an edge was a term I coined when I couldn’t find one that actually fit my books. My books are cozy, in that they have an amateur sleuth, the requisite small town/community, and there’s no overt sex, violence or bad language—but there are also no cats, crafts or cookie recipes… the sort of things you might find in a more traditional cozy. Reviewers often comment that my books are darker in tone than a traditional cozy, and the plots a bit more complex. When I decided to write a novel, I wanted to write a book I’d like to read, a good escape from reality with some meat on the bones. I hope I’ve accomplished that.
Anna: Years ago a quotation from P.D. James lodged in my brain and has never left. She described readers of mysteries (and maybe writers too) as secretly in love with law and order. In part I think this was because of the way crime fiction gets resolved, in line with some version of capital J Justice. Agree or disagree? What, if anything, do crime novels contribute to our ideas of justice?
Judy: I’m not sure I’m secretly in love with law and order, but I do wish for a world where there are fewer bad guys, and the good guy always wins, where what goes around, comes around. So, yes, there is something innately satisfying about reading crime fiction, seeing justice fulfilled, even if it sometimes gives us false expectations of reality. But then again, it’s fiction, right?
Anna: What are your favourite and least favourite crime novel conventions? Have you ever gone out of your way in your books to deliberately bend some conventions and to what purpose?
Judy: Dead body by page 3 (or early on) is one convention that is both a favourite and a least favourite. If it’s done in a formulaic manner, I’m quick to close the book and move on. But if it’s done well, I can buy into it pretty quickly. That said, I love a slow, drawn out mystery. One author I really admire is Sara J. Henry (Troy Chance mysteries). I love the way she paces, slow and steady. At the opposite end of the pacing spectrum is John Sandford. He’s the master of fast-paced mystery/suspense. I never try to deliberately bend conventions, or stick to them, for that matter. My only goal is to write the story inside my head, and hope it translates to the page.
Anna: What makes Canadian crime novels unique?
Judy: I don’t think they are unique, other than in the way that every book, regardless of setting, is unique. I do believe it was very difficult to get a contract from a U.S. publisher for a mystery novel set in Canada, but I think that has changed/is changing, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Louise Penny, Maureen Jennings, Giles Blunt, and other talented authors like them.
Anna: Name three writers who influenced you on your writing journey, for better or worse, because you loved them or hated them. What did you get from them?
Judy: Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian poet and novelist. I took my first creative writing workshop with Barry in 2003. He taught me to “put the best words in the best order,” to avoid clichés, and to never use exclamation marks to express surprise, shock, anger etc. when the sentence should do the work, vs. the punctuation. It’s great advice, although of course, Elmore Leonard is famous for saying the same thing in a different way.
Agatha Christie: The queen of mystery, I read every one of her novels by the time I was twenty-five. The fact that they still hold up today – and are still being made into movies – speaks volumes for her talent and masterful storytelling.
L.M. Montgomery, but not for ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. When I was about eight, a family friend bought me EMILY CLIMBS for Christmas. It’s the story of a young woman, Emily Starr of New Moon, PEI, who wants to grow up to be a writer, and writes in her “Jimmy Book” by candlelight. I remember reading that book and thinking, “that’s what I want to be when I grow up.” I still have EMILY CLIMBS on my bookshelf, and have reread it more than once, as a child and as an adult. When I finally did get to writing my first novel, I named my protagonist Emily. It seemed only fitting.
Anna: What advice would you give a new writer starting out today in Canada?
Judy: I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this question: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”
Anna: Enough with the serious. What was the most embarrassing experience you ever had as a writer? What was the best moment you ever had?
Judy: Most embarrassing: Being invited to speak to a group of Girl Guides on “Career Day” when I was working as a freelance writer. The other speaker that evening made dolls… with hair and eyes to match each little girl there. Suffice it to say that it was a humbling experience. I don’t think too many little girls left there saying, “Hey, I want to grow up and be a writer.”
Best moment: Signing my first book contract (for THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE) with Barking Rain Press. It was Canada Day 2014. I can still remember the sound of the cork on the champagne bottle popping. And dancing in the backyard, barefoot and laughing, with my husband, Mike, my 12 year-old Golden Retriever, Copper, trying to get in on the act.
Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life. You can also find Judy on Facebook (facebook.com/JudyPenzSheluk) and Twitter (@JudyPenzSheluk) and on her Amazon author page, amazon.com/author/judypenzsheluk.