• April on Paris Street

    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.

    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 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.

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My Blog

April on Paris Street

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 Praise of Older Protagonists: Guest Post by Canadian Mystery Author Joanne Guidoccio

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 The Unlikely 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? 

Buy Links 

Amazon (Canada): https://is.gd/vR5Sxn

Amazon (United States): https://is.gd/lU0qw7

The Wild Rose Press: https://is.gd/nQ2ZjT




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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.

Website: https://joanneguidoccio

Book Signing This Saturday June 9th:

Toronto Public Library Event

Book Club Discussion of My Books

Where: Fort York Branch, Toronto Public Library
 When:  May 15, 2018, 7-8 pm

***Please join me for what I hope will be a fun discussion. Copies of After the Winter and The Au Pair are on hold at this branch. Everyone is welcome.***

Authors With Cats: Meet Kitsy and Charlie


Interview with Canadian Mystery Writer Judy Penz Sheluk

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.

Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including the publisher: Barking Rain Press: https://barkingrainpress.org/judy-penz-sheluk/, as well as on Audible: https://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_1_srAuth?searchAuthor=Judy+Penz+Sheluk&qid=1509387400&sr=1-1


Toronto Public Library Coffee and Books discussion

January 17 TPL book club discussion on my books and the uses of the Gothic


Praise from Kirkus Reviews for The Au Pair:

“An aspiring private investigator uncovers a mystery when she takes a job as an au pair.

Ashley Smeeton always dreamed of becoming a sleuth. When she was 9, she witnessed her first investigation when a murder mystery unfolded in her hometown. Now in her mid-20s, she has set up an agency in Montreal, but she is unable to accept clients until she receives her license from the government. In need of cash, she accepts a summer job as an au pair at Columbine Lodge in the Laurentian Mountains. Her client is Layla Sampson, a single mother with a 4-year-old daughter, Meade. When Ashley arrives at the lodge, she encounters an eccentric and wealthy but deeply dysfunctional family. Lionel Sampson owns the lodge and controls the finances. Along with Layla and Meade, he shares the home with his sister, Edyth, and nephew, Peter. After a slow start, Ashley bonds with the quiet but perceptive Meade and befriends members of the household staff, including the charming and seductive Jon Perez. What begins as a routine job takes an ominous turn when residents of the lodge die suddenly, and Ashley is drawn into a web of family secrets and treachery. Dowdall’s (After the Winter, 2017) latest novel offers a resourceful heroine, atmospheric settings, and well-plotted suspense. First introduced in After the Winter, Ashley is a likable heroine whose inquisitive nature helps her navigate the complicated dynamics of the Sampson family. Dowdall skillfully uses the settings throughout the tale, including the bustling city of Montreal—featuring “the thundering boxcars and the whine of the electric train”—and the lodge with its unique hillside design. Although the settings are effective, there are a few similarities between the lodge and Midwinter, the Quebec estate in After the Winter. Both are remote estates owned by wealthy but troubled families. Perhaps Ashley’s next case will keep her in Montreal. The storytelling is strong and confident, and Dowdall includes enough back story to satisfy both newcomers and established fans of the series. This installment should appeal to fans of Louise Penny.

A well-crafted Gothic suspense story with an engaging heroine.”


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Gothic Suspense

Posted on December 1, 2017 by Joanne Guidoccio

I’m happy to welcome Canadian mystery author Anna Dowdall to the Power of 10 series. Today, Anna shares her extensive knowledge of Gothic suspense and her novels, After the Winter and The Au Pair.

What the heck is it anyway?

Everybody knows this type of story! It often features a decaying mansion, an isolated yet curious heroine, family secrets, sometimes a child in peril, dramatic weather, disguise and switched identities, and let us not forget menacing and/or intellectually-compromised lower orders. The book covers usually capture at least some of these things. As for what it’s all about, Gothic suspense, says Stephen Knight in Crime Fiction since 1800, “has powerful appeal as a genre speaking about—and validating—individual feeling, including fear and horror… It… makes central the female experience of powerlessness and oppression, and links these emotive forces to places redolent of the past, the obscure, the mysterious…” Nowadays the Gothic heroine is enterprising, she rises to the threat. She’s a brave inquirer into toxic secrecy and domestic chaos. She perceives danger where others are oblivious. She’s no shrinking violet either, her determination to act is the means of resolving the mystery. Which is why I reward her with a handsome and marriageable man sometimes, along with other desirable things such cold hard cash.

What’s the crossover with this domestic noir thing you keep reading about?

I think it was the American editor Sarah Weinman (check out her book Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives) who coined the term domestic noir, to describe some wonderful and under-recognized mid-century women writers who mix suspense and dangerous domestic scenarios and a female protagonist to tremendous effect. Writers like Ethel Lina White and Charlotte Armstrong. You have to go back a ways to discover that books like Gone Girl are really just standing on the shoulders of, imho, better antecedents. Lots of these domestic noir books are just saturated with Gothic mood, in a far from hokey way.

Why do you gravitate to it as a writer? What do you achieve with it?

Crime fiction is full of delicious cliches but some of the characters, especially in traditional hard-boiled tough-guy fiction, are pretty sexist. I want my Gothic ingenues, the ones wandering around the uncanny old house and picking up the “something is wrong” vibe, to have plenty of intellect as well as intuition. Also, I’ve taken the dangerous (because powerful) femme fatale cliche from old-school hard-boiled crime fiction and, after leading the reader down the garden path for a few hundred pages, turned it upside down. Plus, in my books femme fatales are actually allowed to live, they’re usually killed off! In fact, I like to mix up bedroom-eyed ingenues and soulful femme fatale types so you might have trouble distinguishing them by the time the book finishes. Sally Ryder in After the Winter might seem at first like just another ingenue on a romantic binge. But it’s her willingness to bend the rules and substitute other secrets for the ones she’s investigating that in the end gives her choices and decisions symbolic importance and moral weight, I hope.

How can escapist fiction be serious?

These conventions of the Gothic novel are perfect to explore the dangers that lurk within women’s domestic lives, and what is more serious and timely than that? Crime fiction in general allows writers to explore justice questions: questions like who really pays and who gets away with what. You can invest a fairly restrictive crime plot with as much social and moral significance as you want, for example by bending the conventions and changing the typical outcomes. You can present ideal revenges and undercut status quo justice outcomes that further victimize. That’s as good as Yann Martel and his talking tiger any day. What’s serious fiction anyway?

How does Canada lend itself to Gothic suspense?

Lots of bad weather (we know how to work those terrible winter storms), isolated countryside, brooding nature, big cities with seedy underbellies, ugly and/or suppressed history, and women on a mission.

What other writers flirt with its elements?

So many writers who are considered serious and literary have delved into the Gothic: all the Brontes, even Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, our own Margaret Atwood and Nobel laureate Alice Munro. There’s that whole Ontario Gothic aspect in Munro, that atmosphere that’s creepy and clings. Although my books are so far situated in Quebec, I think I will have to mine that Ontario mood at some point, it’s just so rich.

You’ve described your genre as Gothic Cozy. Where does Cozy come into things?

That was probably a slightly playful description, but it’s meant to hit on a mix of things I go after. If I cited the British director Sally Wainwright, known to us all via Netflix, as an example of “feminist cozy,” people might question my judgment. But think of how her female victims find almost superhuman warrior strength to fight back, for example in Happy Valley. Or how Last Tango in Halifax presents a woman living happily ever after, with a certain light disregard for the spot of murder in her past. What’s cozier than that? My books After the Winter and The Au Pair explore the worst possible things that can happen to women and then contrive in the conclusion to leave most of the women characters in a much better place, for them if not for justice norms. That’s downright utopian in some respects, and in stark contrast to the real world. What I say, to myself and to readers, is this: let’s examine those unlikely outcomes, let’s indulge in the solace of dreaming about them as at least logically possible.

So where does romance fit in?

Sometimes the terms romantic suspense and Gothic suspense are used almost interchangeably, and there’s usually a romance plot in Gothic suspense. The novel without sex and love is pretty rare, but as a writer of Gothic suspense I note a certain unstated or semi-stated distinction out there between “good” noir crime stories, that take a suitably cold and manly approach to romance and women in general, and allegedly sappy romance-based stories. All I can say is this: in so many instances of good Gothic suspense that I’ve read, while there are pro-forma romantic endings which usually symbolize the resolution of the mystery plot, the underlying themes often have little to do with romance. And the heroine in many cases seems to me to be less motivated by romance and interest in men than by other things—work, self-respect, children and their safety, relationships with other women, cats, revenge, money, equality, sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, exorcising demons, her place in the world. You just have to dig down a little. Take Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca as an example: is the theme the triumph of love or is it a book about exacting justice across the grave?

Where is your writing going?

A very kind and old friend, who happens to be a professor of English at UC/Irvine, is convinced that I will write a dozen of these playfully dark little feminist genre novels and that over time I will delve so deeply into the Gothic and its possibilities that I will write myself out the other side. That could be. I have told myself however that I would write a half dozen. And even as I wander through the conventions, savouring, twisting and discarding as I go, it’s just as likely I’ll end up in some other type of light genre fiction as anything that would qualify as serious. When I think of my characters, I realize my effort is to make them mixed. I want them to have characteristics of their stereotype (I do love my genre), but also a certain mutability, with traits that defy and contradict the stock type. For example, Ashley Smeeton, my PI and series heroine beginning with The Au Pair, is likeable in a quirkily aloof way—she’s meant to be a foil to the emotional Gothic suspense plots she finds herself in. So far, so standard. But then, unlike stock detectives who never change, I find she’s far from impervious to contact with the uncanny. So I’m not entirely sure where she’s headed. I can say though that in book three Ashley’s unlikely to escape a psychic wound. Does that mean my writing is getting “weightier?” Maybe in the sense of number of words, because the third book seems well on the way to becoming a longer book.

What are your final words on the Gothic?

I invite you to check out my website at http://www.annadowdall.com, where I muse about everything Gothic-related, from Kim Novak’s charm as a femme fatale and Hillary Clinton’s appetite for escapist crime fiction, to the unknown western side entrance, down dark and little-noticed steps, to Toronto’s High Park, scene of the Margaret Millar 1945 classic The Iron Gates.


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Gothic Suspense

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.