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Dec. 3, 2021 | Friday
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NOTL writer's detective trilogy debuts at book fair
NOTL's Paul Masson has published three new books of detective fiction in one volume, The ABC Files. (Supplied)

Paul Masson

Special to The Lake Report

I recently published a collection of three detective novels, "The ABC Files," which have as protagonists a retired judge, Hamish Cameron, and his assistant Sean Carroll, who live in a picturesque seaside town in Nova Scotia.

It is available in paperback on Amazon, and will be on sale at a NOTL Writers’ Circle Book Fair in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Dec. 4.

I am hosting this “Books at the Barn” event in front of my red barn at 322 Simcoe St., where I and a number of other area authors will have our books on display.

People ask how I got started writing detective fiction. My job as an economist led me to publish a number of scholarly articles and several books. After I retired, I looked for a way to continue writing and I decided to try penning mystery novels.

Writing fiction posed different challenges from the type of analytical and descriptive writing that I was used to, but I welcomed the opportunity to learn something new. I first took a series of creative writing courses on Coursera where the subjects included: how to craft plot, characters, scene and style, with a final module on how to get published.

The courses were intended to be taken sequentially, but I mistakenly registered for the first four courses simultaneously, so I had to do four writing assignments a week rather than one. It was fun getting up in the morning and dashing off another story, and I learned a lot.

I’ve always enjoyed reading detective fiction, and as a teenager I read all I could find by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Georges Simenon and many other writers.

Detective novels have a structure. They usually involve a crime or mystery to be solved by the protagonist, and hopefully, by the reader. Authors typically use the same protagonist in a series of novels, so their books contain familiar characters like Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason or Inspecteur Maigret. And many novelists exploit the contrast between idyllic surroundings and a horrible crime. Writers of English village mysteries are masters of this.

I decided to try my hand at the genre. The two most important choices I had to make were: Where to set the stories? Who should be my protagonist? I decided my detective would be someone older, a retired person like myself. I felt there were issues relating to seniors that were not given the attention they deserved. But I made my detective a retired judge, not a retired economist. I didn’t want him to be too close to me.

As for the location, I wanted my stories to be set in a small town in Canada which was not too obviously patterned after Niagara-on-the-Lake. I chose to create a fictional town called Ashcroft-by-the-Sea on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, south of Halifax. Being on a body of water is an important ingredient of some of my stories. I am a member of the NOTL Sailing Club, which shares some features with the fictional Ashcroft Yacht Club.

The first novel in "The ABC Files," entitled "Hamish Cameron Investigates," begins with my hero in an upscale retirement home, New Dawn, located on the outskirts of Ashcroft. When one of his friends dies, as does a nurse employed there, Hamish is suspicious. He enlists a volunteer at the home, Sean Carroll, to help him investigate what is going on, and what they discover puts them in danger. Later, Hamish gets involved in a conflict over development in Ashcroft, and is hired to investigate sabotage at the yacht club.

I am indebted to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Writers’ Circle, which groups together around two dozen writers who live in our little town. Writers can submit partial drafts of novels, poems or short stories and receive comments of the other writers. They are unfailingly kind in their criticism and constructive in their suggestions. I profited much from their input and encouragement, as well as those of my wife, Betsy, who is a writer in her own right – specializing in local history.

The extra time on my hands from the pandemic led me to start a second novel on the heels of the first one. Volume 2 of "The ABC Files," entitled "A Chorus of Evil," is the account of Hamish and Sean’s investigation of two cases of child abduction.

They are hired initially by a woman who gave her daughter up for adoption almost 20 years before. In the course of their investigation, there is an abduction of a teenage girl living in the same neighbourhood. What else do they have in common? The answer leads our detectives in a surprising direction.

My interest in sailing, and my sailing excursions in the Bahamas, were the inspiration for my third novel, "Evil Through the Spyglass." In this book, a school principal hires Hamish to find the source of drugs plaguing his school. The trail leads to an “outward-bound” sailing ship for at-risk teens. Sean and Hamish run into unexpected danger in their search for the master criminal.

Though I chose not to publish the individual novels in print form, but rather as ebooks, I thought that the three of them together would make a nice sized book.

Hence, in July, I brought out the collection as a paperback on Amazon. It will also be on sale for $15 at the NOTL Writers’ Circle Book Fair on Dec. 4, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 322 Simcoe St. in Old Town.

I look forward to chatting with interested readers and, if they so desire, signing my book for them. Information about all the Writers’ Circle authors participating in the book fair and their books will follow in another article.

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