Murder in a Distinct Society

Montréal Eyes

"(Montreal is) almost as crooked as we are"

-- Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in "The Pencil"

"I had to stick my finger in my ear and raise my voice to blot out the jabber from a gang of French-Canadians who had decided to convene near the exit to the Smith terminal. Montréal must be the loudest city north of Dallas."

-- Loren Estleman's Amos Walker in The Witch Finder

Sad to say, my hometown of Montréal has produced only a handful of eyes, which is a shame, since it seems like such a natural setting for detective fiction.

At least to me.

It's a city suffering from multiple personality disorder, always in conflict with itself. The tensions between English/French, European/American, Catholic/Protestant and Quebec/Canada are played out every day in a city being torn apart by its own doubts, even as we drink and dance 'til dawn.

We line up on freezing February sidewalks outside Schwarz's in the middle of the night when the bars close to scarf down a medium fat; we live or die by the Habs' latest victory or defeat, we will argue about politics and art and ideas and hockey until the cows come home. Or they kick us out of the joint.

We've had political corruption as a grand old tradition since about forever (in the fifties, Los Angeles' Raymond Chandler called Montréal "almost as crooked as we are"), the centuries-old never-ending political squabbling between the English and the French, the fact we've served as a major smuggling center for everything from stolen cars to cigarewttes to guns to drugs (the famous "French Connection" was from Paris, via Montréal, to New York) and booze (Seagram's did very well by Prohibition, mercibeaucoup) and we've had enough organized crime to keep a pissing contest between three or four levels of law enforcement, often corrupt and/or incompetent, going for years. And then, of course, we've got an "open-city" mentality that seems to attract more than its fair share of strippers, bikers, fugitives, musicians, rebels, poets, pilgrims, students, runaways, artists, wingnuts and other free-thinkers, and you've got a city that's never far from boiling over, a city that will break your heart with a flirtatious laugh, or pick your pocket.

Not that we've completely without crime fiction. Hell, we've even produced a few decent fictional private eyes, but until now, I don't think anyone's tried to compile a list of them.

Looks like one of those situations where, if you want something done, you'll have to do it yourself....


  • Even though he works in Vegas, Randy "Frenchie" Lafleur, who appears in writer/director Bashar Shbib 1994's film Ride Me is an honourary Montréal eye.

  • I have a soft spot for Palet dégueulasse by Michel Dolbec-- it's set in Montreal, has hockey in it and France's La Poulpe tracking down a hitman in the East End. Author Dolbec was the correspondent for La Presse Canadienne in Paris. There was also a nifty graphic novel.

And then, of course, there's the rest of Québec...

  • Mary Roberts by Michael Lennox and George Zuckerman (Québec City)

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks for the prod, Sarah. But don't even get me started on other Montréal pulp fiction... :-)

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