The Alibi: a Booked ezine

Issue 7, October 27, 2005
ISSN: 1715-9105

Watch BOOKED Investigates Giles Blunt's
Blackfly Season
(all times EST):

  • Saturday, Oct. 29, 8PM on ACCESS Television
  • Tuesday, Nov. 1, 12:30PM and 8:30PM, and Wednesday, Nov. 2, 4AM on BookTelevision
  • Friday, Nov. 4, 9PM, and Saturday, Nov. 5, 1AM, on CLT
  • Wednesday, Nov. 9, 7AM, 6PM, and 11PM on CourtTV Canada
Booked Television: October 22-November 2
BOOKED investigates Michael Connelly's The Closers

Blackfly Season by Giles Blunt ISBN: 0679314423

Join BOOKED experts as they enter the world of the drug trade, biker gangs, ritualistic murder and entomology in Giles Blunt’s Blackfly Season.

In this episode, our host Fred Yackman is joined by:

Booked Experts
Killer Reviews with Paul Bergen and Barry Hammond

The Alibi's favourite 'crime geek' book reviewers, Paul and Barry, are based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and can be found prowling the aisles of local independent bookstores.

Paul and Barry Photo
Article Title: Armchair Travelling

Barry: One of the major trends today is Forensic Crime Fiction. It relates to hard-boiled crime fiction, I think, in that it grew out of the writers wanting a greater sense of realism in their work. If they were going to write police procedurals, they wanted the details to be correct. In this day and age, there's a lot of forensic analysis of evidence and that has to be reflected in the books. I think the guy who started the trend and really put it on the map was Thomas Harris in 1981's Red Dragon. He not only got the forensic detail correct but brought us into the world of the FBI profiler, which has been used so much now it's almost a cliché.

Paul: I think you are right as far as the modern era goes but what about Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, the first clue-obsessed detective that I remember reading. There were always references to his encyclopedic knowledge, to the fact that he had written whole books on things like the marks one's occupation left on the hands, or on how to trace footsteps.

Barry: Very true! There's also the writers that come from that world. Both Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs had day jobs that were located in the day to day science before they became writers. The serial killer is very much part of that world as the science of profiling and forensic analysis are part of the tools with which they're usually caught. Its interesting that though forensics can be applied to most any crime, "forensic" crime novels, like the Thomas Harris novels, tend to deal with serial killers. It may be because with killing, the body is a big bag of clues to work with and with many other crimes, the obvious thing, as in larceny, is what is missing.

Paul: I think that though it's nice to bring reality to the table, it can be trying when you couple extreme acts with realistic detail and good writing. John Connolly's books (starting with Every Dead Thing) are really hard to handle because he is a gifted and lyrical writer who manages to come up with the most horrific images married with deep emotional resonance that literally have you putting the book down and backing away from it. And then on the other hand, the concentration on details can obscure the fact that the book lacks everything else. I find this with a lot of the CSI shows in that so much airtime is spent on close ups of test tubes and bullets burrowing into bodies with little on much else.

Barry: The problem with the serial killer - forensic novels is that, if you're not careful, you can wind up glorifying the criminal act in a way that's both sensational, distasteful, and disrespectful and detrimental to the victims. It's also the thing I disliked about Birdman, the serial killer novel by Mo Hayder.

Paul: I agree about the danger of glorification. Merely by concentrating on the details, and especially in the evil versus good genius novels like Jeffrey Deaver's The Bone Collector. The detail work gets away from the idea of victims and often has the protagonist admiring his or her opponent for their cleverness. Then the "forensic" writers have to up the ante to an even smarter and crueler villain. Its not often that cruelty and detail work part company. Though I can enjoy the trickiness of these books, I tend to enjoy the messier, more humane books.

Barry: I agree. In real life most criminals are caught by following the big blood stains on the street up to their door, or simply by polling the people the victim hung out with. Forensic novels both deny the spontaneity of many crimes and speak to our wish that the application of science and logic will solve every crime. I think that we like these novels and shows like CSI because they make us think that evildoers, no matter how clever, will not get away with it.

More From Paul and Barry's Recommended Reading List:

Giles Blunt does police procedurals with respect for the detail of the science, but without losing sight of the victims.
Michael Connelly in Los Angeles is also great.
John Katzenbach's In The Heat Of The Summer and The Traveler.
Joseph Wambaugh's The Blooding, about the first DNA case in England.
T. Jefferson Parker's The Blue Hour.

Writer Rap Sheet: Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly Photo

Photo Credit: Janna Eggebeen

"Living in New York gave me enough distance from northern Ontario to see it through a very long lens. I now visit North Bay and it seems exotic. It is exotic. It's ridiculous that anybody should live there, really, in the land of ice and snow. I mean, what kind of person comes to a hunk of rock surrounded by ice and pine trees and figures it's a good bet to settle down there? Okay, fur traders. But as soon as they have enough money, fur traders head for Florida just like everyone else.”

--Author Giles Blunt

Giles Blunt came to crime fiction because of one particular story: “I wanted to write a book about a detective who is himself being investigated for a crime. I thought it would give the character an unusual take on criminals and victims.” And thus Detective John Cardinal made his first appearance. Blunt has continued writing stories about Cardinal, the most recent being Blackfly Season.

One of Blackfly Season’s notable and tragic characters is Kevin, the junkie. Blunt based Kevin on his brief experience with addicts when he worked with Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society. “I think addictions - whether to gambling, alcohol, food, or what have you - probably look pretty much the same from the inside. An addict spends most of his time not in thinking about how he's going to get his next fix, but fantasizing about how he's going to quit. Come Monday, come New Year, I'll just have this one more and then it's over. So that's what I kept in mind in writing Kevin.”

When it comes to advice for aspiring writers, Blunt suggests: “Find a job that’s relatively congenial, that you can enjoy, that will pay the rent and keep you in writing supplies. Don’t expect the writing to pay, because it rarely does, and if you depend on it, you will add enormous stress to your life that is in no way productive.”

Books by Giles Blunt

Blackfly Season
The Delicate Storm
Forty Words for Sorrow

Case Book: Dr. Felix Sperling, Entomologist

"Entomology can provide a background against which you can measure the passage of time, or different environmental conditions such as pollution, or even as a source of information for simply understanding the nature of biology and life."

-- Dr. Felix Sperling
Dr. Sperling's maggots

Dr. Sperling is a Professor of Entomology at the University of Alberta. He has done lab research using DNA to identify flies and maggots, which will allow for faster identification of a species - and in forensics, time is of the essence. Dr. Sperling provided his expertise for Giles Blunt during the writing of Blackfly Season. BOOKED and The Alibi got to do the same. Squeamish be warned, today we're talking maggots.

"The cycle of insects on a body, starting from death and ending with the last insects leaving, is a very complex chronology," begins Dr. Sperling, pulling out a blue plastic bucket containing some liver. "Generally speaking, however, the first things to find the body will be blow flies. Blow flies are very good at detecting absolutely fresh corpses. They don't eat them, though - flies exist to disperse and lay eggs. They live off of the food they ate during the maggot phase of their life cycle." At this point, Dr. Sperling lifts up a black piece of liver to expose greyish maggots writhing under the meat and amongst the sawdust substrate. [We warned you! --Ed]

"Maggots are eating machines, and it is these that eat the flesh and use the fluids. After these first flies have begun their cycle, other insects will start to arrive and lay eggs. These newcomers often have predacious maggots - they will eat the blow fly maggots. After these, you will find flies such as cheese skippers which feed on fatty areas or dried areas of the body, and finally, after weeks or months, you will get beetles. Beetles have strong mandibles and are very good at scraping away at things. They will sometimes be on the corpse for a year or two before they finish scraping what they can."

From this very general timeline, investigators can get an idea of how long it has been since the body was left outdoors undisturbed. We left Dr. Sperling as he put his maggot farm back in a well-ventilated storage unit, cheerfully remarking that "it's important to put them into a place where there's a strong fan so that the rest of the building doesn't get too upset with the smell of these being here."

Interrogating the Forum: The Forum Responds to 'You Write Like a Girl'

From the Mod:

This week in the forum BOOKED club members talked about the classification of fiction, and the effect it can have on book club discussion.

One of our new members, Rosanna, is a published author and policewoman. The Alibi is happy to give her a plug: visit Rosanna's website at

If you're interested in participating in any of the Forum discussions, or have a topic you'd like to discuss, drop by the Forum. You must register as a Booked Club member to leave posts in the Forum, or to cast your vote in polls.

Sign up here!

From the Forum this week:

Minx: Is it just me, or does anyone else have trouble with the term "crime writing"? I prefer the standard terms of mystery fiction, detective fiction, private eye novels, police pummel them all into the term crime writing seems really reductive to me.
Truth is, it's never about the crime that we read this genre.

Carmen Sandiego: it is reductive, but it's a convenient umbrella term. i suppose too that the only thing that all of the different varieties of crime fiction have in common is that there is a crime somewhere along the way. i do agree with you, don't get me wrong. it's easier to intelligently discuss a book if you can accurately describe it. but then, that's why i come here. other mystery geeks!

Ms.Seeker: I'm more of a mystery lover than crime one so I see where you're coming from. However, it is most often a crime that initiates the 'mystery' so I see why this site chose to define this genre as such, especially considering that they seem to be interested in exploring the forensic science and crime investigation aspects involved in mystery novels.

rainbowdar: What classifies as crime? Right now I'm reading Stephen King's "Christine", which is about a possessed car that kills people. That's a crime right?

Rosanna: My car is possessed and it hates me. However, I don't think "Christine" could be considered a crime novel. King writes horror. Now, some of Dean Koontz' books are a mix of both crime and horror.

Last Words

Coming up on BOOKED Television: BOOKED investigates Greg Iles' Blood Memory. Expert lineup for this show: Criminal Intelligence Analyst, Jonathan Alston; Book Reviewer, Paul Bergen; Forensic Odontologist, Dr. Ron Haines; Psychiatrist, Dr. Judy Ustina
Check Broadcast Dates and Times

Look for the next Alibi - we’ll introduce you to Greg Iles, and Ron Haines will talk about forensic odontology, and 2004’s devastating tsunami.

The views expressed in this ezine are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Reel Girls Media Inc.
©MMV Reel Girls Media All Rights Reserved

Here are the upcoming books, in order, that our experts will be dissecting in the weeks ahead.
Get reading!

Blood Memory - Greg Iles
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
Memory Book - Howard Engel
Shock Wave - James O. Born
Cross Bones - Kathy Reichs
He Who Fears the Wolf - Karin Fossum


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