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Canada's top mystery novelist stops in for a visit

The 12th mystery novel from the mind and keyboard of Gail Bowen featuring Joanne Kilbourne, sleuth and woman-about-Saskatchewan, is on book store shelves right now.

The 12th mystery novel from the mind and keyboard of Gail Bowen featuring Joanne Kilbourne, sleuth and woman-about-Saskatchewan, is on book store shelves right now.

Bowen, who was in Estevan last Tuesday evening to read segments of The Nesting Dolls to an enthusiastic local audience, said she is now halfway through the 13th book that will feature Kilbourne and her crew.

The Regina-based author, university educator, columnist and playwright said she likes Joanne the character, identifies with her, and isn't tired of writing the mysteries that surround this fictional person. That means devoted readers can probably expect at least a few more of these novels that are set in Saskatchewan with very believable Prairie personalities.

The art of mystery writing can be a strange one sometimes. For instance, Bowen confessed that in most instances, "I'll know how the story is going to proceed, I'll know who the villain is as an example, and I may have an idea of how it could work out, but then I'll realize I don't know how the mystery will be solved."

Bowen spoke to about 30 to 40 interested readers and writers who had gathered in the Estevan Public Library on a very cold evening, to visit with her and listen to the excerpts from The Nesting Dolls.

Later, speaking with the media, Bowen said that in the next novel, "Joanne's life gets turned upside down. She has been living quite comfortably lately." Bowen was perhaps setting the table for devoted readers of the Kilbourne series to keep in touch with one of their favourite characters.

Bowen, who has been proclaimed as Canada's best mystery writer, is adamant about keeping true to Saskatchewan. She said that when she finds herself in gatherings with other Canadian authors, she is often questioned as to why she insists on residing in Saskatchewan.

"They can't understand why I wouldn't put myself down in Toronto," she said, adding that her contemporaries have the attitude that they needed to be located in the epicentre of the Canadian publishing world.

"The attitude seems to be that if you're any good, why are you in Saskatchewan?" she said with a laugh. "Thankfully, we're getting rid of that quickly around this province."

Taking that approach even further, she said she often hears from fans outside Canada who tell her "do you know how lucky you are to be Canadian?"

Bowen said she knows all about the fortunate life we can claim as Canadians and Saskatchewanians and "we're lucky because we can still work our problems out. I'm not a politician and I'll get off subject here, but our health system is an example of how and why we're so fortunate here." Bowen said she is a disciplined writer. Thirty-two years of teaching have given her the ability to focus and grab the opportunities "to write during the cracks in every day routines."

She added that one rule she has with her daily writing is that "I'll never leave it in a bad spot."

She has learned to edit while travelling in the car (as a passenger of course), and doesn't find it difficult if she has to work backwards or return to certain areas of the story that she thought were already completed.

Bowen said she was extremely lucky insofar as she found a publisher willing to print her offerings almost on the first crack.

"I've found myself in the right place at the right time in other cases too," she said, noting that a bookseller acquaintance had an arrangement with Peter Gzowski, the CBC national radio host of Morningside, to supply him with a bag of books on regular occasions, that would feature works by Canadian authors among others.

One of Bowen's first mystery novels found its way into one of those Gzowski bags and before she knew it, she was receiving national exposure.

"So I know I work hard at it, but I also know I've been lucky," she said.

She's now working on a play, and is slated for the Calgary WordFest later, and is reluctant to ever say no to a request for her attendance or an appearance.

"I say, always say yes, then worry about the consequences later," she said with a laugh.

Following her reading and media interview, Bowen enjoyed a relaxing time with readers, autographing books and joining them for snacks and refreshments.

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