Bowen, Gail 1942-
BOWEN, Gail 1942-
PERSONAL: Born September 22, 1942, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Albert Benjamin (a manager) and Doris Mary (a homemaker; maiden name, Miller) Bartholomew; married Ted Wren Bowen (a researcher), August 31, 1968; children: Hildy Wren, Max Benjamin, Nathaniel Peter. Education: University of Toronto, B.A., 1964; University of Waterloo, M.A., 1975; University of Saskatchewan, graduate study, 1976-79. Politics: New Democrat. Religion: Anglican.
ADDRESSES: Home—2836 Retallack St., Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4S 1S7. Offıce—SIFC/English, Room 118, College West, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4S 0A2. E-mail— [email protected]
CAREER: University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, instructor, 1976-79; Gabriel Dumont Institute, Regina, Saskatchewan, instructor, 1979-85; University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, lecturer, 1979-85, assistant professor of English, 1986-97, associate professor of English, 1997—, department head, 1997—.
MEMBER: Crime Writers of Canada, Association of Canadian Television and Radio Actors, Young Women's Christian Association, Saskatchewan Writers Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Books in Canada/W. H. Smith First Novel Award nomination, 1990, for Deadly Appearances; Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award, Crime Writers of Canada, 1995, for A Colder Kind of Death: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery; Woman of Distinction, Arts and Culture, YWCA, 1997.
"JOANNE KILBOURN" MYSTERY NOVELS
Deadly Appearances, Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1990.
The Wandering Soul Murders, Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 1992, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1994.
A Colder Kind of Death: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
A Killing Spring: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Verdict in Blood, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Burying Ariel, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
The Glass Coffın, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
(With Ron Marken) 1919: The Love Letters of George and Adelaide (novella), Prairie Books (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1987.
(With Ron Marken) Dancing in Poppies (play adaptation of 1919), Canadian Plains Research Center/University of Regina (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2002.
Also the author of six plays: Dancing in Poppies, Beauty and the Beast, The Tree, The Stillborn Lover, The Nightingale, and Peter Pan, all produced at the Globe Theatre, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1993-94. Arts columnist for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)-Radio, 1991-97; columnist for This Morning, 1997-99.
ADAPTATIONS: The Wandering Soul Murders was performed on CBC Radio's Between the Covers; the "Joanne Kilbourn" mystery novels have been adapted for a series of television movies on CTV, by Shaftesbury Films, Toronto, Canada.
SIDELIGHTS: Gail Bowen is a Canadian author and educator, best known for her mystery series featuring the university professor and amateur sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. Winner of the 1995 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel of the year, Bowen resembles her reluctant crime solver in both her academic background in Saskatchewan, Canada, in her marriage to a politically connected husband, and in the trials and tribulations she undergoes balancing career and raising several children. Bowen once commented: "My academic training is in Canadian literature. I am particularly interested in regional literature—everybody's! I hope, through my writing, to communicate something of what it is like to live in the Canadian prairies.... As well, I am interested in the question of good and evil; hence, the murder mysteries."
Bowen, who learned to read at the age of three by perusing the tombstones in a Toronto cemetery, carried this fascination with the written word into her career, becoming a tenured member of the English department at Saskatchewan's University of Regina in 1986. Her first publication, 1919: The Love Letters of George and Adelaide, is a novella coauthored with Ron Marken. The book details the aftermath of World War I as seen through three characters: the veterans George McTaggart and Roger Currie, who meet at a convalescent home in Toronto, and Adelaide Farlinger, who is volunteering at the home. In the end, Roger is too overwhelmed by his injuries—he has been blinded—to go on. George and Adelaide thereafter try to cope with his suicide and the new postwar Canada in letters to one another. The book was later adapted as the play Dancing in Poppies, performed at Regina's Globe Theatre in 1993. As Jocelyn Caton noted in a review for Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, "this unique play succeeds because of the identifiable Canadian settings but also because it moves beyond the familiar and becomes an inquiry into war, political responsibility, courage and love." Bowen has also authored five other plays, which have all been performed at the Globe.
However, Bowen was increasingly turning her hand to mystery novels by this time. Her fist Joanne Kilbourn book, Deadly Appearances, was published in 1990 and introduces the professor of political science. In this debut, Kilbourn sets out to uncover what happened to the Saskatchewan politician Andy Boychuck, who dies one day just before giving a speech. She finds answers in Boychuck's past. Nominated as a best first novel for the Books in Canada/W. H. Smith awards, Deadly Appearances sets the tone for the series, which offers challenging puzzles as well as ones that are rich in details of domestic life and the world of the Canadian prairie.
The second in the series, Murder at the Mendel, published in the United States as Love and Murder, is "less a mystery than an elegant and painstaking examination of family ties and friendships," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. In this outing, Joanne is trying to solve multiple murders, beginning with that of a gallery owner who is showing the controversial works of her childhood friend, Sally Love. The Publishers Weekly reviewer went on to note that Bowen's novel "subverts the usual norms of plot," with the first third consisting of a "tense, masterfully written character study." The book was, according to the same critic, "bold and powerful." Bowen's 1992 novel, The Wandering Soul Murders, looks at serial killings and the ruthless games of a sex ring. Two of Joanne's children—Mieka and Taylor—figure in this tale, which is a "harrowing look at the difficulties faced by those trying to break from the effects of an abusive childhood," according to a Publishers Weekly critic.
Wider recognition came to Bowen with her fourth Kilbourn mystery, A Colder Kind of Death: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery. Joanne is thrust backward in time with the prison death of the man who killed her politician husband six years previously. Before his death, however, this man sends Joanne a letter stating that her husband's death was part of larger conspiracy involving other politicians. A reviewer for Maclean's noted that Bowen "creates a credible plot," and "offers an entertaining read."
Springtime finally comes to Saskatchewan in A Killing Spring: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery, in which Joanne is beset by university problems on all sides. She helps out her Native American police inspector boyfriend in telling the widow of the head of the journalism department that her husband apparently died of autoerotic asphyxiation. Then a sexual harassment charge by a young student leads to murder, while a television friend of Joanne's falls into a strange relationship with an abusive man. "Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "insight which makes this a compelling novel as well as a gripping mystery."
In the sixth book of the series, Verdict in Blood, Joanne's friend, a psychologist named Hilda McCourt, is visiting when the body of a judge known for harsh sentences is found. This judge, Justine Blackwell, was seen by McCourt the night before in an attempt to determine if a recent turnaround in her feelings toward those she sent to prison was simply a change of heart or a symptom of senility. Such a determination becomes increasingly important when it is discovered that Judge Blackwell has left two wills: one in which her estate goes to her daughters, and another in which the money goes to create a halfway house for ex-convicts. Soon enough, Joanne is also drawn into the action in this book that "should land [Bowen] into the high profile Marcia Muller and J. A. Jance territory she deserves to share," according to a contributor for Publishers Weekly. The same reviewer also praised the "convincing array of details" about Joanne and her family. For a Globe and Mail critic, the novel is Bowen's "best yet," one that "works from first page to last."
Joanne becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a female colleague at her Regina college in Burying Ariel, a mystery replete with feminist overtones and a professor accused of sexual harassment. "Bowen uses the setting to gently show the lunacy of political correctness and feminist militancy gone too far," wrote a reviewer for Quill and Quire. The same critic also commented on the larger picture Bowen creates in her books, noting that the author "successfully reflects the sensibilities of middle-class Canada, while also illustrating the middle-class Canada she'd like to see—one that's compassionate and liberal."
In her 2003 installment to the series, The Glass Coffın, Bowen presents a "story of abuse, manipulation and voyeurism," according to Margaret Cannon in the Globe and Mail. Joanne is saddened to discover that her best friend, Jill Osiowy, is about to marry filmmaker Evan MacLeish, whose colossal arrogance and neglect have made him twice a widower. His filming of the lives and deaths of his wives has made MacLeish a darling of the independent cinema, and the fact that Jill is not overly fond of him but wants to be a stepmother to his daughter sends alarm bells ringing for Joanne. Again, her instincts prove correct when violence strikes at a Christmastime rehearsal dinner for the wedding. Cannon further praised Bowen for always putting "something extra in her novels." For Cannon, this lifts Bowen's novels out of genre "into another realm of crime writing, where character, not plot, is what drives the story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 28, 1991, p. C7; September 26, 1998, review of Verdict in Blood, p. 1; September 14, 2002, Margaret Cannon, review of The Glass Coffın, p. 1.
Maclean's, July 1, 1995, review of A Colder Kind of Death, p. 69; February 10, 1997, "Savvy in Saskatchewan," p. 61.
Performing Art & Entertainment in Canada, spring, 1993, Jocelyn Caton, review of Dancing in Poppies, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1993, review of Love and Murder, p. 74; February 21, 1994, review of The Wandering Soul Murders, p. 238; April 7, 1997, review of A Killing Spring, p. 77; September 28, 1998, review of Verdict in Blood, p. 76; April 16, 2001, review of Burying Ariel, p. 48.
Quill and Quire, November, 1991, review of Murder at the Mendel, p. 17; November, 1992, review of The Wandering Soul Murders, pp. 24-25; November, 1994, review of A Colder Kind of Death p. 29; October, 2000, review of Burying Ariel, p. 42.
Crime Writers of Canada,http://www.crimewriterscanada.com/ (February 4, 2004).
em.comhttp://www.em.ca/ (February 4, 2004).
University of Regina,http://www.uregina.ca/ (January 4, 2004).
Writers' Union of Canada,http://www.writersunion.ca/ (January 4, 2004)*.