From crime reporting to crime writing 

Retired investigative journalist Linden MacIntyre is coming to the Whistler Writers Festival

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Cape Breton crime Linden MacIntyre says his novel Punishment came out of his feelings about the Iraq war.
  • Photo submitted
  • Cape Breton crime Linden MacIntyre says his novel Punishment came out of his feelings about the Iraq war.

It is not far-fetched to call Linden MacIntyre a Canadian institution.

As a veteran investigative journalist for decades on CBC's Fifth Estate and before that The Journal, he made the transition to Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novelist for The Bishop's Man, part of the Cape Breton Trilogy, in 2009.

Now 72, MacIntyre's fourth novel Punishment was published last year.

It tells the story of the people of a small Nova Scotia town rocked by the murder of a teenage girl, with suspicions about who committed the crime, and the struggle of retired corrections officer Tony Breau as he seeks the truth — with a young criminal, a hotheaded retired cop and the girl's grandmother heavily involved.

MacIntyre is taking part in a reading at the Crime Writers Lunch during the Whistler Writers Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17, at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

Other crime writers on the bill include Jackie Bateman, William Deverell and Dietrich Kalteis. Tickets are $30 and include lunch.

Speaking from Cape Breton, where he was on a housesitting break, MacIntyre described his surroundings in an undeniably literary way.

"I'm watching a four-month-old cat, who I'm kind of curating for my daughter who is in England," he explains.

"This is an old country house and this time of year there is a big assembly of flies. The cat hates flies and she catches them and eats them! As long as it doesn't make her sick — I find it kind of disgusting and then she comes up and licks my face."

He says the book came from an interest in rocking the boat of a peaceful community, at least in a novel.

"I was sitting where I am now. It's a small rural place; it hardly rises to the definition of a village. One afternoon I was thinking about the civility of the place and I wondered what it would take to shake the civility," MacIntyre says.

"I've long believed that there is greater civility in smaller places because people need each other more. It's a necessary part of life in a place like this."

A crime, such as a murder, will lead to questions about that civility and the quality of life, MacIntyre says. He grew up in places like the fictional town of St. Ninian in Punishment, and says the worst aspects of human nature rise to the surface quickly when people are forced to face the causes of such violence. There is a tendency to evade reality in these cases.

Then he throws in a journalistic observation wholly connected to current affairs.

"This was a reflection about what was happening in Iraq," he says."In 2003, from my point of view, the whole world went crazy about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. There were many opportunities and reasons for removing him throughout his history there, when the Americans said he was the cat's meow.

"All of a sudden, he's being accused of something he had nothing to do with, at a time when, wicked though he was, he was a force for stability in that region."

He decided to transfer the feelings of ensuing chaos to rural Nova Scotia.

MacIntyre says: "A bad thing happens. You have a guy who is a lightning rod for distrust and malice, who has always been blamed for everything... blamed for the death of a highly regarded young person. There is a kind of Bush-Cheney force in the community in the form of this retired police officer, and voice of moderation based on experience (Breau)...."

The polarization of the situation is something that interests him, he says.

"It didn't take a whole lot of creativity to come up with the tension and conflict that would follow, as ideas switch back and forth between these polar opposites, the retired cop and retired corrections officer," he says.

MacIntyre adds an emotional conflict for Breau based on a past relationship.

"Of all the things I've written, I would say it was a bit of an adventure to write it," he says.

"I got caught in the drama of how it would unfold as I sat down to work on it each day. These plots are like a canoe trip to a place you've never been, you are following these little rivers and streams. This was a very interesting expedition."

He adds that the twists and turns mean that the ending cannot be known until the final page is reached.

"I knew the ending from almost the outset and that was fun to inch my way in the journey, knowing that I would be amused at how it turned out," he says.

"Journalism, 50 years of it and 38 at the CBC... you can't claim anything is more satisfying than that, especially some of the high points of it. I know I found myself in some fascinating situations. But this was fun."

For more information and to purchase tickets visit



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