Thursday, October 13, 2016

Canadian Health Care

In the last US presidential debate Trump dissed the Canadian health care system. His stupid assumptions make me sick! In Canada, we take health care as our inalienable right. For elective procedures there can be long delays. I've had to wait for months for hip surgery and for dermatological procedures. But when I had a scuba mishap I was taken into hospital for immediate and extensive treatment over a period of three weeks. When it was discovered in a routine examination that I had arterial blockage to my heart, I was under the knife within a week for a quadruple bypass. Tthere were no delays. The costs were never even raised as a consideration. And the care was superb. Both my brothers had extensive hospital treatment which would have cost literally millions of dollars. No one ever brought up the expense. They were given first-rate treatment. If I've had to wait for non-threatneing treatment, no problem! Eventually I received excellent care. And never, not ever, were costs a consideration. For urgent treatment, immediate state-of-the-art response. No personal costs. I pay my fair share of taxes and do so cheerfully. I get great value for my investment. So, grow up, America. Health care is a right, not a privilege. I sincerely hope you are able to heal your excruciatingly embarrassing political system before it infects the rest of us who watch with a mixture of pity, anger, and heart-felt anxiety. You're better than this!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Nothing to do with The Girl in a Coma

It's been eleven years since I reluctantly retired. "The Girl in a Coma" is one of the brighter fruits plucked in a withering vineyard. It's my new YA mystery and I'll comment on it in a few days. For now, I want to share my retirement speech. I was struck by how thoughtful it was, entirely concealing the hysteria that has since dwindled into benign amusement. Here goes: A Few Words I have been a teacher for thirty-nine years, mostly as a professor of Canadian literatures. When I was seven I vowed to my grandmother that I would live a life of adventure. By the time she died, following her hundredth birthday which coincided with the centennial celebrations of Canada, the adventurous life took a bit of a turn. From surviving high school football, enduring a desultory undergraduate career, walking through the desert with David Lean, dressed as Lawrence of Arabia for my job standing in for Peter O’Toole, swimming the Hellespont from Abydus to Sestos, patiently lecturing Robert Bolt, the author of A Man for All Seasons and the Lawrence filmscript, about how to write plays, my understanding of adventure shifted, and after a chance reading of Don Quixote I became immersed in a world of books. Never, however, did books confine my life. As well as writing and teaching, I was busy with family, competing in the Ironman, running Boston, travelling Greenland and Spain and Japan, breeding horses, teaching myself architectural design and carpentry, learning the arts of the plumber, the roofer, the electrician, the dry-waller and tile-setter, the cabinet-maker. Books enhanced everything I did. Bee keeping or scuba diving, watching “Bewitched” with the kids, white-water canoeing, collecting vintage Bordeaux and tribal carpets, walking twenty-eight solitary days in the Barrens, or skiing the glorious annual marathon from Montreal to Gatineau, books swept me toward those silver reaches of the estuary. And now, books written, books read, and with five thousand students behind me, I find myself momentarily in stasis, caught between retiring and expiring, not entirely comfortable in the realm of the undead. I am curious as to where the great adventure will lead next. It has been my good fortune never to think of our profession as work. To be a professor is not something you do but something you are. Being a professional has always seemed open-ended, a vocation exceedingly difficult to enter, and to be quit only at a time advantageous to all. But since both law and the university deem mandatory retirement a present necessity—it has not always been so, and soon will seem a barbaric anachronism—I will retire with the same forbearance as I intend, eventually to expire. On the way, I would like to share a few words I have jotted down about my profession. The irony here is that I have never lectured from notes. It is my conviction that if I do not sufficiently know my materials and the rhetorical design of their presentation, it is unlikely my students will engage with what I have to say. I do not advocate this for all personalities, for sometimes what I do is more like sky-diving without a parachute than walking a tight-rope without looking down; and it would be inappropriate in some disciplines, for I cannot imagine cluttering my mind with the periodic table or the finite particulars of quantum mechanics. I have never hidden who I am when I lecture. If my own life does not broadcast the pleasures of the text, then I am a charlatan or, at best, uninspired. It may be instructive, knowing that I thrill to the lines of Margaret Avison and Gerrard Manley Hopkins in their magnificent affairs with God, and am an atheist. It could be illuminating to know that I often travel in the high Arctic wind where the snow flies parallel to the ground, and that sometimes I dive deep among canyons of coral in the South Pacific, and my perceptions are shaped by Blake and Al Purdy, Shakespeare and Margarets Atwood and Laurence; imperative to recognize that culture is not a contiguous phenomenon but the shape of our consciousness of ourselves in the world. While trained in the liberal arts, I value the study of science to help understand what we are. The arts tell us who. While trained in literary analysis, I appreciate how essential is full awareness of the texts of our history, the maps of our human geography, the conversations among philosophers through time. A text without context is an unbroken code, hiding far more than it reveals. While trained in English literatures, and thrilled by Spenser and Austen, Shakespeare and Beckett, writers of the great tradition about whom I have written, as well as by the visionary Wilson Harris, the revolutionary N’gugi wa thiongo, the metaphysics of Doris Lessing and Tennessee Williams, I have focussed my interests where these writers intersect from a Canadian perspective. No-one can be open to literature as literature who does not know the writing of the community that shapes his or her perceptions. As a Canadianist, I have been able to work close to home, not just to help make us real but to break down the garrison palisades, to make us connect. I have always held that students know more than I can possibly imagine and sometimes significantly less than they think. It is folly for the authority speaking from a lectern to assume there are not, among those attending, minds of greater capacity, fuelled by experiences drawn from the South African veldt or the mean streets of Arnprior, who should not be addressed. It is my function as a teacher to provide them a safe context to critically interrogate their own versions of the world through the lenses of our cultural capital. It is never enough to know a poem as a poem and not another thing. One must know the poem as a meeting place or it is merely an artefact. At the same time, it is folly for the lecturer to presume knowledge: sometimes even graduate students need to be reminded about the strategic differences between a metonym and synecdoche. A word about marking: as a practical humanist, I hold objectivity to be an illusion, whether in response to a text or in pedagogical assessment. I make it clear to my students that neither justice nor mercy will determine a grade, for there is no justice when a gifted student who is lazy does well, nor mercy extended for the student in need of a mark undeserved. But I urge them to trust in my fairness, and try then by example to earn that trust. In the process, it is imperative to teach informed taste and good judgement. While ideas build empires, it is the quality of our singular engagement with the world as perceived that makes what matters matter. I have never been able to contain my astonishment at animating this brief point of consciousness in the universe. As I leave the University of Ottawa, I am sad. Even those of my colleagues I know only in passing have defined this place from which I weigh and measure the world. I thank you all so much. Over the decades, my daughters, their husbands, and their mother, all earned Ph.D.’s or doctorates. My beloved Beverley (and it is still exciting to say that, after nearly a decade together), Bev is literally within weeks of finishing her own Ph.D., in Cultural Theory. I have had the good sense to surround myself with people brighter than I am, whether family or this larger community of writers and colleagues and friends, who have tolerated my eccentricities, humoured my pretensions, and nurtured my heart and my soul. Thank you again and again. —John Moss 2005

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I was going to title this, "Hey, I'm back!" (I haven't blogged for a couple of years). Bev tells me this is self-evident, so just get on with it. I've been busy. I have a new YA mystery just out from The Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of Poisoned Pen Press in Arizona. It's called "The Girl in a Coma." See my website for more info ( It's got some American content but is mostly Canadian. Allison Briscoe, the main character, is disabled in the extreme but still manages to solve murder mysteries. In flashbacks to the ancestral past, her forebears also solve mysteries. There's lot's going in. Check it out; pass the word (or the book) on to young readers you know. Next blog, I'll fill you in on other projects in the works. It's good to be back. Cheers

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Dead Scholar

The Dead Scholar is the fourth in the Quin and Morgan mystery series. The first three, Still Waters, Grave Doubts, and Reluctant Dead, have been published by Dundurn Press, who will be publishing number five,"Blood Wine," in 2014.To fill in the long gap and because Dundurn won't publish a novel the length of "The Dead Scholar" (50% longer than the others), I decided to make it available as an ebook. It is an intricate "ship of fools/country house" novel that could not be cut without seriously diminishing its achievement (such as it is). The following is a description of "The Dead Scholar." Give it a try, tell all your friends, enjoy! When the corpse of an elderly professor turns up on Philosophers Walk in the heart of Toronto, fellow members of the Francis Bacon Society are not surprised he was murdered. Each of the twelve eccentrics in this unlikely group devoted to the Renaissance rogue and scholar is profoundly in the dead man’s debt, and each has reasons for wanting him dead. Detectives Miranda Quin and David Morgan are drawn into their midst as the investigation moves from the university environs to a grand summer house in Muskoka, and reaches from the turn of the new millennium back into the bleakest events of the twentieth century, and even beyond, to Elizabethan England and the sordid beginnings of a new world order. "The Dead Scholar" is a drawing room thriller and a black comedy, an exquisitely paced intellectual puzzle and a complex study of quixotic characters whose lives intersect in a web of dark secrets they cannot escape. It is a world where Quin and Morgan find themselves quite at home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scenes of the Crime

Scenes of the Crime It’s been a week now since the annual Wolfe Island Mystery Lover’s Festival, Scene of the Crime. This was my second go at it, the first as a speaker, panelist, and honoured guest. And the guests were honoured, no question of that. In a setting that is somehow outside the normal sweep of time, where tourists and mystery buffs wander the main streets of the idyllic island village in search of ice cream cones and tales of murder, we were befriended, celebrated, and applauded by people who love books. For the writers and readers alike, it was sheer delight. The four writers featured in the readings Saturday morning were D.J. McIntosh, whose debut novel, “The Witch of Babylon,” has captured accolades and stellar sales in the historical thriller market. Dorothy read and spoke about her background research. Thomas Rendell Curran gripped the audience of close to one hundred with a background discussion and brief reading from his Eric Stride series, while Y.S. Lee offered a lovely entry into her Agency novels, set in Victorian London. Ostensibly written for the Young Adult reader, her Mary Quinn novels charm all ages (as the best YA fiction does). For my own allotted twelve minutes I read a story of grim retribution taken from a work in progress. Chair of our reading session was the charming and exacting fantasy writer, Violette Malan, who is also President of the Festival Board. Her cohort on the board, the celebrated mystery writer, Vicki Delany, chaired the afternoon panel which featured the same four writers. Five writers on a stage, each as different from one another as possibly imaginable, gave a performance that seemed to enthrall the audience. It certainly was satisfying, from my perspective in the midst of the spirited wordfest. Throughout the day, book sales were brisk, with the business end of things arranged by the hard-working folks from Novel Idea in Kingston. Like any writer, I love signing books. It makes that extra connection that offsets the hours of isolated labour exploring the possibilities of an empty page. Much as I like the affirmation of selling, I like even more that my books are going to be read. The annual Grant Allen Award, named after the British writer and Wolfe Island native, was given this year to a fiendish cluster of women from the Ottawa area, The Ladies Killing Circle. Authors of a series of anthologies with names like ‘Menopause Is Murder’ and ‘When Boomers Go Bad,’ as well as a huge range of mystery novels on their own, ranging from cosies to police procedurals, the Ladies were an absolute delight as they simultaneously thanked the Board for the honour, entertained with accounts of their history, and excoriated their perceived enemies with gleefully venomous wit. I have not read all of them but I will. Vicki Cameron, Joan Boswell, Linda Wicken, Barbara Fradkin, Sue Pike, and Mary Jane Maffini are individually lovely and gracious, and collectively they’re lethal. The organizers of the Wolfe Island Mystery Lover’s Festival include writers, the effervescent Violette Malan, the poised and stalwart Barbara Fradkin, and one of my favourite people, the estimable Vicki Delany. They also include many local people, including the Carr family, Ken Keyes, and my ‘handler’ Judy Reid, all of whom deserve the most sincere thanks from writers and readers alike, all of us bound by our love of a good mystery or two. Bev and I will be back, for sure.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Scholar, Still Dead

After forty rewrites, this doesn't seem much different from the first one. A little punchier, I hope.

When an elderly professor turns up dead on Philosophers Walk in the heart of Toronto, fellow members of the Bacon Society are not surprised he was murdered. Enthralled by the Renaissance rogue and scholar, Sir Francis Bacon, this unlikely band of misfits also shares a profound loathing for the dead Mephistophiles who had been their leader. They draw Detectives Miranda Quin and David Morgan into their midst as the investigation moves from the university environs to a grand summer house in Muskoka, and reaches from the new millenium back into the bleakest events of the twentieth century. The Dead Scholar is a drawing room thriller and a black comedy, an intellectual puzzle and a complex study of quixotic characters whose lives intersect in a web of dark secrets they cannot escape. It is a world where Quin and Morgan find themselves quite at home.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


If Don Cherry developed dementia, would anyone notice?