06 July 2023

Canada's Finest: An Interview with Vancouver Crime Writer Extraordinaire Sam Wiebe

Long-time friend and much-lauded crime writer Sam Wiebe has a new book out, so I thought I'd take some time to ask him a few questions and put what we came up with out there. I HIGHLY recommend his work.

First, a bit about Sam:

Sam Wiebe is the award-winning author of the Wakeland novels, one of the most authentic and acclaimed detective series in Canada, including Invisible Dead (“the definitive Vancouver crime novel”), Cut You Down (“successfully brings Raymond Chandler into the 21st century”), Hell and Gone ("the best crime writer in Canada") and Sunset and Jericho ("Terminal City’s grittiest, most intelligent, most sensitively observed contemporary detective series").

Now on to the interview!

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Let's start with what makes a Sam Wiebe work of fiction a Sam Wiebe work of fiction. And that goes to influences. Who/what are yours, and what made you want to be a professional writer?

John D MacDonald and Ross Macdonald, Sue Grafton and Walter Mosley, Larry McMurtry, Henry Chang, Ian Rankin, Hillary Mantel, William McIlvanney, Josephine Tey...there are too many.

What are you reading right now?

Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August, and about to start The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt. 

Guns of August is a classic, won the Pulitzer Prize, and rightly so. If you get a chance, her other Pulitzer winner, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, is well worth your time, as is A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century, for which she won the National Book Award.

(Sorry! Historian geeking out about one of his heroes.)

--I'll definitely be reading more of her work. My favorite historians are Robert Caro and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I also like Rick Perlstein.

Not familiar with Chris Offutt. What about his work recommends him to you?

Andrew Hood from the Book Shelf in Guelph, Ontario recommended Offutt's Mick Hardin series. The first book, The Killing Hills, really impressed me. Hard-hitting, concise, with a compelling character. 

One of the things many of your readers (myself included) point to when talking about your work is the distinctiveness of your characters. Do you have a process for fleshing them out and making them "authentic"?

I try to give the characters interesting problems and allow them a full range of responses. Wakeland especially.

Because conflict reveals character?

True in fiction and life, I think. 

Speaking of Wakeland, Sunset and Jericho is the fourth installment in the series which bears his name. You have stand alone novels to your credit in addition to this award-winning series. Could you speak to the benefits/challenges of writing a series as opposed to those of writing a standalone novel?

It's weird. There's a certain amount of interest in a first book of a series because it's new...and then there's a drop, where you're not  new and not yet established. But with book four, Wakeland has been around for a while, and has developed a following. The books are getting better, I think. People who started with Sunset and Jericho can go back and read the earlier Wakeland books. Harbour just reissued Invisible Dead and Cut You Down with new covers). More of an investment, but a richer experience, in a way.

The great film director John Ford was particularly effective at making the settings of his films act as a sort of "additional character." Authors too numerous to mention have also used their settings in such a manner. The city of Vancouver is pretty central to your Wakeland series. Is that by design?

By design and by necessity. Vancouver is the city I know best. I admire what Ian Rankin does with Edinburgh, showing not just the dark side beneath the tourist-friendly surface, but the ways they feed each other. So much of a detective story is the joy of navigating different social strata. 

In your opinion and experience, how is Vancouver like other big cities, and in what ways is it its own thing?

Most cities are multicultural and have complex histories. Vancouver's is especially interesting. It has one of the oldest Chinatowns in North America. It's also the home of the first supervised injection site. Finally, a lot of Hollywood films are shot here because it doubles well for other cities--its uniqueness makes it similar to other places, and its similarity makes it unique.

Wow? Well said! And that is a great note to wrap up on. Thanks Sam, for taking the time to sit down and discuss your work. 

And for the rest of you, a belated Happy 4th, and see you in two weeks!


  1. I first encountered Chris Offutt when he taught a fiction class at the Wesleyan Writer's Conference in 2005. He was a brilliant teacher who gave me lots of help and encouragement. Naturally, his books were in the bookstore, so I picked up The Good Brother and two collections of short stories. I still grab his books when I find them and think he's one of the best under-known fiction writers out there.

    1. Nice! I will be reading a lot more.

  2. Thanks for the guest interview - I'm going to check out Sam's stuff. Oh, and I am a HUGE fan of Barbara Tuchman - I have almost all of her books.


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