Born in Essex, England, Gwendolyn Southin co-edited The Great Canadian Cookbook with Betty Keller, with whom she also co-founded the Festival of the Written Arts at Sechelt.

In 2008 she simultaneously re-released two detective novels, along with one new title, all featuring her 50-something detective Margaret Spencer.

Born in 1908, Gwen Southin's detective Margaret Spencer is just now hitting her stride. Over the course of three connected mysteries, this new long-in-the-tooth sleuth evolves from a well-mannered, post-Edwardian type into a feisty Angela [Murder She Wrote] Lansbury dynamo to bolster her self-respect. It's feminism with dentures; akin to a senior citizen Pygmalion.

In Death in a Family Way (Touchwood $12.95), set in 1958, dissatisfaction with her corporate lawyer husband-who works for Snodgrass, Crumbie & Spencer-prompts Margaret Spencer, mother of two grown daughters, to take part-time work for Nat Southby, a likeable former cop who earns his living as a gumshoe-detective out of third floor office on West Broadway in Vancouver.

"He certainly didn't look like Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon or any of the other detectives she had seen in the movies, for that matter,"; Southin writes ".... Instead, Nat was somewhat overweight, probably in his mid-fifties, dressed in baggy grey slacks and a blue-striped shirt.... There was no drink and no gun.";

As she gets drawn into his investigation of a string of abductions, Spencer discovers she has a knack for solving problems and crimes. Set in the Cariboo in 1959, In the Shadow of Death (Touchwood $12.95) features Margaret Spencer on a dude ranch vacation that soon detours her into unsolved murders. Eventually her boss arrives and they unravel the intrigue together.

Equally important, Margaret Spencer leaves her husband and her comfortable home in Kerrisdale in favour of a basement suite in Kitsilano and a love affair with Nat. The more her husband harasses her and urges her to return to her suffocating marriage, the more she knows she is right to seek employment and sex.

Set in various parts of the Lower Mainland in 1960, Southin's release, Death on a Short Leash (Touchwood $12.95), has the duo investigating the death of a veterinarian's assistant whose body is found in a cranberry bog. Corruption abounds at the Silver Springs Nursery Home in Richmond, and they discover the dead body of Brother Francois in Abbotsford. Puppies link the nursing home to a phoney religious sect. It's unabashedly Lower Mainland lit. Death becomes her. As a reward for her diligence, Ms. Spencer gains romance and a full partnership in the gumshoe business by the end of the third novel.

In Death as a Last Resort (Touchwood $12.95), the fourth installment of Gwendolyn Southin's private investigator series featuring mature detective Margaret Spencer, the mature heroine and her cohort Nat Southby stumble upon a frozen body on a skiing date in 1961, leading to intrigue and criminal paths in the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast.

The fifth title in the Margaret Spencer mystery series, Death as a Fine Art (Touchwood, 2012), plants Southby and Spencer square in the 1960s Vancouver art scene as they investigate the death of an art gallery owner. As if a homicide isn't enough to deal with, Maggie Spencer must also contend with advances from her estranged husband and planning her daughter's marriage.


The Great Canadian Literary Cookbook (Sechelt: Festival of the Written Arts, 1994), co-edited with Betty Keller.
Death in a Family Way (Montreal: Robert Davies Publishing, 2000, 2003; Plattsburgh, New York: Studio 9 Books & Music 2000; Touchwood, 2008)
In the Shadow of Death (Robert Davies, 2002, 2004; Studio 9, 2002, 2004, 2005; Touchwood, 2008)
Death on a Short Leash (Touchwood, 2008)
Death as a Last Resort (Touchwood, 2010). 978-1-926741-02-4
Death as a Fine Art (TouchWood, 2012) $14.95 978-1-927129-42-5

[Laura Sawchuk photo]

[BCBW 2012] "Fiction"