The news that Alison Gordon had died this morning took me back to the inaugural Bloody Words mystery conference in 1999. I was a member of its steering committee, and one of my duties was to write a profile of Gordon, the author of five Kate Henry mysteries, for the program book.
We met for an interview at Allen’s, a pub on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue that boasted Gordon’s very “own” booth, with a framed clipping cut out from one her novels on the wall beside the booth. Gordon, who was 56 at the time, bristled at my suggestion that she and her protagonist, a baseball writer for the Planet, a fictional Toronto newspaper, were one and the same.
“I get a bit cross at the assumption that Kate Henry and Alison Gordon are interchangeable,” she said. “Kate isn’t me, she’s merely my invention. I’m a novelist, I make up stuff.”
Sure, I thought. Gordon’s mysteries were clearly rooted in her five years as a baseball
columnist for the Toronto Star in the late 1970s, when she became a trailblazer for women sports journalists. Her novels touched on many of the issues in the sports world—the outsized contracts, the massive egos and bigotry among players.
But the books also reflected social issues that concerned Gordon in her adopted home town of Toronto (she was born in New York City where her father worked for the United Nations). The serial child killings in Safe at Home (1990) were sparked by the 1986 murder of 11-year-old Alison Parrot, which Gordon said “haunted” her. The bag lady in Striking Out (1995) was based on a homeless woman who lived in the parking area of an apartment Gordon once rented. Issues of wife abuse (Striking Out) and aging (Prairie Hardball) also come up in her mysteries.
She told me that the novel she was currently working on would be darker than the others. “If my books are getting angrier, it’s because I find society getting meaner,” she said. “I’m trying to make sense of the things I see around me.”
To my mind, Kate Henry and Alison Gordon were interchangeable, and I wanted more of Gordon’s mysteries. To my disappointment, the sixth novel never appeared. Gordon’s obituary said that she was working on another novel at the time of her death.
Another great storyteller has departed from the halls of Canadian crime fiction.