A Little Help from My Friends

COVID-19 has challenged writers to come up with innovative ways to market their books. Back in 2019, we were looking for opportunities to connect with readers at libraries, bookstores and other brick-and-mortar venues. The Mesdames of Mayhem had a spectacular turnout in April 2019 when we spoke to University Women’s Club of Canada members in Bracebridge, Ont. And we were looking forward to visiting the Collingwood Public Library in April 2020…but, sadly, COVID scuttled that plan.

We’ve risen admirably to the COVID challenge. I had a terrific Zoom launch in October for the release of Uncharted Waters. More than 40 people attended — and many of these were people who could never have come to a launch in a Toronto bookstore: cousins in Ohio, Edmonton and Sudbury, and friends in Ottawa, Montreal and Cornwall, Ont. Zoom book launches will probably remain a permanent part of the post-COVID world.

But we’re still in pandemic mode, and it’s more important than ever to rely on the generosity of our fellow writers. Toronto author Sharon A. Crawford and I have been helping each other with online promos for our new books. I interviewed Sharon on Moving Target last month about her new memoir, The Enemies Within Us. And she reciprocated with an interview of me today on her blog, Sharon A. Crawford Author.

Check out the interview by clicking here.

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Uncharted Waters makes the rounds!

Lorraine Menary, a long-time Pat Tierney fan, sent me an email today saying she’d just received her copy of Uncharted Waters and was looking forward to a good read. And she attached this photo:

Lorraine Menary displays her copy of Uncharted Waters.

Authors are always thrilled to have readers buy their books, but they are also happy to see their books available in libraries. Canada’s Public Lending Rights program supports authors with annual payments for the use of their books in public libraries. Last year, the PLR program paid out just under $15 million to 18,000 published authors.

And a visit to Toronto Public Library’s website has told me that copies of Uncharted Waters are now on order for its branches. Nine holds have been already placed on the book. To place your hold on Uncharted Waters, click here.

Like to know more about what went into the making of the Pat Tierney mystery series? Author Sharon Crawford interviewed me about my writer’s journey on ThatChannel.com’s Crime Beat Confidential last month. Tune into the interview here.

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A Joyous Christmas!

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Ross Mackay, brilliant maverick lawyer

Writing Ross Mackay, the Saga of a Brilliant Criminal Lawyer was a trip down memory lane for the Toronto Star’s crime fiction reviewer, Jack Batten. On his Acknowledgements page, Batten says his research for the biography began with his own recollections of the gifted maverick.

Batten and Mackay attended the same high school, the University of Toronto Schools, where Batten developed a fascination with “this clever, cool, good-looking guy, a contemporary of mine but far more daring, nervy, and troubled than anyone I had ever before encountered.” Years later, Batten watched Mackay in one of his famous murder cases, and says that he was dazzled.

Book Six in his True Cases Series, Batten’s biography of Mackay—from his Toronto boyhood in the 1940s growing up in a tiny apartment over a variety store with quick-fisted, working-class rowdies as buddies; his decision to become a criminal lawyer to defend people like his childhood pals; and his unswerving belief that his clients were entitled to the best defences possible—is a riveting read. The writing is crisp and colloquial, and brings us right into Mackay’s world.

Mackay is probably best remembered by many as representing the last two persons to be executed in Canada for murder: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin. Both were hanged in Toronto’s Don Jail on Dec. 11, 1962. Mackay was just 29 years old at the time, had no financing for his defences, and only 19 days between the two trials. Nevertheless, he did his best to represent them, and Batten’s account really sings in these chapters.

Mackay’s life was a rollercoaster of euphoric highs and wretched lows. His personal demons were worsened by the pressures of his cases; Batten says he had nightmares for years after the executions of Lucas and Turpin. In the 1970s, Mackay was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression, a condition later renamed bipolar, which brought on his destructive mood swings, and his efforts to self-medicate with alcohol deepened the disease’s impact. Batten relates it all with candor and compassion.

Through the highs and lows, Mackay continued to fight his heart out for his clients. Several times a year, he travelled to Millhaven and the other prisons in the Kingston area to visit former clients who were incarcerated there with no prospects of getting out soon. Batten quotes Toronto former defence counsel Peter Zaduk as saying, “When Ross came back from the prisons, he looked pale and wasted. Those visits were draining the life out of him, but it never entered his mind to give them up.”

Ross Mackay, the Saga of a Brilliant Criminal Lawyer paints a vivid picture of Toronto during Mackay’s lifetime: the Annex neighbourhood, dances at the Balmy Beach Club, Old City Hall (then just City Hall), the converted mansions on Jarvis Street, and some of the city’s seedier spots such as the Brown Derby Tavern at Yonge and Dundas. It’s a Toronto of which Batten clearly has fond memories.

Ross Mackay, the Saga of a Brilliant Criminal Lawyer is available on Amazon.


Jack Batten graduated from the University of Toronto Law School, class of 1957, but chose to make his living as a freelance writer. As well as countless magazine and newspaper articles, he has written more than 40 books, including seven crime novels and several biographies. He writes the Whodunnit review column for the Toronto Star.

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