Crime time

Origin Stories: C.C. Benison

Crime novelist C.C. Benison is the author behind "cozy mystery" series like Her Majesty Investigates and Father Christmas

When Doug Whiteway was looking for a pseudonym for his first crime novel, Death at Buckingham Palace, his agent told him to pick a name starting with A, B or C, so that his books would be at eye level on a store bookshelf. Thus, C.C. Benison was born. 

Some years earlier, Whiteway was born in Winnipeg and raised in sunny St. James in a family of readers. They particularly liked authors and characters of the first golden age of crime writing, like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and, when he got older, Agatha Christie. 

When Whiteway was 22, after graduating from the University of Manitoba with a degree in religious studies, he started writing church reviews for the religion section of the Winnipeg Tribune

“I wrote (the editor) a very rude letter saying, more or less, ‘I think your religion page sucks. What do you need me (to write for you)?’” Whiteway says. He wrote for the newspaper for a year before going to Carleton University to study journalism. He later wrote book reviews for the Winnipeg Free Press and edited Canadian History magazine, then known as The Beaver

In the late ’80s, Whiteway wrote his first book, a literary crime novel based on his experiences working for the Free Press. At the time, no publishers were interested. Death in Cold Type wasn’t published until 2005 by Signature Editions. 

In the meantime, he started to write more commercial mysteries. Death at Buckingham Palace was published in 1996, beginning his Her Majesty Investigates series. Death at Buckingham Palace won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel, awarded by the Crime Writers of Canada association. 

Death at Buckingham Palace was followed by Death at Sandringham House in 1996 and Death at Windsor Castle in 1998.

In the 2000s, he started work on his Father Christmas mysteries about the new vicar of an English village, Father Tom Christmas, in the style of cozy mysteries. This subgenre of crime fiction takes place in a small town, often in the United Kingdom, where the murder happens offscreen and is often solved by an amateur sleuth. 

“Canada is so vast ... it’s hard to find coziness in the vastness of the Prairies,” he says. Cozies “are sort of a world that goes into chaos briefly and then is brought back to order. And I think in times like this (during a pandemic), that’s probably something that people want.”

After three Father Christmas books, Benison released Paul is Dead, one of his two Manitoba-based mysteries, along with Death in Cold Type, where the murder takes place in a cottage in Gimli. 

Paul is Dead was shortlisted for the Manitoba Book of the Year Award and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction in 2019. The story follows a San Francisco book editor and a Vancouver actor as they grapple with the untimely demise of a man they knew over 40 years previous. 

In fall of 2020, he launched a standalone novella featuring his Father Christmas character called The Unpleasantness at the Battle of Thornford, published by At Bay Press, an independent, Winnipeg-based publisher. Today, he edits crime novels for Signature Editions and is working on his next standalone novel set on the West Coast. 

Find out more about C.C. Benision at ccbenison.com. Find his books for sale at Whodunit Mystery Bookstore at 163 Lilac St. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 17, 2021)

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