Author Garry Ryan finds inspiration in Calgary for his murder mysteries

When Garry Ryan was growing up in the 1960s, a boy who lived down the street tried to kill his parents. Another kid he went to school with murdered someone in a restaurant.

These are not the sort of memories usually associated with growing up in the so-called good ole days of the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in what was then the relatively small town of Calgary.

But to Ryan, a retired teacher turned mystery novelist, the good ole’ days weren’t always that good, a lesson he learned early on.

“Those things happened,” says Ryan. “I have always been interested in the reality that’s there, not the polite subterfuge. I’ve got this curiosity about what’s really going on. I guess I’m nosy. But I don’t want to see the facade, I want to know what’s going on.”

So Ryan will continue to set his stories featuring one-named protagonist, Detective Lane, in modern-day Calgary, a city not exactly known for its mean streets. Foxed, which came out last month, is his sixth mystery featuring the openly gay investigator.

Ryan admits that when he was starting out he was told that Cowtown may not be the best city for a series of ghastly murders, coverups and political turmoil.

“I’m a why-not? sort of person,” he says. “People would say ‘You can’t do this. You need to set it in L.A. or Toronto, or New York City or London.’ When I grew up, stuff happened.”

In fact, one of the themes of Foxed is that calm fronts can be deceptive. It finds Detective Lane in a period of domestic bliss with his partner, Arthur, and their children. But his life is turned upside down when he begins to investigate the murder of a young boy whose body turns up 10 years after he was first reported missing.

It puts him in conflict with the wonderfully named Kev Moreau, a successful restauranter and real estate developer with a murky past. In Calgary’s current climate, casting a real-estate developer as a cunning sociopath and potential murderer may be considered a bit of a political statement all on its own.

But while Ryan certainly doesn’t shrink from the question — even suggesting that some of the more politically active real-life developers could be seen as “villainous,” — he says he was not trying to paint the entire profession in a negative way. Evil-doers can be found just about anywhere, he reckons.

“The main suspect has sort of remade his image,” says Ryan. “He’s admitted some of the things he has done but not everything. It’s the whole thing of covering up the past — a past image. This thing that he’s done is not something that he can walk away from. He’s a really charming sociopath. As a teacher, I ran into those from time to time.”

Students or fellow teachers?

“Both, actually,” Ryan says with a chuckle. “But nobody wants to hear that.”

Ryan retired in 2009 after a career in both junior high and high school, where he often taught creative writing. He took a lot of inspiration from the classroom. The idea to create an openly gay protagonist, for instance, was a response to some of the bullying he witnessed directed at two girls who had come out as gay. Foxed also delves into gang life, another topic that Ryan was familiar with due to his past profession.

“As a teacher, sometimes you are trying to show these kids that maybe there is another way to go,” Ryan says. “And then you see the violent side of them as well. And I’ve seen those things first-hand.”

So he took what he knew and extrapolated with a what-if question, he says.

“If somebody is a gang member, what happens to them if they survive that and are still in business?” says Ryan. “It’s looking at the FKs (FOB Killers) and the FOBs and the UN gang on the west coast and that sort of thing. What do these guys do when they are 35 and they have all this money? What’s the next step for them?”

Foxed (Newest Press, 195 Pages, $1895) is now in stores