Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

A wee dram and a good mystery

A wee dram and a good mystery

Michael McCann is a stickler for quality – especially when it comes to his writing and Scotch whisky

When crime novelist Michael McCann, MA’81, became one of the dozen people who beat out 6,000 other entrants in an ordinary essay competition, he won an extraordinary prize: an all-expense-paid trip to the British Isles – in particular to the renowned Glenrothes Distilleryin Speyside, Scotland, where single-malt whisky is made. McCann and his fellow winners from around the world experienced the trip of a lifetime and a grand adventure.

[Michael McCann]Retired Canada Customs project manager Michael McCann is the author of three mystery thrillers, with a fourth in the works. (Photo by Shannon Lee Mannion)

McCann, an inveterate reader, studied English literature at Queen’s, subsequently did a bit of freelance editing, and became a published short story writer in the late 1980s. More recently, he has become a novelist with three books in print, and a fourth in the works. All of McCann’s books have been published by his own indie press, The Plaid Raccoon Press, which is based in his home at Oxford Station, an hour south of Ottawa. “I searched for an agent and then decided to publish my work myself,” he explains.

Being a stickler for quality, McCann eschewed existing small presses, and having plans in mind for at least five books, he opted to become his own publisher. He’d taken early retirement from Customs Canada, where he says his 15 years as a project manager exposed him to countless real-life situations, including smuggling rings, illegal firearms, and the use of computers in law enforcement. His wife, Lynn Clark, a former doctoral student at Queen’s, is an invaluable resource of ­factual, back-up material.

The first of his three books, The Ghost Man, is a supernatural thriller set in Westport, Ontario, while the other two, Blood Passage and Marcie’s Murder, are part of a homicide detective series featuring a remarkable duo – quiet, philosophical Lt. Hank Donaghue and brash-talking Det. Karen Stainer. A fourth Donaghue/Stainer book, The Fregoli Delusion, is due out this fall.

McCann is candid when he says that he learned the discipline necessary to be a novelist from one of his Queen’s professors, the late Dr. John ­Stedmond. “I was on an ­academic route and he pushed me hard. The result was that I produced good work and was rewarded with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Stedmond taught me about ­immediacy. Get it done!”

It was this sense of achievement that gave McCann the courage to enter the Glenrothes 2011 Vintage Moment Contest. What the distillery wanted was people to recount that perfect occasion when everything comes together. In McCann’s words, that was when he held his first book in his hands. “It had taken two years and it was a proof copy, but I’ll always remember that moment,” he says, beaming with a ­satisfied smile; “It was good.”

McCann mentions that there’s a saying people who work in whisky-making are fond of: “Blended is for drinkers, single malt is for thinkers.”

When the folks at the Glenrothes Distillery chose Michael McCann as a winner of their contest, they got a thinker who appreciates good whisky and also a good read.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2012-4 cover]