By Charlie Senack
Westboro author Brenda Chapman has just published her 24th novel and isn’t planning to stop writing any time soon.
The local crime author released her latest book, When Last Seen, during an event at Irene’s Pub on Bank Street April 30. Mayor Mark Sutcliffe presented Chapman with a plaque to celebrate the milestone.
It’s the second book Chapman has written as part of her Hunter and Tate Mystery series.
When Last Seen is set in Ottawa like many of Chapman’s books.
“It feels like an accomplishment. Initially I wanted to see if I could just publish one book. I published my first book, a middle grade mystery called Running Scared, in 2004,” she said. “I found a little publisher in Toronto and they accepted four in the series. After that, I had always been interested in writing adult crime fiction so I moved into that category.”
As the city grips with a July heat wave, the Homicide and Major Crimes Unit is called to help track down missing three-year-old Charlie McGowan. It’s the second missing persons case in nine months after a Carleton University student never made it back to her residence following a party. While the two disappearances don’t seem related at first, true crime podcaster Ella Tate and Detective Liam Hunter dig deeper into both files, where they find new clues.
The book also has a Kitchissippi setting after a body is found on the Ottawa River (now known as the Sir John A. MacDonald) Parkway.
While locations are often based on real places and neighborhoods, exact addresses are often made up. Names and details of the cases are also fiction.
“I like to set my books in Canada because that’s where I’m from,” said Chapman. “We are often told in this business that to make it we have to set our books in the United States. I think that’s crazy. We have just as interesting places and beautiful stories here in Canada. I know Ottawa and I know this region. Readers like to read about places they know.”
Chapman started writing poetry from her bedroom in high school but never shared it with anyone. She took creative writing classes at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay where she graduated with a degree in English.
After moving to Ottawa in 1979, Chapman worked as a special education teacher for 15 years. When her two daughters were born, she decided to spend the second half of her career writing.
“I started working in the government (in 1997) as a writer and editor and got into communications,” said Chapman. “At the same time I also began with creative writing at home. I started with some short stories, got my first publisher at Canadian Living, and then I went into writing novels and stayed with that.”
In late 2021, Chapman discovered that two of her novels were among the top 10 audio books borrowed from the United Kingdom library system. Cold Mourning, part of her Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery series, was in second place behind J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Butterfly Kills, part of the same series, ranked eighth.
“For a time I felt like one of those best selling authors,” she said. “It felt kind of cool.”
Chapman admits that when she sets out to write a book series, she isn’t sure how far it will take her. While character names, features, and significant details are jotted down in advance, the plot is written as she goes.
“I normally know the crime, who did it, (and) the motivation. The journey is in the writing of it,” she said.
The Westboro author has started the third book in her Hunter and Tate Mystery series and says she’d like to write at least five. It usually takes Chapman about a year to write a full novel, with much of the time spent on editing.
As she releases more books, Chapman is becoming more known in Ottawa and abroad. True crime novels are becoming increasingly popular and American readers are also starting to discover Chapman.
“It’s a lot of faith in what’s to come,” she said. “The base is quite large and growing.”
Editor’s note: The print version of this story stated that Chapman went to Lakehead University in Orillia. This web version has been corrected to state it was in Thunder Bay.