Peggy Blair pens new novel based on Rideau LRT stench

Peggy poses for a photo
Local author Peggy Blair turned to Ottawa’s scandalous light rail system for inspiration. Photo by Tim Skinner.

By Charlie Senack 

Ottawa residents have long complained about the horrid stench that wafts through the Rideau Centre LRT station. Some have compared it to spoiled eggs; others say it smells like raw sewage. 

But for local author Peggy Blair, it was the inspiration for her latest fiction mystery novel titled Shadow Play

“In fall 2022 I had an idea about a book and the LRT scandal that was ever present. We were in a municipal election and a lot was going on in the city,” recalled Blair. “With the smell in Parliament station, my immediate thought was a dead body.”

As the fifth mystery novel Blair has written, Shadow Play focuses around Slava Kadun, an FSB agent who is also one of Vladimir Putin’s hitmen. Kadun has a side gig where, instead of murdering the Russian President’s critics, he “disappears them” with the assistance of a teenage Ukrainian tech expert.

In the book, Kadun gets a call to kill Ottawa-based realtor Susan Winchester, but when he arrives in the city, she’s already dead. It’s no secret where the body was discovered. Fearing Putin might be onto him, it’s up to the Russian hitman to find the real killer before he is next. 

From lawyer to author 

Blair’s writing career first began in an unconventional way. 

The former lawyer turned-realtor has no shortage of accomplishments on her resume. She was the lead counsel in R. v. Jones and Nadjiwon, the first Canadian case to recognize Indigenous persons’ treaty rights to fish commercially. 

Blair worked for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as a policy adviser, and was later appointed as a part-time member with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. She was also the Chief Federal Negotiator in self-government negotiations involving 27 communities in northern Ontario. 

Perhaps her biggest accomplishment came in 2003 when Blair became a senior Adjudicator for the Indian Residential Schools claims dispute resolution process.

After that role was done, Blair said she was “in a bad place. I had been dealing with the physical and sexual abuse of children for years.” 

Her 21-year-old daughter at the time said something had to change, so the former Kitchissippi resident picked up her pen and started working on a plot. 

“It was cognitive therapy. The more I wrote, the more I started to deal with what I heard and got healthy again,” Blair said. “I would sometimes write for 16 hours a day.” 

The cover of shadow play showing an LRT train.
The cover of Shadow Play.

The first book Blair wrote was The Beggar’s Opera, first released in 2012. It begins in the Cuban city of Old Havana, where a Canadian detective hopes to save his troubled marriage. 

“He doesn’t yet know that it’s dead in the water — much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the Canadian couple for a few pesos on the world famous Malecon,” the book synopsis reads. “For Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, finding his prime suspect isn’t a problem — Cuban law is.”

Once the book was done, Blair started sending it to agents. She received over 156 rejections. It was hard not to be discouraged. 

“I had one agent in the United States who said she loved my writing, she liked the characters, but didn’t like that they were Canadian,” Blair said. She then rewrote the book, a process that takes months. “I sent it to her and a few minutes later she said it wasn’t working for her, but good luck.” 

In 2010, the novel was eventually short-listed for a Debut Dagger Award by the UK Crime Writers’ Association. Publishing house Penguin Canada then picked it up for a two-book deal. In 2012, The Beggar’s Opera won the Giller Prize Readers’ Choice Award.  

Blair then published a second in the series called The Poisoned Pawn, followed by Hungry Ghosts in 2016, and then Umbrella Man a year later. 

While Blair’s first four fiction books were picked up by publishing firms, she decided to self publish Shadow Play.

“It’s an experiment. I don’t want to go into book stores because they take up to 50 per cent of the list price. If you’re doing this in a small volume like I am, you’d lose a lot,” said Blair. “The first week that Shadow Play was out it outsold Hungry Ghosts.” 

The former Westboro resident of 28 years, who operates her real estate business out of Royal Lepage’s Carling office, said she hopes the publishing world will change to give Canadian authors a better chance of success. 

“If Simon and Schuster decided to publish Shadow Play, I think this would have been my breakthrough novel,” Blair said. “It takes time for people to hear about you.”

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