Merry Bell returns to investigate missing quarterback in 2nd book of series

Saskatchewan author brings under-represented communities into murder mystery genre

Anthony Bidulka’s new novel, From Sweetgrass Bridge, is the second in his Merry Bell mystery series about a trans private investigator who returns to her hometown in Saskatchewan and sets up shop.

The first book in the series, Livingsky, was warmly received by reviewers and readers. This book sees Merry Bell investigating the disappearance of the CFL’s first Indigenous quarterback born in Saskatchewan, while she deals with a deep sense of loneliness and a business that is slow to take off.

Bidulka has a history of creating successful murder mysteries with main characters from under-represented communities, often set in Saskatchewan. His first mystery series featured the lead character Russell Quant, “the first ex-farm boy, half-Ukrainian, half-Irish, wine-swilling, gay, Canadian Prairie private eye,” he says.

After the release of his second stand-alone novel, Going to Beautiful, which won the Crime Writers of Canada 2023 Best Crime Novel award, Bidulka considered returning to writing a traditional PI series. “Perhaps it was time, and there was need for a different kind of detective. And so, Merry Bell was born,” he says.

As a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and because of his work as one of the founders of Camp fYrefly Saskatchewan (an educational, social, and personal learning retreat for gender and sexually diverse youth) and various personal relationships, Bidulka knows who Merry Bell is, and he knew the story he wanted to tell.

“With other important under-represented characters in these books, notably the cross-dresser character of Roger Brown, I needed to do a great deal more research to bolster my understanding and confidence in writing about them,” he says.

And the carefully developed diversity of characters draws the audience in. “I always set out to write books with heart, that invite readers into a world they want to spend time in, with characters they want to get to know,” Bidulka says.

Anthony Bidulka
Anthony Bidulka

In the case of many of his books, including the Merry Bell series, that world is Saskatchewan, and those characters are its residents. “I am proud to have an opportunity to promote the province and its peoples in all their wonderful, woolly, quirky, sometimes challenging, sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful ways,” he says.

Writing about under-represented people and places has its risks, though, and Bidulka, who includes Indigenous main characters in his book, was, as he says, “fortunate to have a sensitivity reader review From Sweetgrass Bridge and provide useful feedback.”

Traditional mysteries, in which one sees the best and the worst of people and which end with a resolution, are attractive to Bidulka as a reader and as a writer. And even more importantly, he says, “The mystery genre has become rich with a seemingly endless list of subgenres, from cozies to procedurals, from feline detectives to YA detectives, from hard-boiled PIs to psychic PIs – the diversity and inclusion perhaps second to no other genre.

“To have the freedom and flexibility to tell a protagonist versus antagonist story within the worlds I want to tell it in, with under-represented people and places, is very fulfilling for me.”