Citizens of Light
About the Book
Winner of the 2023 Crime Writers of Canada Best Crime First Novel Award
“Sam Shelstad has a funny, lively, engaging, peculiar mind—charming and surprising.” —Sheila Heti, bestselling author of Motherhood and Pure Colour
This debut novel set in southern Ontario captures call-centre life, faded tourist attractions, and suburbia with oddball wit and sharp realism.
Colleen Weagle works in a call centre and lives in a bungalow with her mother in a quiet Toronto suburb. In her spare time she writes spec scripts for a CBC riding-school drama (her mother’s favourite) and plays an online game set in a resort populated by reindeer. It’s a typical life. Except three months ago Colleen’s husband Leonard—who led a similarly monotonous life—was found in a bog in the middle of the night, a two hours’ drive from home. Dead.
With a flatly optimistic belief in the power of routine, Colleen has been soldiering on, trying not to think too hard about all the unknowns surrounding the death. But when a local news photo twigs Colleen’s memory of a mystery attendee at Leonard’s funeral she snaps into action.
In the maddening company of her ornery co-worker Patti, she heads to Niagara Falls on a quest to find the truth behind the death. Amid the slot machines and grubby hotels, the pair stumble into the darker underworld of a faded tourist trap. What they find will lead straight to an episode from Colleen’s adolescence she thought she’d put firmly behind her.
Bleakly madcap, with deadpan dialogue, Shelstad’s debut novel is a noir anti-thriller reminiscent of Twin Peaks and the work of Ottessa Moshfegh and early Kate Atkinson. He captures call-centre life, ramshackle tourist attractions, and suburbia with wit and sharp realism, and reveals the undercurrents of melancholy and the truly bizarre that can run beneath even the most seemingly mild-mannered lives.
Winner, Best Crime First Novel
“It all starts with a young woman at work at a call centre. Once she says hello, you just have to keep reading. You are pulled into the novel because of her sincerity and the simple but powerful authenticity of her story. Mix that up with the fact that she believes her husband was murdered, the complicated relationship with her mother, and her unlikely co-worker that becomes her best friend and you are hooked. You want to cheer them on! These characters are rich and real; they evolve and grow. You feel like you know these characters; that you might meet them in the check-out line at Walmart. Mr. Shelstad writes convincing, real female characters.” —Prize Jury
“Shelstad’s lucid writing ensures that the book’s balancing act of tones, which pirouettes between raucous humour and high-wire tension, never becomes a morass of unconsolidated elements.” —Toronto Star
“Sam Shelstad has a funny, lively, engaging, peculiar mind—charming and surprising.” Sheila Heti, author Motherhood and Pure Colour
“An eccentric mystery.” —Foreword Reviews
“Like the best funny books, Shelstad’s first novel is somewhat dark, somewhat sad, and ultimately revivifying. It’s respectful of grief, respectful of confusion and loneliness, and fundamentality jazzed over all the fun stuff that comes with being alive. What comes off as quirk is at once a revelation of all the odd and beautiful things in the world while also being an awkwardly-fitting cloak for rough, ugly ones.” —The BookShelf
“Once I started reading Citizens of Light, I couldn’t put it down—in true Shelstad form, it’s funny and charming, but also achingly human. A refreshingly unique literary voice.” —Amy Jones, author of We’re All in This Together
“In Citizens of Light, Sam Shelstad has created a darkly comic and compelling story about a truly unique call centre warrior on a mission to solve the mystery of her husband’s death. Trust me, you’ll laugh, think, and keep turning the pages.” —Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour
“Clever and oddly sweet, the comedy in Citizens of Light has teeth, and Shelstad manages the trick of keeping all the strangeness grounded and human.” —Naben Ruthnum, author of A Hero of Our Time