Bowen, Gail

Gail Bowen, novelist (b at Toronto, Ont 22 Sept 1942). Gail Bowen grew up in Toronto, where she claims she learned to read from the tombstones in the Prospect Cemetery. This early fascination with death perhaps foretold her vocation as the author of the best-selling Joanne Kilbourn mystery series. Bowen earned a BA at the University of Toronto, an MA at the University of Waterloo, and began doctoral studies at the University of Saskatchewan. After teaching for a number of years at extension campuses across Saskatchewan, Bowen joined the English Department at the University of Regina's Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now known as the First Nations University of Canada). Gail Bowen has also worked as an Arts columnist on CBC radio in Regina.

Gail Bowen's first book, 1919: The Love Letters of George and Adelaide (1987), is an epistolary novella co-written with Ron Marken. The fictional letters document the relationship between two Saskatchewan farm boys wounded in action in WW I and the 19-year-old woman from Toronto who nurses and befriends them. Bowen and Marken wrote a stage adaptation of the novella, titled Dancing in Poppies, which premiered at Regina's Globe Theatre in 1993. In 1994, Globe Theatre produced Bowen's play The Tree.

Gail Bowen has adapted a number of children's literature classics for the stage. Her adaptation of Beauty and the Beast was first produced at Globe Theatre, in 1993. Bowen's adaptation of Peter Pan (1997) has been performed at theatres across the country. Her radio play, The Voyage of Doctor David Doolittle, was produced by CBC radio in 2006.

Gail Bowen is best known for her series of mystery novels set in Saskatchewan. The main character is amateur sleuth Joanne Kilbourn, a political science professor and widowed mother of three teenagers. In the first book, Deadly Appearances (1990), Kilbourn, the speech writer for a murdered prairie politician, probes the strange circumstances surrounding her employer's death. Murder in the Mendel (1991) has Kilbourn exploring the contemporary art world in Saskatoon, and in The Wandering Soul Murders (1992) she investigates child prostitution. The fourth title in the series, A Colder Kind of Death, won the Crime Writers of Canada 1994 Arthur Ellis Award. Kilbourn herself is a suspect here, in the death of a relative of the man who killed Kilbourn's husband many years earlier. Other books in the series delve into the criminal justice system: a judge is viciously murdered in Verdict in Blood (1998) and a lawyer's suicide initiates the plot in The Last Good Day (2004). A Killing Spring (1996) and Burying Ariel (2000) are campus murders, in which the victims are Kilbourn's university colleagues. The tenth Joanne Kilbourn book, The Endless Knot, was published in 2006.

Gail Bowen's fans admire the realistic and evolving portrait of her middle-aged female protagonist, who struggles to solve not just crimes but the everyday domestic challenges that face contemporary families. Bowen also takes on big social issues in these books, from sexual harassment and racism to feminist politics and filmmakers' exploitation of their subjects. Bowen is also praised for her evocative descriptions of the weather and landscape of the Canadian prairies. Six books from the Joanne Kilbourn series have been made into television movies, starring Wendy CREWSON. Gail Bowen has also written a radio play based on one of the recurrent characters in the series; "The world according to Charlie D." was broadcast on CBC radio in 2006.