Helen Keremos

Created by Eve Zaremba

Back in the eighties, The Globe and Mail called HELEN KEREMOS “the best of the feminist lesbian detectives.” I’m not sure about the best, but she certainly was one of the first, and certainly the first (1978) to be printed by a mainstream press (Paperjacks).

Personally, I found her a little shrill at times, but hey, considering the time in which the books were written, they probably had to be. And the latter books offer an unapologetic, in-your-face approach that was infinitely preferable to the coy, airbrushed by-the-numbers take offered by most of the rest of the sub-sub-genre of lesbian private eye fiction that erupted in the mid-eighties. This was a true shot across the bow.

Although, to be honest, considering how upfront about Helen’s sexuality the latter books are, it’s surprising how difficult it is to figure out her sexual preferences at all in her debut, A Reason To Kill (1978). As Kathleen L. Maio points out in 1001 Midnights, “it is only from her empathy with male gay characters and occasional name-calling by disgruntled straight men that give her sexual identity away.” In fact, it took eight more years — until her long-delayed second novel, Work For a Million (1986) came out for her to come completely out of the print closet. But she was definitely out.

Vancouver-based, although she does get around (she lived in Toronto for a while but got out in time), Helen’s a middle-aged private eye of sorts (she tends to take on cases that she has personal connections to) with a background in naval intelligence, both in the States and Canada. She’s also one tough cookie, with a taste for pickup trucks, and a vast network of contacts among the gay/leftist/feminist/radical liberal fringe. I guess the fact that she’s a lesbian makes them feel she’s more trustworthy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eve Zaremba was born in Poland and, after a brief detour to the U.K., emigrated to Canada in 1952. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she has worked in libraries, in advertising, marketing, research and business consulting, and ran a used bookstore and a publishing enterprise. She was a founding member of Broadside: A Feminist Review. Last I heard she was living happily in Toronto with her partner. She apparently has no plans to continue the Helen Keremos series at this point, but her creation remains a pivotal figure in the genre.

TRUE CONFESSIONS

I was such a mystery geek that I once attended a women’s conference and literary festival at the Université de Montréal just to hear Eve Zaremba and Sara Paretsky speak about feminist crime fiction. I may have been about the only man in the audience, but it was worth it.

THE LATEST

Is this cool or what? In January 2019, a Kickstarter campaign was launched for a Work for a Million graphic novel, to be written by Amanda Deibert (Wonder Woman ’77) and drawn by Selena Goulding (Susanna Moodie), with the full approval of the author. Even cooler? The cover will be by Sean Phillips (Criminal, The Fade Out, etc.), and Alex Segura (creator of Miami P.I. Pete Fenandez) will serve as genre consultant on this book.

NOVELS

COLLECTIONS

  • The Helen Keremos Trio (1989) Buy this book
    Includes A Reason To Kill, Work For a Million and Beyond Hope.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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