John Swan

Created by John Swan
Pseudonym of Kerry J. Schooley
Other pseudonyms include Slim Volumes

“The next day’s news said (a former client) had survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Yeah, well, he would. Maybe if I’d hung in there long enough I could have prevented it. But I didn’t give a shit.”
-Swan gets all sensitive over a failed suicide attempt

This is the real deal: Canuck noir as hard and bleak as it gets.

A grieving former cop who took early retirement when his wife Liz got sick (she eventually succumbed to alcoholism), JOHN SWAN is a welcome blast of darkness in the too-often squeaky white winter wonderland of Canadian crime fiction.

It’s all here: the seedy locales, the bleak lives lived in sometimes not-so-quiet desparation, and the tawdry little reasons that people live and die, all fueled by busted promises and broken dreams, acted out against a finely-etched backdrop of the cold hard steeltown of Hamilton, Ontario, aka “the nation’s toughest town” or simply “The Hammer.” And there are great sojourns to the Niagara Peninsula, Toronto, and even occasional journeys across the border to Buffalo, New York.

Swan’s not even a private eye, not really. Unless it pays. In which case, he might just be able to help you. But what’s in it for him?

His world seems to consist almost entirely of bars, race tracks, and seedy strip joints, and public washrooms which, for some reason, seem to be a favourite setting for murder. This world is populated by sleazy Bible thumpers, cowardly stool pigeons, shysters, hustlers, petty thugs, professional wrestlers, snotty academics, camera-sucking politicians, cheating spuses and overweight single moms, all just trying to survive.

Not that Swan’s some Dudley Do-Right, either. To tell the truth, he’s a bit of an asshole, a surly overweight slob who drinks, and tends to shoot his mouth off too much, all the while trying to pull himself out of the depression and the boozing that is slowly pulling him under. And he doesn’t exactly have a lot of friends, either on or off the police force. He’s not even completely reliable as a narrator, admitting he’s not sure of the sequence of events at times. He lives alone in his house, walking empty rooms looking for a reason to believe, or at least for something to blame. He’d like to re-connect with his daughter Peggy, who lives in Ottawa, but they haven’t really spoken since his wife died.

And then his half-brother Artie, now a successful lawyer (even if some of his clients are a little shady) calls him up, and throws him a bone, hoping to snap him out of his depression. Artie asks him to look into the murder of a wealthy client’s son, in the men’s room (where else?) of a notorious dive, and we’re off in a string of loosely connected episodes that comprise The Rouge Murders (each of the five parts has a type of red in the title).

It’s a great read, literate and smart, sharp and unflinching. There’s great, local colour, and a disjointed but dead-on narrative voice at work here, that almost reeks of the cheap Scotch that Swan prefers. And yet, as bleak as it sounds, there’s also great warmth and humanity, and even moments of heart-breaking tenderness in this book.

The Rouge Murders was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, made all the more appealling by the fact Swan’s world is so familiar. I’ve been to many of the places he’s been, and I can assure you that Swan nails them to the wall. This is good stuff, highly recommended. And Swan returned (finally) in Sap, a novel-length case, in 2004.

John Swan, the character, is the creation of John Swan, the writer. According to his web site, Murder Out There (unfortunately no longer active):

“In early publication, John Swan was described as a former cop, though no legitimate forces have a record of his tenure. Some speculate that John Swan is not his real name, despite the many stories published in Kairos, Blood & Aphorisms, The Unsilenced Voice, Canadian Storyteller Magazine, Rampike, Prophile, Front and Centre, Zygote, and the anthologies Your Baggage is in Buffalo, Between a Dock and a High Place and Burning Ambitions.

In 1996, a collection of mystery stories, The Rouge Murders, was released by the Jasper Press, in which John Swan was one of the characters, still claiming to have been a police detective. There are rumours of a second volume, and a collection of short stories.

Authorities suspect the author lives in Hamilton, Ontario under an assumed name, writing articles, teaching creative writing and reviewing books in the mystery genre.


In fact, John Swan, the writer, was actually Kerry J. Schooley, a Hamilton writer and poet, and a great friend to this site and its little web monkey. A tireless supporter of Canadian crime fiction and in particular the local Hamilton arts scene, he ran fundraisers for local theatres and writing groups, organized a very popular series “Noir Nights” in Hamilton, edited and maintained a great crime fiction web site, Murder Out There, and along with fellow Canadian crime writer Peter Sellers, edited three pivotal collections of Canadian noir, Iced, Hard-Boiled Love and Revenge. He was a big fan of good food, good drink, good music and Montreal, one hell of a storyteller and a good friend. We drank beer together beer and and he clued me in on Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” (“It’s a fucking orgasm, Kevin. Listen to it!”)

Damn,  I miss the big lug.


  • “Taking on unconnected cases is what he does, when he can, and the reality of unassured work makes his lack of ambition and enthusiasm highly understandable.”
    — Tannis Koskela (View)
  • “…John Swan… is gruff, sarcastic, rough around the edges, with a trace of vulnerability well-hidden under a thick skin. A former cop in the Hamilton area, he is not liked or respected by his ex-colleagues. He is regarded as a ‘smart-ass’, not without good reason…Yet there are two sides to Swan: the surly, over-weight, unkempt, heavy-drinking big-mouth and the depressed widower whose daughter has severed ties with him and who wants very much to reconnect with her.”
    Eva Tihanyi (Books in Canada)


  • “Truth’s for saps and poets.”
    — from Sap
  • “One blow to the base of the skull dropped him to his knees. He’d experienced bar fights before when the man in front would begin throwing punches to his head until he went all the way down. Then they’d put the boots to him. But he knew, this time, it would be much worse.”
    from The Rouge Murders


Much of Swan’s work, including several portions of The Rouge Murders, first appeared in literary journals and anthologies.

  • “Crimson Swirl” (Your Baggage Is in Buffalo; later appeared as part of The Rouge Murders)
  • “Floater” (Kairos #7; later appeared as part of The Rouge Murders)
  • “A Criminal Investigation” (1997, Burning Ambitions; a stand-alone short-short)
  • “Chiffon” (Fall 1998, Prophile Magazine; also available as a 16 page chapbook/fundraiser for Alchemist Theatre)
  • “Snare” (Front & Centre Magazine; a scene from the second John Swan book, never completed)
  • “Give the Woman Credit” (Fall, 2001, The Thrilling Detective Web Site)


  • The Rouge Murders (1996)



  • Murder Out There (inactive)
    A collection of noir fiction, poetry and reviews. And excerpts and ordering information for works by mostly Hamilton and Toronto-based writers, including John Swan. Heartily recommended.
  • These Eyes Keep Themselves in Trouble
    Bad, bad eyes…
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Save a spot at the bar for me, Kerry.

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