In my choice of Adagio by Chris Owen [Casperian Books LLC, September 21, 2012] as my featured novel this week, three thGerry B's Book Reviews
In my choice of Adagio by Chris Owen [Casperian Books LLC, September 21, 2012] as my featured novel this week, three things caught my notice. First, it is about two Canadian boys, written by a Canadian author, and set in Australia.
I don’t know why I like Australia as I do (I love the accents), but for whatever reason it has a certain romance to it. Therefore, it is the perfect setting for a romance of this nature.
There is very little about Canada, or even Canadian content in this story, but that’s alright. The Australian outback makes up for it, and I think that the author has done a credible job of making it part of the story. Certainly I felt it’s vastness, and what better way to cleanse the soul than by a ‘walkabout.’
I liked the two main characters, the scarred but compassionate Jason, and the wide-eyed Ryan. They both compliment and contrast one another to produce a nice balance. I think one is more drawn to Ryan as the ingénue, but Jason is also travelling a road of discovery.
I also like the unhurried pace that allowed the two boys to get to know one another before their first sexual experience. The sex scenes were also well handled—which is ironic for me to say because I once criticized Ms Owen’s work for being a bit too ‘generous’ with her couplings. Therefore, I am happy to take that criticism back with this novel.
The quibbles I have are few. A few loose threads (meaning plot lines that either disappear or aren’t fully exploited later on). I, for one, like to see unexpected references to previous events, even if they are minor, because they are like grace notes that add a touch of brilliance to a story. It is the little touches like this that can make a good story outstanding.
Altogether, it is a heart warming romance in the classic style, nicely written, and set in a equally romantic locale. Four bees....more
A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about CanadiaGerry B's Book Reviews
A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about Canadian history. Simple: Make it interesting.
When I was going to school, and from what I’ve seen since, [see: Canadian History Made Boring], it is as if educators have gone out of their way to make history as unpalatable as possible. The fact is that Canada has a history as colourful and entertaining as any in the world, and it only remains for kids and adults alike to discover this.
We have real Sergeant Prestons who patrolled the Yukon, cattle drives undertaken though 1,500 hundred miles of primeval wilderness, pioneers who transported several stallions and breeding cattle 800 miles by canoe, great train robberies and gunfights that would make O.K. Corral look like an afternoon social, and yet very few people know about it. Fortunately, we also have people like E. J. Hart to write marvelous books like Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies [Rocky Mountain Books, First Edition, October 2009].
Now if this were being taught in school, we would dutifully learn that Jimmy Simpson (1877 – 1972) emigrated from England, arriving in Winnipeg in 1896. There he farmed for a while until he decided to go West [psst, after drinking up all his money]. He therefore pawned his gold watch and chain, and took a train to Calgary. Hearing of work on the railway he stowed away on a westbound train, but when he was discovered and kicked off he walked the 20-or-so-miles to Laggan (just below Lake Louise).
Being adventurous, Simpson signed on as cook with legendary outfitter, Tom Wilson, and began learning the outfitting business from “Wild” Bill Peyto—another legendary Rocky Mountain adventurer.
In 1898, while working for Wilson, Simpson happened upon Bow Lake with the ice field and two magnificent glaciers above. He and his companions camped by the northern end of the lake, and it was there the he made his now famous proclamation: “I’ll build a shack here sometime,” he said.
Eventually Simpson left Wilson to strike out on his own, supplementing his guiding and outfitting business with trapping. To get around he took up snow shoeing, becoming so proficient at it that the local Indians gave him the honorary title of “Nashan-esen” (meaning “wolverine-go-quickly”).
In 1922 he returned to Bow Lake to build his log shack—as he had vowed to do—and when the Banff-Jasper Highway was built, bringing automobile traffic to the area in 1937, he built a small lodge to accommodate them. He called this lodge “Num-te-jah,” the Indian word for pine marten.
Business grew, and in the 1940s a major expansion to the lodge was undertaken to bring its capacity to sixteen rooms.
The original lodge became Simpson’s personal residence where he died in 1972, at the age of 95.
Interesting enough, I suppose, but as E. J. Hart has so masterfully demonstrated by way of Simpson`s own anecdotes, it says nothing about the man or his remarkable wit. For example:
[Fred Ballard was a partner in the trapping business for a (short) while.]
Ballard had been teasing me about a new suit of underwear that had been in the cabin all winter and as to how nice it was going to feel inside it when he got to it. When we arrived he got to it all right but the cabin had leaked and it was sopping wet inside so we built a bit fire outside and made camp. Fred squeezed the water out of it and spread it out in front of the fire carefully while I cooked up what flour was there and made a small bannock, and it was small. When cooked I halved it and his half past his tonsils as fast as a cable [trans-Atlantic telegraph] going over to the old country for more money while I sat on a log and ate mine slowly. That was too much for Fred. Pretty soon he snapped, “If there is anything I hate it’s to see is a man chawing on a piece of bread that I could swallow in two bites, especially when he has only one good eye to chaw with.” [Simpson had a temporary snow blindness in one eye]. I understood.
We lay down to sleep before the fire but in the middle of the night I was awakened by bad language in time to see Ballard holding up a piece of underwear with five button holes on it. A piece of charcoal had got to it while he was asleep so I thought condolences were due. “That’s not too bad,” I said, “All it needs is new arms and legs and a piece on the back to fold over the chest, those five button holes still look quite good.” The air was blue.
Another example of Simpson’s wit relates to an exploration trip he and “Wild” Bill Peyto took one winter. They had stopped for a smoke beside a huge dead spruce and Jimmy drove his axe into it. From inside came a sound like falling debris, so he hit it again with the back of the axe. He was about to do it again when, to his astonishment, it opened up and the head of a two-year old grizzly poked through. This is how he described what happened next:
Nine foot five is my record standing jump and I made it backwards. turning in mid air, and then I started showing squirrels how to climb a tree. I measured that jump next day with a copy of“Tid-Bits”that sported a foot rule on the cover. When I made the top I looked back. There was Bill cussing a blue streak and kicking that bear’s head back every time it poked its nose through. It had gone into hibernation and was in a semi comatose condition but it was fast in waking up. Bill called to me, I dropped out of the blue like dose of measles and we lit out for the camp. Next day we gathered it in.
This is how history should be taught. With some life in it. Sadly these people have passed on, but their way of life, their wit and humour, should not be buried with them.
For people, like me, who enjoy a history lesson that reads like a novel; that allows the reader to appreciate the times through the eyes of colourful characters like Simpson; and that is valid history at the same time, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Thank you E. J. Hart. Five bees....more
Ever on the lookout for gay Canadian content, when I saw the Toronto connection in K.C. Burn’s latest novel, Cover Up (Toronto Tales #2) [Dreamspinner Press, December 2012], I was immediately interested. Unfortunately the Toronto connection was merely a generic setting, and so there was very little by way of landmarks, etc., I could actually relate to. Not a big deal, but it would have been so much more meaningful to me, as an ex-Torontonian, to see a few more reference points.
Cover Up is the second in the “Toronto Tales” series, and although it is the first I have read, I do believe it would have been best to read them in order.
Gay Detective Ivan Bekker has just wrapped up a messy take down of some Russian Mafia drug dealers, during which his partner (and friend) was critically wounded, when his boss hauls him into his office to assign him to an undercover case—so undercover it isn’t even on the books. An alleged young up-and-comer in the Russian organization has advertised for a room mate, and Bekker is to take advantage of it to find out what he can about the kid and his involvement with the mob.
Inevitably the two meet and connect, but because of the secrets they individually harbour there is an invisible barrier between them. Nonetheless, Bekker finds himself becoming emotionally involved with his suspect, and more intent on saving him from the criminal element he is drifting toward than making an arrest. The angst, therefore, is the tension created by double lives they are each living.
There is a bad guy too, but since he is rather transparent from the beginning, he doesn't really add to the tension.
Some of the things I liked about this story are its adherence to plot, rather than eroticism, and the technically solid writing. It reads very smoothly, and there are some very nice descriptive passages. The dialogue is also quite effective in giving a personality to the minor characters, “Sarge,” especially.
Otherwise, I fear the plot devices sometimes stretched the boundaries of credibility to the limit—beginning with Parker conveniently advertising for a room mate at the right time to involve Bekker. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened that way, mind you, but the odds don’t favour it.
Still, if you are a fan of romantic mysteries, there is much in this novel to like. Three bees....more
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama aGerry B's Book Reviews
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.
Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t found it until now.
In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.
The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history--with allowances for the cowboy's tendency to exaggerate--made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.
In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”
So with little more than that, they head for Canada in an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”
Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail' (the ' Trail of '98'), which:
Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.
“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”
That was merely the beginning!
Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.
It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal to any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I cameGerry B's Book Reviews
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I came across Northern Lights, by James Matthew Green [CreateSpace Independent Publishing , June 23, 2012], and although the author is American this novel fills the latter two categories quite admirably. Moreover, it fits my concept of gay historical fiction to a “T” by giving history a face—albeit a fictional one—to represent those GBLT men and women who lived and loved in another time.
The story is set in the 1750s against the somewhat neglected backdrop of the so-called “French and Indian War ” (1754-1763) [more about this point below]. It is also the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. However, in this novel the main character wasn’t merely raised by Indians, he is in fact half-Indian (Métis), and the other half being French. The Métis theme is also one that has been surprising neglected in the past, for few things can evoke the northern frontiers like a band of the bon vivant Métis and Coureurs de bois.
While these elements form the backdrop, and at times provide some exciting drama, the main theme here is spirituality—both Christian and Native. Being part Ojibwe himself, the author has provided some fascinating insights into Ojibwe spiritual beliefs, including Two Spirit culture, as the main characters, Daniel and Rorie, come to terms with contrasting beliefs and their sexuality.
I was particularly intrigued, as well, by the scenes involving ‘near death experience,’ for it was a widely held belief among many tribes that the spirit left the body to converse with inhabitants of the “Other Land,” and then returned with messages to “This Land.” In fact, I have used this theme in my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail.
I was also struck by the way the author emphasized the reverence and respect Natives held for the environment around them without flogging the point. For indeed, that is how it was. It was a natural as etiquette is today—or was.
My quibbles are minor and technical, and probably wouldn’t even be noticed by anyone who wasn’t a former professor of history, but they stood out for me. The first, as I mentioned above, has to do with the use of the lable “French and Indian War” to describe the conflict. The author does acknowledge that this is an American term, but goes on to describe the Canadian equivalent as “The War of conquest.” Nope—not exactly. English-Canadians refer to it as “The Anglo-French Conflict,” while French-Canadians refer to it as “La guerre de la Conquête” (i.e. “The War of Conquest”.) In a country with two distinct cultures, and an underlying current of nationalism, that is a big deal.
My second quibble has to do with the term “Winnipeg;” as in “Winnipeg River.” Actually, the much later name Winnipeg is an English bastardization of the Cree word “Wīnipēk (ᐐᓂᐯᐠ)”, meaning “murky waters,” and contemporary maps of the period also show it as such.
That said, this is history as it should be told (and taught): A history lesson that can be absorbed while enjoying a truly enjoyable story. Four and one-half bees....more
Although Dos Equis (A Russell Quant Mystery, #8) by Anthony Bidulka [Insomniac Press, 2012] is the eighth in the series,Gerry B's Book Reviews
Although Dos Equis (A Russell Quant Mystery, #8) by Anthony Bidulka [Insomniac Press, 2012] is the eighth in the series, it is the first I have read. Nevertheless, I was able to get into the story and engage with the characters without any difficulty whatsoever.
To begin, I was fascinated by fellow-Canadian Anthony Bidulka’s background (which is slightly similar to mine in diversity), and conclude that this is what contributes to his broad range of knowledge on several topics. Travel being one of them.
The story opens in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, but after he receives a mysterious message from a fellow private investigator he returns to his native town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.[I love the setting—the first for Saskatoon, I believe.] There, he is shocked to find her murdered, but using her files he discovers she was working on a case involving the deliberate food poisoning of a wealthy old lady. However, it was done in such a way (using botulism) that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
To go about this the author very cleverly brings in a gang of characters from his previous seven books, Anthony Gatt, Jared Lowe, Sereena Orion Smith, and Errall Strane, and police contact Darren Kirsch, and well as his Ukrainian mother, Kate (a delightful personality.)
Along the way he finds romance, although this aspect is far from being homoerotic by any means.
Although the culprit is known fairly early, the ending is still clever and suspenseful.
Mr. Bidulka is a multi-award winning novelist and this is certainly evident in his style, character development and plot construction. The whole novel 388 pages (431 KB) reads as smoothly as satin, with flashes of wit that delighted the senses too. Five bees....more
To those who might not be familiar with Cape Breton Island, here is a brief orientation via Wikipedia:
Cape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. The 10,311 km2 (3,981 sq mi) island accounts for 18.7% of the total area of Nova Scotia. Although physically separated from the Nova Scotia peninsula by the Strait of Canso, it is artificially connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the 1,385 m (4,544 ft) long rock-fill Canso Causeway. The island is located east-northeast of the mainland with its northern and western coasts fronting on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; its western coast also forming the eastern limits of the Northumberland Strait. The eastern and southern coasts front the Atlantic Ocean; its eastern coast also forming the western limits of the Cabot Strait. Its landmass slopes upward from south to north, culminating in the highlands of its northern cape. One of the world’s larger salt water lakes, Bras d’Or (“Arm of Gold” in French), dominates the centre of the island.
To Everything Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story, by Alistair MacLeod [McClelland & Stewart, 2012] harkens back to the 1940s, but like most rural communities, including the Ontario one in which I grew up, its roots go back to a much earlier time. Indeed, in Cape Breton, its roots go back to a time when:
“…the English set out to destroy the clans of Scotland, [and] the most independent of the Highlanders left their homes with the pipes playing laments on the decks of their ships. They crossed the ocean and the pipes played again when they waded ashore on the rocky coast of Cape Breton Island.”– Hugh Mclennan
In the 1940s, rural communities were predominantly ‘closed’ communities with a proud, self-sufficient way of life, i.e.
“Most of the families, if they did not live in the town or work in the mines, would have a small farm where cows and sheep and pigs and hens and a small garden provided a living. Things would be easier with the help of the wages of a husband or son who worked on the fishing boats or in the woods or, like young Neil in the story, on “the lake boats” in Ontario.”
There were few indulgences, therefore, except for Hallowe’en and Christmas, and MacLeod—in his flawless and evocative style—has captured this anticipation in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy.
“We have been waiting now, it seems, forever. Actually, it has been most intense since Hallowe’en when the first snow fell upon us as we moved like muffled mummers upon darkened country roads.”
Indeed, this entire story is a collection of evocative memories, seemingly random at times, but always moving the story forward at the same time.
“The ocean is flat and calm and along the coast, in the scooped-out coves, has turned to an icy slush. The brook that flows past our house is almost totally frozen and there is only a small channel of rushing water that flows openly at its very centre. When we let the cattle out to drink, we chop holes with the axe at the brook’s edge so that they can drink without venturing onto the ice.
“The sheep move in and out of their lean-to shelter, restlessly stamping their feet or huddling together in tightly packed groups. A conspiracy of wool against the cold. The hens perch high on their roosts with their feathers fluffed out about them, hardly feeling it worthwhile to descend to the floor for their few scant kernels of grain. The pig, who has little time before his butchering, squeals his displeasure to the cold and with his snout tosses his wooden trough high in the icy air. The splendid young horse paws the planking of his stall and gnaws the wooden cribwork of his manger.”
For those of us who grew up on a family farm one can almost hear, feel and smell these scenes, and for those who didn’t it is a wonderful glimpse of a simpler time, when Christmas meant more than frantic trips to Walmart.
And if this isn’t enough, it is generously illustrated with the marvellous sketches of Peter Rankin—of the same Rankin clan as the world-renowned “Rankin Family” musicians.
This is a short story (only 47 pages long) that you will want to make part of your Christmas tradition. Five bees....more
In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usualGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usual places (including Amazon.ca), but I may as well have gone searching for a unicorn! All I found were a couple of pages of outdated, academic, and even American offerings (i.e. The Best American Short Stories 2012). To add insult to injury, my own novels weren’t even included.
All was not entirely lost, however, for I came across a book I had read some time ago, For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig, [Gay Men’s Press, 1997], which is now out of print. However, a DVD film version (written and directed by Roeland Kerbosch, and starring Maarten Smit as young Boman, Jeroen Krabbé as the adult Boman, and Andrew Kelley as the Canadian soldier) is still available. The book and the film differ quite significantly, especially in the way the ending is constructed, but the basic story outline is the same.
Near the end of the war in Holland, eleven-year-old Jeroen Boman is sent to live in the country due to a food shortage in Amsterdam. However, despite a relative abundance to eat he is wracked with loneliness for his parents and friends.
This is subject to change when the village is liberated by a group of Canadian Troops, and Jeroen encounters a 20-something soldier named Walter Cook. Jeroen revels in the attention shown by Cook, and a relationship is formed between them that eventually becomes sexual in nature.
A dark cloud forms, however, when Cook’s regiment moves on, and he leaves without saying goodbye to a devastated Jeroen. Even the photograph of him—the only token Jeroen has left—is damaged by rain.
The remainder of the novel is dedicated to Jeroen’s life when he returns to Amsterdam, and the desperate but fruitless search for his first, lost lover. Eventually Jeroen is forced to realize that all he has left are memories.
Given the controversial nature of man/boy love, even when it is pseudo-autobiographical (as it is in this case), a number of people will be put off by this point alone. However, the sexual aspect in the novel is delicately handled, and in the film it is so subtle that one might actually miss it. What remains is a powerful story of coming of age, and the lifelong impact of first love. Five bees....more
As Halloween approaches I looked around for something along this line, and quite by accident I found Derek McCormack’s Grab Bag [Akashic Books, 2004], edited by Dennis Cooper, which expanded my knowledge of Canadian writers (always a happy occurrence!)
Derek McCormack is one of those treasures that Canada and the Canadian literati keep hidden under a bushel. It is probably due to the GBLT content of his works, which, as a genre, has yet to be anointed for consideration by any of the major awards. Indeed, when Dark Rides was first published, Globe and Mail’s book critic, Laura McDonald, had this to say:
Derek McCormack’s first published work, Dark Rides, was released in Canada this summer to little notice. It had three problems: It was slim, it was issued by a small press and its writer was unknown. Fortunately for McCormack and his readers, Dark Rides received more ink in the U.S. where, to be fair, there is more ink. Detour magazine even included him in its ‘Top Thirty Artists Under Thirty’ list. Why? Well, cynics might dismiss the book as trendy – a gay coming-of-age story. But anyone who reads the book closely will attribute the success to his skillful, tight-rope walking prose. – Laura MacDonald, Globe & Mail
Grab Bag is a combining of two McCormack novellas, Wish Book and Dark Rides. Wish Book is set in the depression era of the 1930s, and is a bizarre romp through as list of situations and circumstances that defy probability, and yet could have happened.
Dark Rides is set in the 1950s (an era I am nostalgically familiar with) and is the story of a teenage, Canadian farm boy trying to come to grips with his homosexuality. Regretfully he has less than a minimum of sophistication and no one to turn to in a small, roughneck community. It is a dark plot in some ways, and yet it is humorous on account of his naiveté.
I once read that successful writing is at once unique and universal, and this applies fairly well to McCormack’s style. It has a refreshing difference that almost defies comparison, and yet I was able to identify with the farm boy’s naive character quite well. Even the small community and its denizens were familiar to me.
Journalistically, McCormack is a minimalist. There is no superfluity or long poetic narratives here, only the bare minimum to tell the story and define the characters. Yet they were as developed as any I have read. They are a young farm boy and a ‘slicker,’ base individuals in a loveable way, and so too much development would clutter the picture.
Grab Bag is one of those stories that will stay with me long after I put it down. Five bees....more
Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seasidGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seaside village two kilometres east of Dieppe. The landing parties, including 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen, were already late as the sun rose, giving the Germans plenty of advance notice. The shore batteries opened up while the landing craft were still 10 metres from shore, and at 5:07 AM the first of the Canadian soldiers dashed forward in the noise of machine-gun and mortar fire that targeted them. They fell, mowed down by bullets and hit by mortar shells. Some tried to reach the seawall bordering the beach, hoping to find shelter. They were to be made prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.
A few kilometres away, to the left near Berneval and to the right near Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville, other battalions landed, more men were killed by machine-gun fire and struck by mortar shells. Several platoons managed to break through enemy defence lines and closed in on their targets. Their determination was no match for the formidable might of the German army. Order was given to pull back at 1100; Navy personnel did the utmost to retrieve as many assault troops as possible. The raid was over. As the tide rose, the wounded who remained on the beach were carried away by the waves with the dead.
The objectives of this ill-fated venture weren’t particularly significant. These included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. “Dieppe raid was also a “pinch” raid for the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) overseen by Ian Fleming. A group of No. 30 Commandos were sent into Dieppe to steal code books, setting sheets and a German-made Enigma code machine for encryption and decryption of secret messages.” Wikipedia
The cost, however, was significant. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents). The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.
So what went wrong? Almost everything says Robin Neillands in his meticulously researched treatise, “The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles)” [Indiana University Press, 2005], from the earliest planning stages, to the lack of combat experience by the British and Allied officers to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation.
As one reviewer has summarized it:
“In seven bloody, smoke-filled chapters, the author tells the waterlogged tale of men struggling in the ocean and along the seawall — the assault boats of No. 3 Commando blundering into a German convoy — bullet-ridden landing craft loaded with dead and wounded — virtually every radio set destroyed right from the beginning — heroic soldiers charging gun pits with fixed bayonets — Churchill tanks hopelessly stranded on the promenade — bodies rolling about in the waves — hundreds of men cowering behind knocked out tanks and landing craft along the shingle — eventually, abandoned men on the beach swimming for miles to reach withdrawing ships. Mr. Neillands’ remarkable reconstruction of the battle from east to west makes clear the troops had little chance of success.” Michael L. Shakespeare
When it is all said and done, Robin Neillands’ book may be the best thing that came out of the aftermath; that and the lessons learned when it came to the amphibious raids that ultimately led to VE Day, May 8, 1945.
A must read under the heading “Lest we forget.” Five bees....more
Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited when I come across a hGerry B's Books Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.
There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.
Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom
Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.
English Stallion for Red River
An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:
“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”
The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.
A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.”
“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”
The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King
Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.
When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.
Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.
Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.
He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).
By 1880, however, cattle population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.
In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.
[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave's story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]
These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees....more
Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer:Gerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer: Real Justice series – August 2012 (pre-orders are being accepted)] is one of four such works under the Real Justice label, all of them dealing with tragic, Canadian cases that went terribly awry. The others include: Robert Baltovich; Steven Truscott; and David Milgard.
From a GLBT perspective we could also add John Damien, summarily fired for being homosexual and a “security risk,” and Everett George Klippert, the last person imprisoned in Canada for private, consensual sex with men. After being assessed “incurably homosexual”, he was sentenced to an indefinite “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender.
The story of Guy Paul Morin reads like a ‘how not to’ textbook on bungling, sloppiness, incompetence, prejudice, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and misrepresentation of forensic evidence by so-called “experts.” And yet, Ms Faryon has managed to remain objective throughout, and to put a human face on both the accusers and accused.
When eight-year-old Christine Jessop was first reported missing (October 3, 1984) the police told her mother, Janet Jessop, to call her friends and neighbours to see if anyone had seen or spoken to her. As a result of these calls, people began to gather at the Jessop residence, and,
“Soon the place was filled with people. They made coffee, tea, and helped themselves to drinks from the refrigerator. They touched glasses, mugs, counter tops, door handles and used the bathroom. Someone picked up the bike from off the shed floor and leaned it against the wall. Perhaps the same person also took Christine’s pink sweater off the nail and brought it into the house, most likely thinking they were helping. The police didn’t
Police made no attempt to monitor who was coming into the house or what they were doing. They hadn’t taped off Christine’s bedroom or the shed, or treated the house like a crime scene. They treated the situation as if Christine was staying too long at a friend’s house, or maybe she was lost in the woods. The police didn’t even speak to most of them. Why go to all that trouble when it wasn’t necessary?” p.32
Moreover when Christine’s body was finally discovered in a farmer’s field in Sunderland, Ontario, (about 60 miles north-east of Toronto),
“None of the officers were issued gloves, scarves, or protective clothing to prevent hair and fibres from falling on the remains and contaminating the evidence. Michalowsky [Chief Identification Technician with the Durham Regional Police] was in a hurry, racing against the weather. It was going to be tough to get the search done before the storm.” P.50
“Some of the officers took smoke breaks and no one watched to make sure the cigarette butts were put in the trash bag hanging on the van mirror. A cigarette package, a sales receipt, and a milk carton were found close to the body. Those in charge decided these items didn’t have anything to do with the murder, and they were thrown away. Other items were photographed, tagged, bagged, and sent to the lab for analysis and accepted as evidence, even though they were dropped by the searchers.” P.52
Guy Paul did not attend the funeral, believing it was not open to the public, and this became a topic of discussion:
“His absence was noted by the police. It seemed Guy Paul couldn’t do anything right. The police and reporters believed the murderer would go to the funeral. If Guy Paul had gone, they would have noticed him, and perhaps thought he was guilty. But he didn’t go, and they thought it was suspicious he stayed away.” p.61
“Detectives Fitzpatrick and Shephard met with Janet and Kenny Jessop on February 14, 1985. When asked about Guy Paul, they both said he was a musician and a “weird-type guy.” They complained that he had never helped with the search for Christine and didn’t attend the funeral or even give them his sympathies. Inspector John Shephard made an entry in his notebook identifying Guy Paul as “Suspect Morin.””p.61
Guy Paul’s name kept coming up, along with the epithet “weird,” and so the police decided it was time to talk to this “weird-type guy.” But first they did some digging, starting with Christine’s best friend Leslie, whom they interviewed just beforehand:
“So Leslie,” the detective asked, “tell me about Christine’s neighbour, Guy Paul Morin. You said you were friends with Christine.”
“Yeah, she was my best friend.”
“So, when you were playing over there at Christine’s and you saw Guy Paul, what was he doing?”
“I don’t know,” said Leslie.
“Well,” said the detective, “was he cutting his lawn?”
“Was he standing next to his fence?”
“Could he have been cutting his hedges?”
“Yeah, I think so. He must have been cutting his hedges.”
“Well,” asked the detective, “was he holding the clippers tight?”
“Well,” Leslie said. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” pushed the detective, “were his knuckles white, did they look like this?” and he held out his fist so his knuckles looked white.
“Yeah, sure. Okay. Yes, it did look like that.” p.63
Morin was subsequently arrested, and at his first trial in 1986 he was acquitted. However, the Crown appealed this decision on the grounds that the trial judge made a fundamental error prejudicing the Crown’s right to a fair trial, and in 1987 the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.
Morin was convicted at his second trial (1992), substantially on the testimony of convicted felons who wanted shortened jail time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1995, improvements in DNA testing led to a test which excluded Morin as the murderer. Morin’s appeal of his conviction was allowed (i.e., the conviction was reversed), and a directed verdict of acquittal entered in the appeal.
Subsequently, a commission of inquiry was convened under Mr. Justice Fred Kaufman (The Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin), who uncovered evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct, and of misrepresentation of forensic evidence by forensic experts.
However, I think the main lesson to be learned here is to not to jump to conclusions, as was done in this case. Morin was considered “weird,” and this assumption blossomed to the point where it implicated an entire chain of “experts.” The chain was then held fast through the fact that one link blindly followed another through professional courtesy, or whatever.
In fact the police, forensic experts and Crown prosecutors were so confident — so smug — that they built their case backwards, manipulating and creating evidence to prove the guilt of a suspect who could not possibly be innocent. But he was.… Highly recommended. Five bees....more
In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was sGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was subjected to in my school days, a chalk-dry collection of dates and events that one could only find interesting in passing; and then there are those that have some colour to them–some human interest woven into the fabric. Fortunately, Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812 by Irene Gordon [Lorimer 'Amazing Stories' series, 2009] is of the latter variety.
Tecumseh, whose name loosely translates as “Panther passing across (the sky),” was born in Ohio in 1768, to a minor war chief of the Shawnee people (“people of the water”). Shortly after he was born, his father was killed by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and Tecumseh then resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be “a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls.”
He was one of those people who was born to greatness, whether by design or circumstance, and would probably stand out in any society. In Tecumseh’s case he was visionary who saw a confederacy of Indian peoples as the only salvation in the face of the ever-expanding “white tide.” A confederacy was also the foil against some thoroughly unscrupulous politicians who regarded the Natives as ignorant savages, and a hindrance to their ambitions.
Tecumseh also saw salvation in a peaceful co-existence with the whites, but with the rights of the “Red Man” solidly entrenched in territory they could call their own.
Regretfully, as it is with most great men, those around him, both white and red (with the exception of Isaac Brock), did not—or could not—share his vision, and so Tecumseh was challenged on three sides: The “long knives” (Americans); his own independent-thinking people; and the British, who were as political as the Americans.
Tecumseh and British General Sir Isaac Brock were cut from a similar cloth, and it is said that he and Tecumseh rode into Detroit together after its defeat. However, when Isaac Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada, in October 1812, the command passed to Major General Harry Proctor; a foppish, indecisive man, whom Tecumseh distrusted, and whose indecision eventually led to Tecumseh’s death.
Irene Gordon has written a concise account of Tecumseh’s life, historically accurate and balanced, but what I like most about it is that she has breathed some life into a story that could otherwise be as dry Mr. Ewart’s high school history classes. I also applaud her (and Lorimer’s Amazing Stories series) for keeping Canadian history from going down the gopher hole of obscurity. Five bees....more
I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [seeGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:
Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families. In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8
And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.
Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.”
There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:
“The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.
“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.
“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks the provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”
And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depth of an outhouse hole, e.g.
“You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49
“I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.
““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”
“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54
“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.
As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the mostGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.” It is meant as both a mission statement and a lament. E.C. “Ted” Meyers also alludes to this in the above blurb for Wild Canadian West [Hancock House Publishing Ltd, 20007], i.e. “The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”
Ironically, many of the famed gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and law men of the American west were not American at all. They were Canadian, as Ted Meyers reveals. For example:
Bat, Jim and Ed Masterson all hailed from Quebec. George Currie, better known as “Flat Nose George” from Prince Edward Island. He amalgamated his band of rustlers with Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch.” “Canada” Bill Jones, generally acknowledged as the greatest card sharp of the old west, was from Ontario.
Pearl Heart, from Ontario, was a stagecoach robber who later joined Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a—you guessed it–lady stage robber. There were also several notable American who came to Canada to make their mark, such as Bill Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit” who is said to have originated the term “hands up,” and who made a living robbing trains.
Nellie Cashman, known as “The Angel of the Caribou” for her humanitarian work among the miners who fell upon hard times. Armor de Cosmos from California (otherwise known as Jim Smith) who founded the British Colonist Newspaper [which I refer to several times in my forthcoming novel Coming of Age on the Trail]. Charlie “One Ear” Brown who was killed by vigilantes; James Barry (gambler) and Frank Spencer (rustler and gunfighter) who both ended up at the end of a rope. Etc. However, the Canadian West had plenty of its own home-grown heroes and villains, many of which I had never heard of until Ted Meyers presented them here. For example there was the “Two-Fisted Town Tamer,” John Ingram, a no-nonsense lawman who tamed two frontier cities, Winnipeg and Calgary, before turning his attention to Rossland, British Columbia. To leave it there, however, would be to treat Canadian history the way it has generally been taught—i.e. colourless. Fortunately Meyers goes on to tell how Ingram (while still chief of police) was fined $10 for being a “found-in” at a whore house in Winnipeg, and that he later ran the Calgary police department from the backroom of a pool hall. Moreover, he seldom resorted to a gun, but relied instead on a pair of ‘ham-hock-sized’ fists, knocking his suspects senseless with a well placed punch.
Then there was “British Columbia’s Hanging Judge,” Sir Mathew Bailie Begbie. Begbie was an Englishman who, after being released or rejected by every law firm he had ever had contact, was appointed a judge in “The Colonies,” i.e. Vancouver Island. It should also be mentioned that prior to this his love life had been no more successful, for his fiancé eloped with his brother.
Begbie arrived in Victoria, BC, in 1858, and was immediately assigned the entire area of what is now the Province of British Columbia (364,800 sq.mi. of sparsely-inhabited wilderness). Ironically, he was given the epithet of “The Hanging Judge,” but he actually disapproved of capital punishment. He therefore recommended to the lieutenant governor that most death sentences be commuted in favour of life in prison. He also had his own opinions on the issue of guilt or innocence, and did not hesitate to instruct the jury as to which verdict he deemed appropriate. Moreover, he would become more than a little irate when the jury went against his wishes, and would lecture them unmercifully as a result.
And for those who like a good ole fashioned shoot-em-up, there’s the tale of “The Shootout at Fortier’s Café,” which Meyers describes this way: “Its (Fisherville, B.C.) second claim to notoriety was the 1864 gun fight on the main street that made the gunfight at Tombstone’s OK Corral appear tame.”
Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister), Robert “Overland Bob” Evans and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians and British, was lead by a hot-tempered, vocal Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.
“The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.
“The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.
“When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.
“Walker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”
The above abstracts are only a few of the twenty-one stories that make up this remarkable, and in some respects unique anthology, for many of these tales have never before been published. Nevertheless, I believe these examples are sufficient to show that Canada does have a rich and colourful history that has been hidden from view by the apathy of governments and educators. Therefore we owe a great vote of thanks to writers and historians like E.C. “Ted” Meyers for bringing it to the fore in a readable and entertaining way. Five bees....more
When I first came across Merlin-444 by Rejean Giguere [Smashwords, 2011], two things attracted mGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
When I first came across Merlin-444 by Rejean Giguere [Smashwords, 2011], two things attracted me to it; i.e. it is a Canadian story by a Canadian author, and secondly it features the legendary Merlin engine and the Battle of Britain. It is not to suggest there aren’t lots of good Canadian authors to choose from, many I have reviewed (like Cynthia Faryon, and Tom Douglas), but the combination was the clincher.
The concept is a complex one—one might even say, “tricky.” The main protagonist, Bobby Morrison, is a likeable teenager with small town values, which include foregoing his own interest to look after his mother in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan (population 610). Like most small towns life is slow-paced, and so Bobby occupies his time pumping gas and working on his suped up ’77 Camaro.
His boss—and second protagonist—is an “old guy” known only as “Mr. G,” who seems to operate the service station more as a hobby than a business. Therefore Bobby is pretty well free to tinker with his hot rod.
His nemesis,known as “Digger,” owns a hot rod too, plus an obnoxious ego to go along with it. He is also dating Suzanne, Bobby’s secret love interest. However, this story is not intended as a romance, so Suzanne and Digger are mostly sub-plot overlaid by the preponderating action.
The real story begins when Mr. G suggests they put a Rolls Royce, Merlin engine, in the garage truck—which is quite a feat considering the Merlin V12 engine packed an amazing 1,470 hp (1,096 kW).
Even more incredible is when Bobby first fires it up and experiences some sort of time warp, by which he is transported back in time to the cockpit of a Spitfire. Moreover, he is the midst of a dogfight as part of the Battle of Britain (1940).
More such ‘flights’ were to follow, during which we learn for whom and for what reason he is being mysteriously called back in time, and the answer is quite poignant—not quite a tear-jerker, but satisfying.
The cross-over nature of this story—i.e. young adult-cum-historical fiction-cum-fantasy—would be enough to give any writer grey hairs just thinking about it, and so I think this author has given himself a fairly tough row to hoe from the start. In fact, I think he may have over extended himself to tackle it in the first place.
It is not to say that there aren’t some very nicely written parts. The dog fights for example are particularly intense, and the author’s straight forward style suits this sort of action, but overall I felt the story was rushed without regard to development. Instead, characters were unexpectedly introduced with chunks of information to cobble it together.
There are also some issues with repetitive phrases that stood out like stumbling blocks in places. For example:
"Jumping up he ran to the truck squinting, shielding his eyes. As the light and noise finally settled, the dust floated to the floor of the cab. He yanked open the door and pulled the kid out, dragging him to a chair. God, he took in a quick breath, there was blood on the kid’s shoulder.
"The kid was alive, but sure seemed drained. He watched carefully as Bobby slowly came to. He saw the distant look in his eyes, while he watched the kid get his bearings back.
"Finally the kid looked up, shaking his head, “Incredible Mr. G.. Out of this world.” P.52
I realize that this isn’t a particularly favourable review at first blush, but hopefully it will make for one in in the future. There is enough good about this story to suggest it. Two and one-half bees. ...more
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waitingGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.
The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate” because they developed their unique culture in total isolation, starting around 1 A.D. until—with the death of Shanawdithit (“Nancy April”) in1829—they were declared officially extinct.
Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases (particularly tuberculoses) for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history.
All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place. His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons (while not unique) is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i.e. the rugged and austere wilderness of Newfoundland in the early nineteenth century.
British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr., a ruthless Beothuk persecutor [yet another real individual and fact]. However, his son, John Jr., although dominated by his father, is also vested with a conscience and becomes Buchan’s ally.
Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men.
Crummey’s poetic style is a real boon here, for the setting is very much part of the story—both the harshness and austere beauty of its topography and climate. He has therefore woven it into tapestry as though it were one of the characters, emphasizing the hardy resilience of its occupants—like Joseph Reilly, a transported (“exiled”) Irish thief turned trapper. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end. For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees.
One of the historical events portrayed in this story is “The stealing of Demasduit (“Mary March”).
Demasduit was a Beothuk woman who is thought to have been about 23 years old when she was captured near Red Indian Lake in March 1819.
The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk. A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. whose father John Peyton Sr. was a salmon fisherman known for his hostility towards the small tribe. On a raid, they killed Demasduit’s husband Nonosbawsut, then ran her down in the snow. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland.
The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the colonial government wanted to give Desmaduit comfort and friendly treatment while she was with the English, hoping she might one day be a bridge between them and the Beothuk. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about 200 words of Beothuk language. However, in January 1820 while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin. Source: Wikipedia....more
If you like solid adventure and raw action that moves at a heart-pounding pace, then The Last Good War by C.J. Brauner [Trafford Publishing; Reprint edition, 2006] is right up your alley. Indeed, within the first few pages one of the protagonists, Carson Braddock, is involved in a good-ole-fashioned punch-up with a brawny Southerner; thus setting the tone for what is to come.
And for these two—including Max Bryson—there was plenty to come, i.e.
“A flurry of one-inch shells rose to meet them and mark their speed and precise direction. Black puffs from three-inch shells blossomed above and below to bracket their altitude. Five-inch shells spiralled up to their flight level for effect. Audible bursts that erupted beneath the wings rocked the blue dive-bombers like angry hands on a cradle.
““Christ,” Max Bryson commented. “They’re throwin’ up enough tonnage to beat our bomb load five to one.”
“And explosion just ahead of Carson’s banking dive-bomber sent the sizzle of hot steel rushing through the propeller arc and along the slipstream. The shredded smoke filled his cockpit with the bitter tang of cordite. Regardless of the hazard and discomfort, however, both Canadian rear-seat gunners concentrated on the final preparations for the dive.
““With gunnery like that,” Carson Braddock observed, “the bastards don’t need the proximity fuse.”
“Suddenly, a Japanese four-inch shell blew the cowling off a Helldiver in the leading flight as it dove into a narrow gorge. The wounded pilot slumped forward and struggled with the controls. The battered dive bomber banked hard as the pilot pulled the plane into a steep stall. Slowly, she flopped over on to her back, dove down, rolled right side up, and fell off into a violent spin. The fatally injured pilot smeared blood all over the inside of his cockpit canopy as he fought to gain control and unload his bombs. The five-hundred-pound bombs spilled away from the plane like pebbles from a wagon wheel. Knifing down, they exploded and the trees as the damaged wingtip began to fold.
“MAY DAY! MAY DAY!” the radio-gunner in the rear seat broadcast. “This crate is coming apart like a peeled banana!”
“In slow motion, a nylon parachute blossomed from the rear seat. Caught in the spin and the churn of the slipstream, the canopy snagged on the tail fin and wrapped the rudder and the elevators in white cloth. Wild centrifugal force tore the hlpless gunner out of the cockpit and spun him around at the end of the shroud lines in a wide and accelerating arc. Shedding cockpit covers and torn wing panels, the doomed plane dropped far into the steep and incredibly narrow valley. As the fliers above watched, the parachute’s long nylon cords whipped the your airman into the face of a cliff just before the plane crashed and exploded. Crushed like a fly on a windscreen, the inert body of Chris Foreman from Gila Bend, Arizona, clung to the sheer granite wall as flames and smoke engulfed it.
““Their luck ran out,” Chief Flannigan declared in a somber voice over the squadron frequency. “Now let’s all get back to work.””
It is this sort of ‘visual’ realism that makes this novel darkly fascinating and compelling to read. One is at once repelled by the violence and bloodshed portrayed, and yet drawn into at the same time; wondering if our young, likeable heroes’ luck can hold out against the odds.
In this regard, all the characters are well developed; however, the introduction of Miss Shirley Hashimoto seemed oddly out-of-place in an otherwise, decidedly male story. I may be a bit biased, as well, but I thought the scenes involving her were somewhat contrived.
Altogether a good solid read, and an interesting twist on history. Four-and-one-half stars. ...more