Three deaths: one, a popular Chinese businessman, the second his adopted son, and the third a rookie RCMP constable in a popular cafe and store in the unassuming town of Botwood Newfoundland. If that doesn’t have the makings of a good mystery-thriller, then I don’t know what does. But this isn’t fiction, it’s a true crime story that occurred in 1958, and it remained untold for many years, but lay dormant in the collective memory of the town and any eyewitnesses that happened to be in Botwood that fateful November day.
“After intense research, I was able to uncover an RCMP file and the findings of a provincial magisterial enquiry, completed in December of 1958 and withheld from publication for nearly sixty years after the event. Its findings and formal statements from those called by the enquiry, most now deceased, combined with current interviews and research, have been used to create Death at the Harbourview Cafe.“
Fred Humber, a native of Botwood, was thirteen years old at the time. and as a first-time author, he has done an admirable job of getting the facts straight and unfolding the story in an easy to follow chronological order. He provides us with a backstory on the times, the extensive Chinese population in Newfoundland, as well as life in the busy port of Botwood itself. Notable too, are the inclusion of black and white photos which help to set the scene in the reader’s mind.
The following excerpt from the book takes place when Hearsey Canning (an employee of the cafe Cafe whom Jim Ling affectionately calls “Boey”) climbs a ladder to the second story to call out to Jim whom no one has seen for days now:
Hearsey climbed up the ladder, stepped out onto the roof of the back porch extension, and went to the window on the left. She had to be careful of the barbed wire. After twenty minutes of knocking on the window, she finally heard Jim speak from the inside. “Who is it?”
Hearsey replied with the Chinese name Jim had given her. “Boey. Come down and let me in, will you, Jim?”
“No! No! No!” Jim sounded quite agitated.
“Where is Ken?” she asked.
“Me not know,” he replied, his voice rising in volume and sharpness.
“Is he in there with you?”
Jim replied, “No! No No!” This time he was even louder and quite emphatic.
“Do you need a doctor?” Nothing. The place fell silent.
There was no question about it. By this time, Jim was coming unglued. He had screamed in such a high pitch and volume, Hearsey figured he had gone savage with rage and frustration. Her questions to him seemed normal enough.
What the hell was going on?
This was a particularly tense part of the book, and there are others too. Death at the Harbourview Cafe is a story worthy of a prime-time drama, and Mr. Humber draws on the many peculiarities in the story (an unarmed RCMP constabulary, citizens milling about the cafe after shots have rung out, and Jim Ling’s mental health issues just to name a few) to maintain a level of strangeness, confusion and suspense in the telling of this real-life drama. Included are nineteen appendices which contain artifacts, photographs, news clippings, official letters and eyewitness statements.
A well-compiled and researched book, Death at the Harbourview Cafe will be enjoyed by all fans of the true crime genre, fact or fiction. It goes on my 2018 Longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the Non-Fiction category.
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