Billed as “A New Brunswick Non-Fiction Novel” Twice to the Gallows by Fredericton author Dominique Perrin is the perfect type of story that leans more toward the “creative’ side due to the paucity of facts surrounding the unusual case of Bennie Swim, a double-killer (he was only convicted of murder for one of his killings) in the Carleton County area of New Brunswick back in the early 1920s.
Bennie’s story is the timeless one of an angry jilted lover with the mentality “If I can’t have her nobody can” and sets off to visit Olive, the girl who wanted nothing to do with him and her new husband, Harvey. He has a revolver that he traded his worldly belongings to acquire.
What facts are known is that acting in a blind rage Bennie killed both Olive and Harvey Trenholm in their home, and then attempted suicide by shooting himself, at which he failed. He then fled the scene and managed to escape capture for a few hours (it was wintertime, so he wasn’t hard to track on foot). As Mr. Perrin notes in the Afterword:
“Bennie’s behaviour may look pretty stupid to us, but it was driven by his unbearable loss and passionate jealousy.”
More facts are known once Bennie is in jail awaiting trial, his quick conviction (despite the best efforts of his beleaguered lawyer in a losing cause) and his incarceration awaiting his execution by hanging. Bennie attempts to claim insanity, and while he cleverly fools two New Brunswick doctors, an Ontario psychiatrist is brought in and isn’t fooled one bit. Bennie must hang. However, a professional hangman cannot be sourced locally, so two apprentice hangmen are brought in, much to the Sherriff’s chagrin, as one is a total drunk and the other inexperienced in the science of a proper hanging (hence the book’s title). This section is particularly entertaining as Sherriff Foster appears to be the only competent person in Bennie’s solitary life.
Mr. Perrin has done a fine job of recreating the times and mores of an early 20th century rural New Brunswick with its small inter-related communities of simple, hardworking folks. Of necessity, he recreates dialogue where needed and reasonable speculation where possible when all the facts are not known. He has certainly performed careful research through archives, tracing out all the connections to the story down to the present day. If you like books that recreate true historical crimes (such as Debra Komar’s, for instance), then I am sure you will enjoy reading Twice to the Gallows.
Dominique Perrin served in the Canadian Armed Forces for twenty-six years. Since retirement he has become a jazz musician, playing alto saxophone. He regularly plays in jazz clubs of several European cities. He also performs and gives lessons in advanced saxophone in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he lives.
- Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (June 11 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 242 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1988299241
- ISBN-13 : 978-1988299242
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.