James’ Fall 2023 Round-up (Part One)

I am such a procrastinator at times. Look at that stack of books! Six books that I have read and not yet reviewed. Let’s get to it!

Blacklion by Luke Francis Beirne (Baraka Books, 2023)

This book represents Mr. Beirne’s sophomore effort, following closely on the heels of 2022’s Foxhunt one of our “Best Books” of that year. This time, the story is of a CIA intelligence agent, Raymond Daly sent to Ireland during the time of “The Troubles”. Like Foxhunt’s protagonist, Milne, Raymond eventually finds himself deeper and deeper into a situation way outside his wheelhouse, surrounded by people he cannot always trust. Mr. Beirne’s writing is good, really good and both books are a slow burn of a read.

“A damp mist hung in the air like rain aching to fall.”

When I was a young man, I used to read a lot of Frederick Forsythe, and Blacklion very much recalls the type of story Mr. Forsythe would spin. In fact, Raymond purchases a copy of The Day of Jackal in a Sligo bookstore. A tip of the hat, I suspect. Recommended, along with Foxhunt.

This Time, That Place Selected Stories by Clark Blaise (Biblioasis, 2022)

Biblioasis puts together some great anthologies (in their reSet editions): John Metcalf, Diane Schomperlen and now, with This Time, That Place, Clark Blaise, a master of the short story form, and as Ms. Atwood says in her Foreward, “Read the stories of Clark Blaise. He’s the recording angel and the accuser, rolled into one. He’s the eye at the keyhole. He’s the ear at the door.” When you read a few of his stories which are set all over North America, you’ll understand what she means. His perspective in storytelling is unique. A must for the short fiction enthusiast.

The Human Scale by Michael Lista (Véhicule, 2023)

There are two true crime books in this stack and the first one The Human Scale, is a selected collection of Mr. Lista’s stories that he has written for magazines (notably, Toronto Life) over recent years. Not just a collection that was thrown together, but Véhicule has done an admirable job of having Mr. Lista include postscripts to each story to bring us up to date, or otherwise inform us of how the story came about.

“Here’s where I land: people, especially at either end of the human scale, at their most devastated or their most depraved, are too magnificent to write about any other way than beautifully not because they’re good but because they’re us. These are the stories of the bad and the bereaved who taught this hack what’s good.”

And he does write beautifully. Recommended for true crime story fans.

Who Killed Richard Oland? by Janice Middleton (Formac, 2023)

I’m not sure if anyone outside of New Brunswick would be interested in the murder of Richard Oland, but Ms. Middleton takes a fresh look at a murder that occurred in Saint John in 2011. Spoiler alert: the killer(s) have never been found or identified. Ms. Middleton has her own theories, but speculation aside, Who Killed Richard Oland? is a well-written account of all the facts, issues and courtroom scenes that one needs to get fully up to speed on the gruesome murder of Saint John businessman Richard Oland.

The Dead Die Twice: Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia by Steve Skafte (Nimbus, 2023)

What a fascinating photo book The Dead Die Twice is! If you’re into cemeteries, that is. But the graveyards in Mr. Skafte’s book are not the neatly trimmed, manicured places of eternal rest that you might envision. No, these cemeteries are fully abandoned, and overgrown with brush and all other manner of flora. “Overgrown and underfoot, but not out of memory or mind” he states. Mr. Skafte has searched them out, doing all the legwork, and taking some astonishing photos along the way. He generously provides the GPS coordinates and walking directions for those intent on searching them out.

Lay It On The Line by Rik Emmett (ECW Press, October 2023)

(This review of Mr. Emmett’s memoirs is based on an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) supplied to me by ECW in exchange for a review.)

Subtitled “A Backstage Pass to Rock Star Adventure, Conflict and Triumph”, I was very interested in reading Lay It On The Line as I was a big fan of Triumph, the group that he was a third of (vocals and guitar) in the late 70s to late 80s when he finally left the band. I saw them live once, in Kingston, ON and I had a number of their albums as well. So this was a book I was eager to read.

Unfortunately, I must admit it was also a book I couldn’t finish. To be honest, I was primarily interested in his life with Triumph, which only gets one chapter (“The Triumph Chapter”) devoted solely to his time with the group. It was a little over thirty pages. The rest of the book would be fine if you are a Rik Emmett fan, but I liked the group as a whole, not so much the individual members, so the rest of the book was of little interest. Rik has come to terms with how he is defined by his Triumph years, but he has done so much more as a solo performer since leaving the group. As I said for Rik Emmett fans only. No photos either in the ARC, other than one of Rik at the beginning of the book.