Category Archives: Crime

Everyone but Fajza by John Portelli, Translated by Irene Mangion

Every book is a universe unto itself, a unique and precious treasure to be discovered. It was with such sentiment and much pleasure, therefore, that I accepted to review John Portelli’s new novel Everything but Fajza. The book arrived by express post, a new friend I will forever cherish. From its velvety-soft, fuchsia cover, illustrated with an abstract one-line drawing of Fajza’s pensive face, I was immediately drawn to read the story. I was immersed in the plot from the first page, taken in by the live breaking news from CP24, CBC Radio and various other local media outlets reporting Fajza’s shooting which has taken place in a seedy neighbourhood of Toronto’s west end. The novel is a page-turner from the first words. With trepidation, we are led to wait in suspense to discover Fajza’s fate and hopefully the arrest of a culpable someone.

   As if standing at the centre of an art gallery, one by one, we are met with an exhibit of detailed portraits of eight pivotal characters in Fajza’s life. Each one speaks in the first person. Each character occupies the space of one chapter in sequence. From the second to the second last chapters, we read the relationship of each person to Fajza and the quasi confessions and admissions of guilt from Sergio (Fajza’s husband); Safja (her older sister); Piero (her previous boyfriend with whom she got pregnant); Rona (her mother); Joe (her father); Maria (Piero’s mom); Serena ( Piero’s new girlfriend); and Stephen (Piero’s father). Each self-revelation is a clue card to be examined in view of the dismal circumstances of the main character. Just as in the murder mystery game Clue, we anxiously want to discover who is responsible for Fajza’s shooting and most of all, their motive.

“I absolutely loved this novel. It had everything: intrigue, suspense, romance, socio-historical facts and gorgeous writing.”

   The suspense builds with each revelation, as each one reveals details about Fajza and about themselves and their involvement with her. As we scour each character’s words for evidence, we begin to comprehend the effect each person has had on Fajza’s life and the complexity and importance of each smallest act and thought. It is not until we get close to the end of the book that we can begin to piece together the Rubik’s cube’s multifaceted trap which had been inadvertently set by everyone to position Fajza in her tragic ending. The last chapter takes place at Faiza’s wake. To the grief of everyone is lovely, sensitive, juxtaposed an array of photographs of Fajza’s brief life. Set on her coffin, each photograph from birth to death, almost like a life review. She was a beautiful child. A very loved, intelligent and wonderful girl. A great human being with ideals, talent and kindness to share. Everyone feels guilt and remorse at having contributed to her death somehow and not having been able to prevent her sad ending.

   Like the tentacles of an octopus, the net of destiny unfolds to strangle the life of an innocent woman. She is at the center, as a proverbial girl in the spider net, each guilty party, if at first seemingly innocuous and well-meaning, dangerous and lethal once part of the dance macabre they set in motion as an entity. Each one becomes a string commingling to create a nefarious, albeit unplanned plot which unintentionally results in the death of a beautiful, innocent soul. Each participant in this net of fate is driven by beliefs: personal, cultural, religious, political, as well as genetic character predispositions and traits that lead them to sins of omission as well as premeditated, calculated actions congruent with their natural inclinations and above-mentioned beliefs.

   In this beautifully written novel, the plot of destiny is laid bare and superbly illustrated by the author through the detailed self confessions of each person involved in Fajza’s life. The nuances of culpability, albeit minimal in some and more pronounced in others, twist and braid an ever-strengthening web, which protracted through the space-time of events in Fajza’s life, place her at the centre of its stranglehold. Fajza becomes the proverbial sacrificial lamb to expiate all their psychomachias and fallacies of distorted thought, fears, limiting beliefs, jealousies, greed, culture clash, upholding of honour at any cost, personal agendas, mental illness and ignorance.

   The Greeks believed in the power of fate or destiny. They believed that everything happens for a reason and that our life path is predestined by the Gods, hence we are subjected to it without any option to escape from it. There are eight people or characters around Fajza. She is the fulcrum of an arachnid/octopus-like entity we call destiny, each limb innocent as of itself, replete with its own self-survival strategies, beliefs, fears, aspirations, upbringing, genetic expression of temperament, and character, yet invisibly merging together into a synergistic catalyst for Fajza’s demise.

   In our contemporary world where technology and science predominate, we often forget to think of the possible effect of destiny in our own existence. I am very grateful to John Portelli for bringing to light the fact that fate is not only a word relegated to pre-scientific societies. He illustrates and reiterates brilliantly that it is very much an active, ever-present principle in human dynamics, always ready to deploy its tendrils through the tapestry of our own reality. Perhaps we have just changed the words fate and destiny to the power of intention and manifestation, as well as the spooky effects of the quantum world with its possibilities of entanglement.

   Fajza the victor, the successful, the invincible is vanquished by the very people who supposedly love her. In the story, we read that she was unique. She was flawless, but that was not enough to save her. She is the quintessential tragic hero and as readers, we love her for all her wonderful qualities as well as her weaknesses,  and suffer along with her and for her. We don’t want it to end like this. We wish we could save her life and put the suffering and blame onto the shoulders of the ones responsible. We can relate to Fajza. We can also relate to the fact that in real life, as in this novel, there are no happy endings.

In a quote I recently and synchronistically found in Alberto Manguel’s A Reading Diary, A Year of Favourite Books, I found a quote befitting of Fajza  written by George Meredith, from his work In Modern Love:

                      ‘Tis morning, but no morning can restore

                       What we have forfeited. I see no sin:

                       The wrong is mixed. In tragic life, God wot,

                       No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:

                       We are betrayed by what is false within.

   I don’t know if the ancient Greeks believed in a determinist’s fatalistic universe, or if they believed they had a degree of free will, but regardless, eventual outcomes are predefined, with fate playing a key part, laying down events if not directly, then in an overarching inevitable manner.

   I absolutely loved this novel. It had everything: intrigue, suspense, romance, socio-historical facts and gorgeous writing. I know that I will read Everyone but Fajza over and over again for the sheer pleasure of it. Translated from the Maltese by Irene Mangion and skillfully written by John Portelli, it is a highly acclaimed work published by The National Book Council and Horizons. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing the predicament each one of us is entwined in and the mysterious repercussions our liaisons can have on our own well-being and survival.


About the Author

John P. Portelli was born in Malta where, after completing a B.A. (Philosophy & Maltese, 1975), he taught history and modern languages at a secondary school and philosophy at a sixth form. In 1977 he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship and commenced his studies at McGill University from where he obtained an M.A. (1979) and a Ph.D. (1984). Currently, he is a professor in the Department of Social Justice Education, and the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at OISE, University of Toronto. He is Co-director of the Centre for Leadership and Diversity and a fellow of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. He has published 10 books including two books of poetry, and over 100 articles and chapters in books.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Word & Deed Publishing Incorporated (April 21 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 158 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 177734543X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1777345433

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews
Some Rights Reserved  

When The Dead Are Razed by Samuel Martin

Feisty hipster Teffy Byrne is not one to take a back seat to anyone. Part owner of an independent newspaper and always on the lookout for a story, Teffy is about to become involved in a sinister plot in an attempt to protect her boyfriend Ger from his former drug boss, Troy Hopper. Teffy will stop at nothing even if it means becoming a drug mule for the newly released convict; a transaction that quickly gets out of hand when Teffy finds herself stranded on a remote Newfoundland island with a pound of Troy’s heroin hidden inside a dead woman’s urn. On top of all this, the stolen coded journal in her possession that once belonged to Ger’s old flame from his former life contains information that could blow everything wide open, exposing sensitive information about the illicit drug and sex trade that exists within the nooks and crannies of the island province of Newfoundland. When The Dead Are Razed by Samuel Martin is a harrowing North Atlantic noir that explores the dark underworld of ordinary people living a not-so-ordinary life.

She dives into the rain and finds her way to Ellie Strickland's gallery. Pushes the door open easily - no alarm, thank God - and digs the gum wrapper out of the striker plate and pockets it. The door clicks shut behind her and she heads up the stairs to the gallery, avoiding the clank and grind of the rickety lift. She steps into the gallery, the only sounds her ragged breath and rain slashed against glass. Shadows blue the fishbowl room, cast from the faint glow of unseen harbour lights out the rain-pelted windows. The whale's tail seems to flick in the strange light and the whole room tilts nauseously toward her, making the humpback look as if it's diving deep from outside the storm, its maw wide to swallow her whole.

Just pick up the package, she tells herself, gulping against the sudden urge to vomit. Call the cops on the way back across the island. Say Troy blackmailed you into playing delivery girl and abducted your boyfriend to force you.

Yeah right, she thinks.

When The Dead Are Razed is Samuel Martin’s third novel, following This Ramshackle Tabernacle (2010) and A Blessed Snarl (2012). Hailing from the mainland province of Ontario, Martin moved to the east coast in 2008 to begin studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. It was during this time that he fell in love with his new island home and embarked upon this latest novel as “a love letter to a place” he terribly missed before leaving to teach in Iowa in 2012. Readers will be mesmerized by multiple plotlines and will be propelled mercilessly through the harrowing and sometimes jarring details of Martin’s vivid and unrelenting prose. A suspenseful read, I occasionally got lost in the fast-paced action of the many ordinary characters and the things that happened to them. Martin’s crime thriller does an excellent job at highlighting the many complex reasons for the crimes these regular people commit. In this narrative, love is the bright light that eventually triumphs over evil, but at what cost? The formidable protagonist Teffy Byrne’s strong desire to protect Ger from harm and avenge the death of his ex-girlfriend is what propels the narrative. Readers will find themselves immersed in Teffy’s world of poor decision-making and at times, utter mayhem, shaking their heads but wanting more.

She jolts awake yelling and whips the covers against the wall. A second ago, Jake had been riding her like an old hag, prying down on that scraper's bar. Choking her.

Spitting in her face.

Then the sleep paralysis broke. And now it's just her in the room. Christ on the wall there, holding out his Sacred Heart. The house quiet but for the wind knocking the window frames. That breath on her face. Ger's breath. She listens. A roundabout wind by the sounds of it. How did Fin say it? Anything can happen in a roundabout wind.

Out the toilet-side window, she sees Ellie's car in the drive still and Daryll's goats grazing freely beside the house. Still not a sound. So she zips up and thinks it's now or never to make that switch and call Troy. Find out where she can drop this shit, then get a hold of Ger.

When The Dead Are Razed by Samuel Martin is an explosive, well-written novel. Readers will tread lightly with one eye covered as they are thrust into the violent underbelly of the criminal side of Canada’s friendliest province. This novel is published by Slant Books.


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Slant (Sept. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 258 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 172525896X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1725258969

Under an Outlaw Moon by Deitrich Kalteis

Under an Outlaw Moon is depression-era true crime, set in the dust bowl of the Midwest, in a time when villains were idolized, and Hoover always got his man. Dietrich Kalteis inks out the lives of real-life couple Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson as they evade the authorities for nearly a year after robbing two federal banks at gunpoint. Kalteis’ distinct mix of staccato and parataxis sentences gives the reader a challenge when delving into the storyline, but once one learns his rhythm the characters flash to life.

Twenty-something, poetry lover Bad Bennie Dickson, aka Johnny O’Malley, has grandiose dreams of putting himself through law school by winning paid fights and robbing banks. Stella Mae Redenbaugh, a mere fifteen and with more true grit and sexual prowess than women twice her age, yearns for a life in Tinseltown and falling for a slick-haired bad boy with movie star looks. These two doomed lovers meet innocently enough and soon become as notorious as their predecessors in crime Bonnie and Clyde.

“…a gripping read I would recommend to those who love the golden era of the dirty thirties.”

Bennie has good intentions of being a respectable citizen, wanting to make his family proud, but in a time of uncertainty and classism, he falls into a life of crime in his early youth and spends time in a penitentiary, yet still tries to make good. He blames no one for his misfortune and tries to “roll with the punches” and says that being “born under an Outlaw Moon might explain why things turned out like they did.” Stella on the other hand blames her lot in life on the night she and her friend Liz accepted a ride home from the man at the roller rink. Her innocence shattered, she soon becomes the gutsy, levelheaded, sure shot of the car-thieving, bank-robbing duo.

Kalteis has an opportunity to flesh out the character of G-Man Werner Hanni who was the lead for the FBI in the hunt for the Dickson’s, but he just skims lightly over his involvement in their storyline. Hanni seems to be the only G-Man at the time to oppose the egomaniacal J. Edgar Hoover and his process for handling criminals, with his shoot first ask questions later policies. Hoover, portrayed as an attention-seeking media hound with paranoid conspiracy theories of everyone who was forward-thinking at the time has Hanni in an awkward position threatening a post in Alaska if the Dicksons were not caught in a timely fashion. Hanni had witnessed how Dillinger and the Barrows had been gunned down, and he has hopes that the infamous Time Lock Bandits do not succumb to the same fate.

The Dickson’s never fired a shot during their robberies, yet they were vilified in the newspapers, while witnesses stated they were polite and agreeable; Bennie even fulfilled promises of payment for stolen cars and assistance as Stella stood willing beside her man. Despite their tumultuous ending Stella never stopped loving her “Johnny,” the handsome-faced, wavy-haired youth who fed her lines at the roller rink where she met him before she turned sixteen.

Although Mr. Kalteis does justice to their tale, this reader is left wishing he had fleshed out the dirt poor gatsbyesque characters and the landscape in which their lives played out much sooner than he did; rather, they are left with a collar and shoulder style piece of work where imagination is key. Overall, a gripping read I would recommend to those who love the golden era of the dirty thirties.


About the Author

Dietrich Kalteis is an award-winning author. His debut, Ride the Lightning, was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels. He lives on Canada’s west coast, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and spends as much time as possible in California.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Nov. 2 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770415475
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770415478

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Tammy Catherine Greene
Some Rights Reserved  

The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation by Nate Hendley

There have been several excellent true crime books reviewed here at The Miramichi Reader recently, such as those by Dean Jobb and now another great Canadian true crime author, Nate Hendley, has just released his latest, The Beatle Bandit which takes us back to a bank robbery and a murder in North York Ontario on a hot July morning in 1964. Today, one’s mental state would be questioned if they tried to rob a bank, what with video surveillance, alarms, information sharing between police forces, and the Internet poised to spread the news at lightning speed. But, back in 1964, it would appear that a bank robbery was not such a risky undertaking. Just walk in and demand the money. That’s what Matthew Kerry Smith did, and he was successful to a certain point, remaining at large for some time until some dogged police work and a little luck paid off.

However, on that fateful July day, things got complicated when an ex-army civilian customer took it upon himself to try and stop Smith, AKA “The Beatle Bandit”. Jack Blanc, using one of the bank’s revolvers (yes, banks kept guns onsite in those days) tried to shoot Smith, but Smith, armed with a semi-automatic weapon shot Blanc dead.

“Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.”

North York Police had an unidentified bank robber and a murderer on their hands at this point. Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.

Nate Hendley was contacted by a man who had planned to write a book about the Beatle Bandit but never got around to actually writing it despite having banker boxes full of information. Torontonian Nate Hendley was the obvious choice as his authorship of dozens of true crime books speaks for itself. While Mr. Hendley had a lot of the legwork of research gifted to him, as it were, it still needed to be assembled into a story that readers would find interesting. This has been admirably accomplished by Mr. Hendley and published by Dundurn Press. Mr. Hendley’s writing style is relaxed with a pleasant tone and as such is very readable. He excels at unpacking the crime in light of the time setting in which it occurred, particularly regarding the laws (or lack of them) at the time. (There was still the death penalty, for example). Highly recommended for readers of the true-crime genre.


About the Author

Nate Hendley is a journalist and author. His books include The Boy on the BicycleThe Big Con, and Bonnie and Clyde. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Nov. 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459748107
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459748101

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions by Mark Stobbe

True crime aficionados can rejoice, for here is a very insightful look into the so-called “Mr. Big” sting operations that have been carried out by the RCMP and other police forces over the years. There are a lot of surprising elements in Mark Stobbe’s book. For instance, it was the RCMP that devised and perfected Mr. Big over the years. I simply took it for granted that it would have been an American tactic to get criminals to confess, but no, it was created here in Canada. In fact, as I came to learn, it is little used in the USA.

“The bottom line is that if a person tells Mr. Big they have killed someone, they and their associates have a very good chance of going to jail for a very long time.”

What is the “Mr. Big” sting? There is no one person who portrays Mr. Big, rather, police create an imaginary criminal gang to trick homicide suspects into a confession. “Mr. Big” is the top boss who requires the prospective gang member to come clean of his offences so that he can make them ‘go away’. Mr. Big is typically used as a last resort when evidence fails to fully incriminate a suspect. It is elaborate and expensive to stage a Mr. Big sting, but it is effective. It is not without its pitfalls too, and it has its detractors. Nevertheless, it has put men and women behind bars who would otherwise have never been convicted of murder. They are the next best thing to a smoking gun at a murder scene.

The “Mr. Big” Sting follows several cases of unsolved murders into which police decided to bring Mr. Big into the picture. The murders and facts of the case are examined, legal aspects are discussed and after all avenues of conviction are exhausted, Mr. Big is brought in.

Fascinating in its reach, especially for those who like “Law and Order” type shows and stories where criminal cases in which police, lawyers, judges, and the legal system are all involved, The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions is a book you need to read.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Stobbe has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has taught at Keyano College and Okanagan College. He began studying the criminal justice system after being accused and acquitted of the murder of a loved one. Dr. Stobbe now lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416123

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Body On The Beach by Patrick J. Collins

Constabulary officer Frank Fallon has just returned to his seaside home of Harbour Grace after 15 years with the Constabulary in St. John’s. Demoted from his position as Corporal because of behaviour unbecoming of an officer, the seasoned policeman finds himself on the beat in a town where he is forced to relive the painful memories of his past and the loss of his one and only love, beautiful Marie Callahan.  Bitter recollections quickly turn to a quest for justice, when Marie turns up dead on Martin’s Beach.  As Frank sets out to investigate the suspicious death of his former lover he is forced to revisit past relationships and confront personal demons that continue to plague him at every turn.  The Body On The Beach is a well-crafted piece of detective fiction that offers both suspense and a sense of vicarious satisfaction. As Officer Frank Fallon embarks upon his criminal investigation, hidden secrets and collusion are revealed and the sad tale behind the body on the beach is one you just don’t see coming. 

My Lord. Oh my God. It’s Marie.”

Seeing the love of his life, the woman he once hoped to marry, a victim, sprawled lifeless and cold, was too much to bear.  Too crushing.  He wanted to hold her.  Cradle her.  Comfort her.  Save her.   But he knew it was futile.  It was too late.  Fifteen years too late.  After all these years, discovering his very first love in such a horrifying context was beyond disturbing. 

He was numb with shock, his face buried in his hands.  But he had to come to his senses.  He was a policeman. As Frank rose to his feet, he glanced around, hoping that he hadn’t been seen. Thankfully, it appeared he was still alone.  

A #ReadAtlantic book!

The Body On The Beach by Patrick J. Collins is Collins’ eleventh and most recent book. Written in memory of Alice Williams who tragically died in 1902, this mystery narrative is inspired by her suspicious death; a death whose cause has never been revealed.  Set in the 1920s, the bustling town of Harbour Grace is under the rule of the Prohibition Act and the judicial brass are tasked with maintaining law and order.  Officer Frank Fallon is a skilled officer but bitter about his demotion and seeks the comfort of forbidden spirits to help him get through his day.  Readers will relate to Fallon’s flaws and will sympathize with his heartache but at the same time will be impressed with his investigative skills and dogged determination to find out what happened to his beloved Marie.  Readers will also be intrigued by the beautiful Christine Sullivan, daughter of the Chief Inspector who demoted Fallon and will enjoy how the criminal investigation unfolds while a new story of love and romance develops. Collins cleverly crafts a completely new level of entertainment through the interplay of these two characters. 

Collins has done an excellent job at creating a story that flows seamlessly. It is well-paced, making the story interesting and keeping readers hooked until the very end. The Body On The Beach by Patrick J. Collins is a wonderful read for any armchair detective who enjoys an escape from reality and an opportunity to step back in time. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick J. Collins is a writer and retired educator who has taught in various communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. He finished his career in education as a curriculum program specialist, working in several school districts on the Avalon Peninsula and in Western Labrador. Patrick also worked as a sales and marketing representative with Lifetouch Canada until June 2011. He recently retired as a sessional instructor at the Canadian Training Institute in Bay Roberts. Pat’s eleventh and most recent work, The Body on the Beach, is a novel inspired by the true events surrounding a woman, Alice Williams, who died under mysterious and suspicious circumstances. The cause of her death has never been revealed. Born and raised in Riverhead, Harbour Grace, Patrick J. Collins continues to enjoy researching and writing in his retirement.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Flanker Press (Sept. 22 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774570688
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774570685

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Stephanie Collins
Some Rights Reserved  

The Devil to Pay: An Inspector Green Mystery by Barbara Fradkin

Fradkin is well known for her compelling mysteries. Fast-paced, lots of action and scenes which keep you guessing. The Devil to Pay is another novel in the Inspector Green series set in Ottawa, Canada. But Inspector Michael Green is not the main character. His daughter Hannah steals the show.

Hannah is a rookie cop, learning the ropes from a fellow police officer named Rick, who she has been assigned to. The story opens with them responding to the dispatcher’s request for a unit to check on a 10-55, code for “domestic disturbance.” Directed to listen and take notes, Hannah can’t help but wonder if there is more than meets the eye. After the interview with the husband and wife, Hannah’s partner doesn’t believe there are grounds for further investigation but Hannah reminds him:

“There’s the dog.”
Rick snorted. “What about the dog?”
“I have a dog. I mean there’s a dog at my parents’. She was a rescue who’d been traumatized. Dogs don’t hide their feelings. The dog wasn’t friendly, especially to the husband. It was tense and fearful. It was quiet in the wife’s arms but when the husband went to pet it, it snarled.”

Like her famous father, who is a legend in investigation, now delegated to paperwork, she has a keen impulse to dig deeper. Told to let it go, she ventures off on her own time to uncover what nags at her about the situation. A death in the family gets the authorities involved and Hannah is warned off again. This is when she starts to get in trouble.

Fradkin does a splendid job of creating suspense. She weaves characters in and out, including the small dog, and the story moves along at a good pace. Surprises along the way keep you involved. It’s tough to put down. There are teasers in the story that hint at Inspector Green’s past as a lead investigator and Hannah’s rough childhood. Fradkin sets it up so you will want to know more.
I like Canadian mysteries and Fradkin is at the top of her craft. I enjoyed the novel and if you enjoy mysteries, I recommend it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Fradkin is a retired psychologist who is fascinated with why people turn bad. She is the author of the Amanda Doucette series and the critically acclaimed Inspector Green novels. She lives in Ottawa.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 408 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459743849
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459743847

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Operation Trafficked by Helen C. Escott

Sgt. Nicholas Myra and Cpl. Gail McNaughton have teamed up in Helen C. Escott’s fourth crime thriller, Operation Trafficked. After the murder of a young sixteen-year-old girl in a downtown hotel, a special joint forces operation headed up by Myra and McNaughton seeks to investigate a sophisticated ring of international criminals specializing in human trafficking and the sale of women and children for sex. As they attempt to piece together the events that led to the gruesome and untimely death of the young polish girl, they discover that what was once considered the oldest profession in the world is very much alive and well in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland and its surrounding areas. Suddenly a new realization emerges; these girls aren’t just sex workers; they are sex slaves, often held against their will for the pleasure of powerful men who occupy the upper echelons of society.

“Dedicated to the thousands of women and children who are trafficked every day, Helen C. Escott crafts a story that is both shocking and gut-wrenching.”

Dedicated to the thousands of women and children who are trafficked every day, Helen C. Escott crafts a story that is both shocking and gut-wrenching. Told in the third person point of view, the author does a superb job at providing insight into the backstory of each woman, drawing readers into the plight of each of the female characters and elevating them to real people deserving of our empathy and support. Whether it’s the young mother, herself abused as a child, and now sending naked photos of her 7-year-old daughter to her unknown boyfriend in a foreign country or a young Russian teen who has just discovered she has become pregnant by one of her johns, readers will be sickened but also saddened that such a market exists in our very own neighbourhoods.

Though the subject matter is heavy, there is relief! Throughout the narrative, Escott also weaves the continuing story of Sgt. Nicholas Myra, first introduced to readers in her first crime thriller Operation Wormwood and that of Cpl. Gail McNaughton, whose investigative skills are revealed in Operation Vanished. The duo and their team of crackerjack investigators are undaunted in their efforts to seek justice and in turn, are able to provide closure to the families whose loved ones have gone missing. Readers will have a hard time putting this book down.

Operation Trafficked by Helen C. Escott shines a very bright light on the heinous crimes that exist when a marginalized group is exploited for pleasure and gain. Kudos to this award-winning author for giving a voice to the voiceless!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen C. Escott is an award-winning, bestselling Canadian author. Her crime thriller Operation Vanished was awarded a Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction at the 24th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards. Operation Vanished is a mind-bending, sophisticated psychological crime thriller that will keep you guessing who the real killer is. In 2019 she was presented with the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Flanker Press Ltd. (Aug. 18 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 324 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774570521
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774570524

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Stephanie Collins
Some Rights Reserved  

The Liquor Vicar by Vince R. Ditrich

Brace yourself for two things. First, the next book in this series, scheduled for a 2022 release, is called The Vicar’s Knickers. This is important because if you enjoy this book, you’ll want to read the whole series of misadventures. Second, The Liquor Vicar may take a bit longer to read even though it’s slightly over 230 pages. That’s because you will pause over several quips, double over in laughter, re-read them, share them, laugh again, and wonder where Vince Ditrich has been all your life. Well, for most of his life, he’s been a busy working musician with the band Spirit of the West. He also has a calling for comedy writing and one can easily see this book play out as a film or sitcom.

Told to us in an at times deliciously ribald manner reminiscent of Carry-On-gang Brit humour, we accompany Tony Vicar as he fumbles his way through his despairing turn as an Elvis impersonating DJ to working with another tongue-tripping comedic foil named Ross “I’d be able to make a few altercations to my lifestyle” Poutine. Upon witnessing an accident and unseemly back from the dead event, Tony is hailed and sought after as a miracle worker. This isn’t the celebrity fame he was seeking, especially in the form of an obsessed and troubled woman named Serena. Her plans for Vicar include removing her number one competition, Vicar’s new girlfriend Jacquie.

The action moves at a quick pace with a play on words, saucy descriptions, a bit of bloodshed, and several pop culture references. In between the zippy banter, some soft-hearted drama, but not for long as the laughs keeps coming. Will Tony Vicar make his way towards the happiness that eludes him at every turn? Does Serena evoke any empathy in her journey? These are a couple of issues to ponder as quickly as one turns the pages.

If you need further convincing, here’s a quoted passage that has me fully betrothed to all future Vicar books: “The word chillax triggered a full-on rage in Vicar…it indicated a willful embrace of cultural retardation, of linguistic vandalism that was bringing society down to unsustainable Kardashian levels.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vince R. Ditrich is a lifelong musician and member of the band Spirit of the West. He has circled the world, earned more than a dozen gold and platinum albums, and been enshrined in several Halls of Fame. Vince lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Aug. 17 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459747259
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459747258
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Mala Rai
Some Rights Reserved  

Death on Darby’s Island by Alice Walsh

Summertime is a good time for a murder mystery; the perfect kind of story to take to the cottage, beach, or camp for a light, entertaining read. Death on Darby’s Island by award-winning author Alice Walsh fits the bill perfectly, although it won’t be released until August (this review is based on an Advance Reading Copy).

Darby’s Island is a small outport that is connected to the mainland by a ferry service. The story takes place in 1975 with flashbacks to the mid-sixties, so it is actually two stories in one. Blanche Ste Croix is a young RCMP officer stationed in Corner Brook and one of the first female ones in Newfoundland. She was born on Darby’s Island and is back to investigate allegations of fraud at the senior’s home there. She arrives on the same ferry as “Prospero” a travelling hypnotist who is putting on a show that evening in the community hall. Also on the island is Archbishop Malloy, there for the blessing of the fishing fleet the next day.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

At Prospero’s show that evening, Blanche’s father-in-law Jake is hypnotized into believing he is a seagull and takes off out of the hall before he can be un-hypnotized. Later, two inebriated locals stumble over the dead body of the archbishop and a bewildered Jake is found cowering in a fish store on the beach with a bloodied knife in his hands. Now Blanche has a murder investigation on her hands. No one can believe Jake did it, but everyone is a suspect as Ms. Walsh throws so many red herrings into the story that it would appear several people would have a motive for killing the man, given his shady past.

Blanche’s past also is stirred up, and that is the reason for the flashbacks to an earlier decade in her life, growing up in poverty with six siblings and another on the way. Her father is an abusive drunkard, and the scenes in which he takes his anger out on his family are disturbing, to say the least. Eventually, the children are taken away by the Children’s Aid and the family is split up. Blanche is the oldest, almost sixteen, and is determined to get an education, eventually getting into police work as a civilian, then as a member of the force.

While Death on Darby’s Island is well-written and well-plotted out, there are so many characters (past and present) that it gets a little tangled at times. Perhaps this is by design. Even Joey Smallwood makes a cameo appearance! Blanche is married to a man from the Island too, so there are in-laws to deal with as well as family members. There are children conceived out of wedlock, and in the present, children of those children. Complexities! Conceivably all of that is undertaken to create strong characters that may reappear if Ms. Walsh is moved to create a sequel or a series. I would certainly be interested in reading more stories about a female RCMP officer in the 1970’s in Newfoundland. A good start to a series, if there is to be one.


Alice Walsh writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. She studied early childhood education, has an MA in English, and has worked as a preschool teacher and creative writing instructor. Her juvenile novel, Pomiuk: Prince of the North (Beach Holme), won the Ann Connor Brimer Award. Her picture book A Change of Heart (Nimbus) was shortlisted for the 2017 — 18 Hackmatack Award for Non-fiction. Her most recent novel is Last Lullaby, also published by Vagrant Press. Alice grew up in Newfoundland and currently lives in Nova Scotia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Aug. 31 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 177108975X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089753

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3htVhpo


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway by Nick Fonda

I would like to begin this review by stating that the title is somewhat misleading. No murder has taken place on the Orford Mountain Railway, but near the railway’s construction camp. Now that that is out of the way, Nick Fonda’s book is a work of creative fiction surrounding the mysterious death of young Ralph Andosca, the son of the camp’s cook, who was ambushed while on horseback and shot dead at point-blank range in 1905.

Mr. Fonda has chosen to relate the story of the murder to the reader in a curious way. The scene is present-day, and a gentleman is giving a presentation regarding the historic railway murder and the recent discovery of a diary written by an unknown woman to an audience in a church hall near where the murder took place, in Quebec’s eastern townships. An effective way to unpack the story, and it serves to build suspense, but it also includes the presenter’s unfamiliarity with operating a presentation device to which a techy named Shaun comes to his rescue. Those little asides the story could do without, I felt. There are also times when you get the feeling that the story was being stretched to fill pages, such as the flight of Senor Andosca from Italy. As well-written as it was, it wasn’t germane to the actual murder here on this side of the Atlantic.

Apart from that, it is evident that Mr.Fonda is very familiar with life in the eastern towships at the turn of the last century. He even gets a mention in of the Fossmobile, Canada’s first gasoline-powered vehicle, of which only one was made in Sherbrooke, QC. There is also a second (but unrelated) murder of a young boy that took place weeks earlier that the author delves into: a 14-year old had been killed in nearby Farnham very near an existing rail line.

There are likely thousands of historical crimes in Canada that can be written about, and for fans of the genre, Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway is certainly worth a look.

*Note: this review is based on an advance reading copy that was supplied by the publisher. Murder on the Orford Mountain Railway will be released June 1, 2021


Nick Fonda is an award-winning journalist who has been documenting life in the Quebec’s Eastern Townships for years. Fascinated by local history, which inspires this novel, he is the author of three books of nonfiction focusing on the Townships and the acclaimed short stories collection Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies. He lives in Richmond, Quebec.

  • Publisher : Baraka Books (May 1 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 200 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771862467
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771862462

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Starr Sign by C.S. O’Cinneide

Candace Starr is one sharp character. We learn a lot about her in the opening scenes of this novel. She’s one tough lady, full of the grit we’d expect from a former hitwoman. Her dialogue is witty and to the point and not for the faint-hearted. She loves her drinks. She wakes up, not sure where she is or who she’s with, and doesn’t care. It’s a better spot than her normal hangout, over the E-Zee market on a mattress on the floor.

We are introduced to two important women in Candace’s life, her aunt Charlotte and Detective Malone. Malone contacts Starr to let her know she thinks she found her mother. Starr couldn’t care less, having been abandoned when she was a child, left to be brought up by her father. Only when Malone mentions she’s at the morgue does Candace get curious. Having her date, a computer geek friend, drop her off at the morgue, she meets a thirteen-year-old sister she never knew about. The dead body is not who they expected. Candace has to take care of her sister, much to her dismay.

“This is Janet,” I say.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Janet,” he says. My sister just sneers We really do have a lot of things in common besides our mother.
“I’ll be back tonight,” I tell him. “Touch her and I’ll pour sulphuric acid on your __.”
“It’s nice to see you, too, Candace.” But Deep still smiles. I sense he is enjoying the intrigue of all this. Probably beats crunching code all day long.

Candace, her sister Janet and her friend, Deep, the computer whiz, go off into the underworld of Detroit looking for the mother. Candace, the sister and the missing mother are connected to the mob family, the Scarpellos, now run by her cousin, Alex Scarpello. Is he really her cousin? Do they know where the mother is? What other secrets does Starr uncover?
This novel is full of action, lots of creative and sharp-edged dialogue, a clever plot and a satisfying ending. A must for thriller readers.


C.S. O’Cinneide is the author of Petra’s Ghost and the Candace Starr series. Her short stories have appeared in both anthologies and magazines. She lives in Guelph, Ontario.

  • Publisher : Dundurn Press (March 9 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 145974487X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1459744875

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Twice to the Gallows: Bennie Swim and the Benton Ridge Murders by Dominique Perrin

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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Season of Smoke by A.G. Pasquella

Season of Smoke is a thriller novel at full gallop. The action is continuous with Jack Palace trying to go straight with his own security company but things don’t go as well as planned. He’s dealing with his own problems, the drinking and old girlfriends. Someone firebombs his residence and he ends up bunking with another friend named Eddie in a room he once occupied before. Things aren’t looking good for Palace.

Like the book blurb tells us, Palace is trying to get his company off the ground. He’s got staff ready to go but no work. He gets involved with a local gangster who wants revenge for a killing in Jack’s past. He’s given an ultimatum – kill his friend or be killed himself. Tough choices. What makes this story more unique is Palace’s target, a friend called Grover, has his own plans to bring the mobster down and he needs Jack’s help. Jack Palace is in a difficult spot. Plus, he’s dealing with an ex-girlfriend. While confronting these issues, Palace is wondering if maybe it’s time to put all this behind him and retire, get away from it all.

Retirement. More and more, it was looking like a great option. The problem was, I didn’t have the cash.

The novel has it all for thriller readers, guns and conflict, steamy sex scenes, twists to keep us interested. But beware, there is a lot of profanity, continuous reference to his drinking problems and the characters (there are many) often speak in cliches.


A.G. Pasquella is the author of two other books in the Jack Palace series, Yard Dog and Carve the Heart. When he’s not writing, he makes music with the bands Miracle Beard and LaserGnu. Born in Dallas, Texas, he now lives in Toronto, Ontario.

  • Publisher : Dundurn Press (Feb. 2 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1459742524
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1459742529

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot by Geoff Mynett

“Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot throws new light on the extensive manhunt for an accused murderer in northern British Columbia in the early 1900s. After a double murder in 1906, Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper Simon Gunanoot fled into the wilderness with his family. Frustrated by Gunanoot’s ability to evade capture, the Attorney General of BC asked Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Seattle to assist in the pursuit.

In 1909, two Pinkerton’s operatives disguised as prospectors were sent to Hazelton, BC, to find and apprehend Gunanoot. From 1909–1910, they delivered reports to Pinkerton’s in Seattle detailing their progress. Many of these reports, written around campfires in the wilderness, provided a vivid picture of life in the frontier, relations of settlers, prospectors, and the conflicting loyalties and tensions in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

One of the most famous fugitives in BC history, Gunanoot’s story has taken on the status of legend. This is a tale of early twentieth-century crime-solving techniques, politics and backwoods survival, based on never-before-published accounts of the two operatives.”

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory – second-year college, I believe – I took an elective course on BC history, the content of which was, for the most part, colonial settler history. Despite a decidedly narrow window onto Canada’s west coast past, I enjoyed the course, learning more about my home province than I’d previously known: the Dominion enclave of Victoria, the capital (at the time) of New Westminster, place names alone alluding to perceived provenance, and the vast wilds of BC’s northern interior. We learned what we knew at the time about Simon Gunanoot, perhaps BC’s most famous “outlaw,” quotation marks indicating the fact we don’t know all the facts, and assuredly never will. But now, for the first time, through extensive research by author Geoff Mynett presented in a well-organized, engaging narrative, we have perhaps the very best account of this fascinating story.

“One night in June 1906, a Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper named Simon Gunanoot argued and then fought with a packer named Alex MacIntosh. When MacIntosh’s dead body was found the next morning, Police Constable James Kirby swiftly concluded that Gunanoot and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadam, were the killers and out to bring them to justice.”

As a retired lawyer, Mynett shares meticulous research in readable detail, along with good story-telling, suitable slices of speculation, and a clear passion for the subject matter, before, during, and after the trial of this story’s famous fugitive.

“While waiting for trial, Gunanoot would have understood that, if convicted, he could well be hanged. Necessarily, he had to trust entirely to his counsel’s abilities and to the mercies of a Vancouver jury.”

Like any great tale, particularly one in which the players involved may or may not share a common language (literally), this story struck me more often than not as a childhood game of “whisper.” When something is stated with certainty, then told and retold, partially forgotten, then embellished, too often peppered with preconceptions and prejudice, and so on, until eventually what actually occurred (or what was initially said) no longer resembles what it once was. So too during an investigative search by operatives in frontier wilderness, discrete discussions over too many drinks in saloons and around campfires – the setting alone, uncertainty, and personal biases skew every facet of every piece of dialogue. The result? Too many versions of “facts” to be certain as to where the truth lies. Even reading the text I found myself unwittingly deciding my own version of truths, taking sides and pulling for certain parties over others.

This book sheds light on a richly layered piece of history, challenges preconceived notions of right, wrong, justice and law, and provides an intriguing window onto a time and a place, surprisingly not far removed from where we are now. I applaud author Geoff Mynett for his diligent work and commitment to share an important and riveting story from BC’s past and doing it exceptionally well.



About the Author: Geoff Mynett was born in England where he qualified as a Barrister. After emigrating to British Columbia in 1973, he became a Canadian citizen, requalified as a lawyer and practiced law until his retirement. His first book, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician (Ronsdale Press, 2019), received a Jeanne Clarke Memorial Award. His second book, Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot, was published by Caitlin Press in 2021. Geoff and his wife Alice live in Vancouver and have two sons.

  • Title: Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot
  • Author: Geoff Mynett
  • Publisher: Caitlin Press Inc, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77386-050-3
  • Pages: 256 pp

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved