Tag Archives: crime

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 “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.


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  

Rough Justice: Policing, Crime, and the Origins of the Newfoundland Constabulary, 1729-1871 by Keith Mercer

The early 19th century was a time of great growth for St. John’s.   Under the administrative control of a colonial government and with a growing population and a demand for services, the lack of a municipal government within a community of landlords that were largely absent most of the time created conditions that were unsavoury at best. Though municipal taxation faced great resistance, lawmakers of the day made great strides in attempting to improve building construction, fire services and water and sewer in the growing fishing town. A small number of constables paid from the sale of tavern licences managed to keep some semblance of peace through nightly patrols but the government largely depended on the garrison and the clergy to keep the peace during times of crisis. In 1870, however, with the threat of maritime conflict fading, the Governor of the day, Stephen Hill,  was informed that the garrison would be recalled and that Newfoundland would now have to pay for its own security and defence. And so, born out of desperation, began the Newfoundland Constabulary and what would become the oldest police force in Canada.

Rough Justice, written by Newfoundland historian and Memorial University graduate, Keith Mercer, chronicles “the first detailed study of policing in early Newfoundland.” 

Rough Justice, written by Newfoundland historian and Memorial University graduate, Keith Mercer, chronicles “the first detailed study of policing in early Newfoundland.”  A project of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society and published in 2021 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Constabulary’s establishment, Mercer utilizes a case study approach to “shed light on the social history of law and order in both St. John’s and the outports” focusing on the “lived experiences of the largely anonymous men who filled that position” as constable during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Mercer’s historical analysis is garnered from detailed surveys of court records and documents organized chronologically over the course of two centuries.  Through the use of frequent storytelling and the presentation of various case studies, Mercer presents a scholarly account of a colony-wide endeavour to bring law enforcement to the area known as the Old English Shore.  The eight-chapter narrative is thorough and in-depth, citing archives and publications and also including maps, tables, appendices, a bibliography, and an index.  An 8-page album of black and white photos provides a visual context for the time period that Mercer comprehensively recounts in presenting the colony-wide endeavour to shed light on the social history of law and order in the fledgling colony. 

The Newfoundland experience was one of continuity and incremental reform rather than sudden change brought about by political or legislative milestones – in this, there are striking parallels with policing in other colonies and cities in British North America.

The narrative first begins chronicling some of the earliest visitors to our shores; the fishing admirals.  These mysterious fishing-ship captains selected the best beach space or fishing room but often ignored the legal responsibilities that came with the position, laying the groundwork for the introduction of the first constables in 1729.

Chapter 3 details the birth of police constables in Newfoundland, officers normally from middling occupations such as planters and who played an active role in regulating taverns and enforcing the observance of the Sabbath. The work was dangerous but the constables are seen as important figures in their communities and were elevated to a status of wearing a uniform and receiving a salary while playing active roles in serving the district and superior courts.

Chapter 5 details the tavern-keeper system which remained in place until the first full-time constabulary was created in 1812 and Chapter 6 tells the story of Newfoundland’s most prominent police officer, William Phippard, who led the way in fighting crime on the streets during a postwar depression.  As a lover of all things history and all things related to my culture, I found Rough Justice to be both an interesting and comprehensive analysis of subject matter not often explored yet crucial to the growth and development of modern society.  Though it was a slow-going read with a highlighter in hand, I often found myself revisiting many concepts for the sheer interest and amazement of the historical context in which it was presented.  There were many “Did you know?” moments that I simply could not contain!!

Rough Justice is a solid, well-written and expertly researched record of how Newfoundlanders lived and worked a century and a half before the formal establishment of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. It is the story of those many men who quietly enforced the law and helped to make communities safe through the maintenance of public order.  In the words of Chair Edward Roberts of The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society, it is “a valuable contribution to the public record of Newfoundland’s past”. 


Keith Mercer was born in Gander and holds graduate degrees in history from Memorial and Dalhousie Universities. He works for Parks Canada as the Cultural Resource Manager in Mainland Nova Scotia. He lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia, with his wife, Amy, and children, Abby and Sam.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Flanker Press (March 31 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 518 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774570165
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774570166

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


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 Hanged Woman’s Daughter by Nellie P. Strowbridge

At just 17 years of age, young Bridget Snow of Salmon Cove dreamt of a future with her true love Neddie Noseworthy of Cupids. Even in 1833, stealing brief moments to capture glances, giggle and swoon over the object of one’s affection was part and parcel of what all adolescent girls desired. However, such young love was not to be for poor Biddy, as her brothers and sisters often called her. Thrust into an unimagined nightmare with the disappearance of her father John, the jailing and subsequent hanging of her mother Catherine, and the scattering of her six younger siblings by the cold-hearted Magistrate, Bridget is left feeling desolate and estranged. In a melancholic moment of sanity, Bridget takes to her father’s boat to distance herself from the place and the people that have now abandoned and shunned her, a place she once called home. Rowing into the dark open ocean, unsure of where she is going or even who she is, Bridget discovers the possibility of a new life from a chance encounter with a stranger.

The Hanged Woman’s Daughter by award-winning author Nellie P. Strowbridge is a poignant story of love lost and love found. Knowing that the story is based upon real individuals and real events during a time when Newfoundland was a colony of Britain settled largely by English Protestants and Irish Catholics makes this tale especially enthralling. Strowbridge does a superb job in developing the authenticity of the characters through their dialogue, interactions and thoughts. One of the aspects of this novel that I particularly enjoyed was the thick Irish brogue that was spoken by the characters. I often caught myself, in character, as I read.

It was an effort for her to bring her voice out of it’s grogginess. Finally, she answered, “Not a bit, though I’ve a notion I’m dreamin.”

        “That you’re not,” he said. “If it’d rained, you’d have been drenched to the skin and cold.”

        Bridget pulled herself erect and told him, “No fears o’that. Last night the sky was lit by a full moon.”

        The stranger pursed his lips, tapped them with his finger, and asked, “Well who is yer a’tall?”

A #ReadAtlantic book!

The rich imagery and descriptive, almost poetic, phrases that Strowbridge uses throughout the entirety of the novel allow the reader to experience outport life as Bridget would have experienced it. Having hiked the trails of Cupids, and picked berries on Spectacle Head and travelled the footpaths to Salmon Cove during the summer months myself, I was captivated by the author’s vivid descriptions and could easily visualize the scenery that I had experienced. Below is the author’s description of a not-so-pleasant time in Bridget’s story.

The barest of hope remained a buffer against her apprehension as wind sent curtains of snow across the water, the sea a ravenous creature, swallowing the snowflakes as they fell. A couple of scraggy trees near the wharf twisted in the wind, their branches lifted like skeletal fingers as if to scrape away clouds darkening the sky. Nearby, a spruce tree lifted snow-covered branches like a polar bear lifting its paws. By afternoon, the sun was like a blemished eye below an overhanging brow.

The Hanged Woman’s Daughter is a novel that embodies the human condition, exemplifying the quote that we are all familiar with; that which does not kill us makes us stronger. This is a compelling narrative that has left me thirsting for more information; wondering about Bridget, her siblings and their descendants. For now, however, I will settle with getting my hands on a copy of Nellie P. Strowbridge’s earlier novel published in 2009 entitled Catherine Snow.

Nellie P. Strowbridge is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most beloved, prolific, and respected authors. She is the winner of provincial and national awards and has been published nationally and internationally. Her work is capsuled in the National Archives as this province’s winner in Canada’s Stamp of Approval Award for a letter written to Canada 2117. A former columnist, editorial writer, essayist, and award-winning poet, Strowbridge has won the NL Arts and Letters Awards a record seventeen times.

  • Publisher : Flanker Press (March 10 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 231 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1774570246
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1774570241

*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/2QIYXJr Thanks! 

Cheap Thrills: A Novel by David Kloepfer

Cheap Thrills takes place over the course of a single weekend, beginning with the incessantly stoned Ethan and his roommate Phil discovering the body of their weed dealer in a Vancouver alley alongside a box of porno magazines and crime noir paperbacks. Tasked by his eccentric boss with locating the money the dealer had been carrying, gang member Wynne Duncan is led to the two roommates. But things don’t add up–for anybody. Cheap Thrills is about Vancouver, weed, lust, crime stories, a missing bag of money, an American conspiracy to invade Canada and the death of a drug smuggler. It is a paranoid crime-noir love story, where the love is unreciprocated and the noir is mostly in the mind.

I was excited when I got this book. We were hunkered (bunkered?) in our home like the rest of the world around COVID-19, emerging like groundhogs each day to cheer healthcare workers. To have a real book arrive felt like early Christmas. So after wiping things down, opening, sanitizing and rewashing, I was good to go.

David Kloepfer’s Cheap Thrills is an entertaining read – the author’s first novel, which shows – clearly a labour of love, with innovation slid into a familiar format. I enjoy the genre – a bit of action, sex, affably loathsome characters with a touch of depth and innocuous dialogue wrapped in Dashiell Hammett-esque noir, all in a compact two-hundred pages or so. A perfect self-isolating paperback.

“I not only enjoyed the read but recommend it to fans of this style – drugs, crime, mistaken identities, hoodlums and the ramblings of stoner conversation.”

Like any pulp fiction, it’s imperative to read it as such. Don’t mistake it for literature. It’s not. If you love Elmore Leonard books, Quentin Tarantino, or Seth Rogen films, you’ll like this. You may not love it but you’ll like it. Kloepfer’s dialogue, at times, doesn’t ring true. But I find that with most dialogue-heavy manuscripts. It’s tough to write the way we talk. Harder yet to write the way other people speak. And perhaps hardest to write as a local when you’re not. Unless you’re a long-term resident of an area, writing that perspective is a tall order. Maybe a tougher editor would thresh that out. Maybe it takes greater objectivity or a productive split personality. But in this predominantly playful genre, it just doesn’t matter. Like when you see an actor’s wristwatch onscreen in Hamlet. You roll your eyes and get on with enjoying the film. As I’ve done here.

Kudos are in order. Kloepfer’s created, I believe, exactly what he intended. I not only enjoyed the read but recommend it to fans of this style – drugs, crime, mistaken identities, hoodlums and the ramblings of stoner conversation. Tucking vignettes from a fabricated dime-store crime novel into the pages of our story is unique, cheeky, and hopefully not repurposing old writing that couldn’t find a home. Either way, it plays. The book isn’t as enhanced by the story within the story as it could be, but to quote an applicable cliché, it does exactly what it says on the tin.

I always emphasize write what you know. David Kloepfer knows crime-noir. And it shows. Other writers know Vancouver and its drug scene a whole lot better. But again, that doesn’t really matter. Cheap Thrills is a fun read. Have another bong hit and enjoy.


About the Author: Born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, David Kloepfer has made his home in Vancouver since 2004. Cheap Thrills is his first novel.

About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Dromomania, and Allan’s Wishes. Bill’s work is published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not in a coffee house, library, studio, or on stage, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and avoiding trouble. Mostly. @billarnott_aps

Cheap Thrills: A Novel by David Kloepfer
Now or Never Publishing

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

We All Will Be Received by Leslie Vryenhoek

If the title of Leslie Vryenhoek’s latest novel reminds you of Paul Simon’s song Graceland, that could be by design, for there are several characters looking for Graceland (although it’s a very different one from Elvis’ mansion). Their stories are told in separate threads that eventually merge to a climactic finish at Graceland, a renovated motel in Newfoundland, near the L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site.

One thread involves a drug dealer called Slake and his female companion, Dawn, who disappears with a large amount of his money in the middle of the night and head east, hitchhiking along the way. She eventually gets a ride with an older man named Jerry who takes her to Newfoundland where his cousin has a small motel. This is in 1977. Another thread has Ethan, who as a youngster was abducted and abused before he was found, and in the meantime, his name became a household word due to the media at the time. His story begins in 2012. In 2013, we have Spenser, an ex-con who works for a successful charitable organization that helps ex-cons get help with developing “life literacy skills.” That same year, we are presented with Cheryl, a single mom who desperately wants to understand and connect with her teen daughter Jenna. There is a lot to tell before all these eventually end up in a snowbound Graceland. This is the magic of We all Will Be Received: telling these stories set in different years, with different characters, different voices and transitioning them ever so cleverly to Newfoundland.

Aside from some rough language, there were few negatives to be found in reading this story. True, not all the characters are likeable, nor are the things they do, but those flaws add to the story, not detract from it. And, throughout most of the book there is the rugged beauty of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland which Spenser well describes:

He’d had hours on the drive up the peninsula to get used to this coast. Astounded at first by how much the topography reminded him of Northwestern Ontario. Then, his agitation growing, deciding it was similar but stunted. That it lacked even a whiff of majesty like God had taken a beginner’s course in fashioning rocks and trees but they’d all turned out misshapen and scraggly. That God must have moved on, tried again further west, finally hitting His stride only when He got to the Rockies.

If you like stories that at first glance appear to have no common thread, then We All Will Be Received is a book you will definitely enjoy and receive much reading pleasure from. Breakwater Books produces some of the best contemporary fiction on the East Coast, and this book well represents the genre.

“Even once you’ve read the last page, you’re still enthralled and you’re still right there, in the refurbished Graceland Inn, hoping there’s more book to read because you’re not ready to say goodbye to the characters”. — Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution

We All Will Be Received by Leslie Vryenhoek
Breakwater Books

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This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Broken Man on a Halifax Pier by Lesley Choyce

The arresting title of Lesley Choyce’s new book from Dundurn Press* begins to tell the story of Charles Howard, a fifty-five-year-old man with little to show for all his time on earth. No family, no significant other, failed relationships, and out of a job as a journalist since the newspaper he worked for closed down. He’s lost his life’s savings in an altruistic act. Then there’s the unfinished manuscript of a novel collecting dust in his dingy apartment.

Silently, out of the fog, a woman appears, who intuitively seems to know why Charles is there. “I get it,” she said with no other words of introduction. “Broken man.”

What was Charles doing on the end of the pier that April morning? Contemplating jumping in the harbour, or just contemplating? Perhaps even Charles is not sure himself. What we do know is that, silently, out of the fog, a woman appears, who intuitively seems to know why Charles is there.

“I get it,” she said with no other words of introduction. “Broken man.”
At first, I thought it was just one of those many voices in my head. But then I looked in the direction from which the voice had come. It was a woman. A good-looking woman at that. All alone. On the pier at 6 a.m. by the misty misbegotten harbour.
“Get what?” I asked.
“Get you. Broken man on a Halifax pier,” she said. And her mouth went up on one corner. Not a smile exactly. An indication of a game. “Oh,” I said. “Stan Rogers. ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’”

The woman is Ramona Danforth, a former actress of some small TV and movie roles, now living on the thirteenth floor (Yes, thirteenth. Perhaps an omen in itself?) of the upscale Richmond Towers on Halifax’s waterfront.  From that dramatic meeting on the pier, they progress to having breakfast in a restaurant (she has to buy; Charles has no money) and tentatively start to converse. The dialogues between Charles and Ramona is classic Bogart and Bacall or Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man movies). Charles is, of course, enamoured by this attractive fiftyish woman who is treating him to breakfast and is doing his best to not say something stupid. He of course does, but Ramona persists in wanting to know more about Charles while at the same time she reveals bits and pieces of herself. The breakfast is a first date that is not awkward, but comfortable.

“Fifty? You said fifty.”
“It’s a number. Half of one hundred. Happens to be my age.”
“You can’t be fifty.”
“They could have made a mistake on my birth certificate but I do believe I am.”
“You look too young.”
“I’ll accept the compliment. Thank you, sir. You know what they say. Fifty is the new forty. But then forty is the new thirty, etc., etc. Where do you place yourself on the whole chronology issue?”
“Five years your senior, schoolgirl. Fifty-five years before the mast. Too old to be young, too young to be old. Forced into early retirement and pondering each day what will come next.”
Breakfast was over. We’d set out the portraits of our lives, the bare bones, mostly fragments, but we’d both been brave or foolish enough to reveal things personal and important. Pessimist that I was, I expected our little bubble to burst. That momentary friendship, that flirtation, that chance encounter, it had a certain inevitable ending. Or did it?
“I like a man with no money and loads of time on his hands,” she offered.
That caught me off guard. “Oh, and why is that?”
“Because I can probably boss him around. C’mon, we’re going for a drive.”

That drive (in her car; Charles has none) is the key that opens the lock on a Pandora’s Box of issues, both old and new and not only for Charles but for those in his immediate vicinity, as he decides to visit his childhood home in Stewart Harbour. Both of his parents are dead, and the house is long gone (that’s a story in itself) but his father’s old fish shack is still there on the waterfront. His presence does not go unnoticed for long and we are immediately introduced to characters like Rolf, the quintessential Nova Scotian fisherman of days long past and perhaps, more importantly, an opportunist named Brody. Brody and Charles will change each other’s lives in a matter of days and weeks while Ramona looks on, wondering what she has gotten herself into. The stage is set for a well-balanced story of old loves, family, loyalty, responsibility, duty and romance, all set in the small, close-knit and hardscrabble fishing community of Stewart Harbour on the Eastern Shore.

Just as he so masterfully did with his previous novel, The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil, Mr. Choyce balances out all the various intertwined issues so that it is all very convincing, so what we have is not simply a story of an ageing Boomer returning to his past while romancing a virtual stranger with her own baggage but we have a credible Charles-Ramona pairing developed so well that the reader is pulling for them from the start to withstand the trials and troubles of Stewart Harbour. And, as with John Alex in the aforementioned book, there is also a sweet self-deprecating sense of humour about both Charles and Ramona that makes them immediately likable.

The story in Broken Man will resonate with Boomers as they now have some time to reflect on their lives and wondering if going back (in mind or body) to the past is of any value at this point or is it better to move forward. In retrospect, Charles tells us in the Prologue:

If I had been able to see into the future, I may not have gone down to the harbour that morning. I may have continued with my sorry, lonely existence — a man without a job, without a purpose, without a real friend.

It’s telling that Charles says he “may not have gone down” to the waterfront that day. Perhaps Ramona may have said the same thing if she were asked. There’s a lot that unravels in the 300+ pages that follow the prologue.

Mr. Choyce’s writing style has a certain snug (not smug) and pleasant character about it which I felt it slightly masked the more serious undercurrents of this story.  Nevertheless, Broken Man on a Halifax Pier is a five-star read, and I am adding it to the 2020 longlist in the Fiction category for “The Very Best!” Book Awards.

“Funny, heartbreaking, self-effacing and spot-on”

Carol Bruneau
*Broken Man on a Halifax Pier will be available October 2019. This review was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by Mr. Choyce in return for an independent review.

Broken Man on a Halifax Pier by Lesley Choyce
Dundurn Press

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2YDGED9 Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Forbidden Dreams of Betsy Elliot by Carolyn R. Parsons

The Forbidden Dreams of Betsy Elliot is Carolyn R. Parson’s debut novel for Newfoundland and Labrador’s Flanker Press, and she joins such authors as Ida Linehan Young and Gary Collins as storytellers of the first rank. It is set in 1933-34 in the outport community of Elliot’s Cove just after the Commission of Government took over control of Newfoundland’s governing at the start of the Great Depression.

Betsy Elliot is an archetypal outport Newfoundland woman in that she is strong, practical, thrifty, capable, fertile, can do just about anything a man can and does that well too. She is married to John, a man older than her who lost his first wife and children to sickness. John is a good man and loves Betsy. At the beginning of the book, while fetching water, Betsy meets Edmund Taylor, a man her age who is Newfoundland born, but Boston raised. He assists her in getting back to the house, where he meets John and is almost immediately invited to stay over the winter to finish his writings and assist John with repairs around the house. Betsy is not keen on the idea since it is another mouth to feed (they have two young children). Shortly thereafter, a man named Clyde Waugh is rescued off the ice and he too stays the winter since the community is isolated by winter. There is something about this Clyde Waugh Betsy doesn’t like. Edmund, on the other hand, represents what could have been to Betsy: education, Boston, fine clothing, schools, shops and more. Mutual feelings begin to develop.

“In all her life, Betsy had not seen that there was any likelihood she would go anywhere. This life was hell on earth at times, but it was all she knew.”

Instead of telling you more about the story, and risk spoiling it, I have come up with some wordplay to feature the high points of the story:
  • stranger – danger
  • danger- lust
  • lust – death
  • death – complicity
  • complicity – love
  • love – forbidden
  • forbidden – dreams
  • dreams – mental illness
  • mental illness – escape
  • escape – choices
  • choices – dreams

How’s that for a synopsis?

Hopefully, I have made The Forbidden Dreams of Betsy Elliot sound intriguing, for it is a better-than-average story that has benefited from some very solid writing and some fine editing. The result is a well-paced novel featuring as much romance as it does hardships, intrigue and suspense. A wonderful book from yet another exceptional Newfoundland writer.

The Forbidden Dreams of Betsy Elliot by Carolyn R. Parsons
Flanker Press

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2XORM4A Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Fog by Rana Bose

Updated 03/09/19: Fog has won the 2019 “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction!

In the Acknowledgements section at the back of Fog, author Rana Bose has this to say about Fog, his third novel:

“There is no moment of doubt. There is a continuum of internal conflicts. What we say we are and what we do not feel comfortable bringing up. What is easily said and done and what is difficult to live by. We are caught in a web—our public stands and our private angst. About not letting the world know, our deepest fears. About hiding behind a smokescreen, a pall of non-descript inanities, a fog cover—behind which we make ourselves acceptable to the public. We play safe. We live between two aspirations. One that we really wish we could live by and what we actually live. This novel is about that conflict. About crossing over to the other side. It is not easy.”

It is also not easy to summarize Fog. It is suspenseful, conflicting, mysterious and hard to put down. A literate novel about actions and reactions, crime, family history and comfortable old neighbourhoods, Fog is one of the best books I have read in the 2018/2019 reading year.

It begins dramatically with the near-to-death beating of Chuck Bhattacharya (or Bhatt for short, who is our narrator) and about whom we know very little initially. During his recovery, he tells us:

Fog is a superbly written book about neighbourhoods, friendships, justice and belonging.

“I had lots of time to think, although it may not have always been coherent. I wondered why Corinthe had put together a hit team to take me out only a few months after I had joined the company. Why was she panicking?”

Of course, at this point in chapter one, we don’t know who Corinthe is, what company he is talking about, or what Chuck knows. This heightens (and frustratingly so, I might add!) the mystery aspect of the novel and introduces the main story: exposing Corinthe and the company she works for and her role in the explosion of a small plane bound for Trois-Pistoles in 1998, killing all on board, including a famous Quebec artist. Chuck soon discovers he was unwittingly involved in the plane’s demise. The case was quickly closed by investigators, and no one was implicated; the crash is attributed to engine failure or wind, or both. The evidence, however, points to an explosion, not a crash.

The resolution of the cold case takes time to investigate and along the way, Chuck is supported by friends and family on Saint Laurent Boulevard (AKA ‘the Main’) such as Mrs. Meeropol and her son Nat (Chuck’s best friend), Myra, a quirky but amiable love interest who has a personality disorder, Chuck’s wise grandfather RK and Myra’s father Gerry Banks. Mrs. Meeropol is one of the most enigmatic and at the same time the most engaging character in the book and acts as a combination oracle, Elder and Gatekeeper of The Main. Chuck aspires to be a writer and is the chronicler of the neighbourhood, so he often goes to Mrs. Meeropol for tidbits of history, especially as to what the neighbourhood was like and how it has turned into what it is today. Specifically, he wants to know about the fog.

She told me stories about the Main I can’t forget. The spirits gathered as the fog hung low. I listened to her with absolute adoration. “Tell me more about the fog. I don’t see the fog here anymore.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. It was more like a dome than a pall.” She stopped and looked out through the back window, distracted. Then she began again, more concentrated this time. “You know, I guess the streets weren’t as warm as they are now.” […] “The lights didn’t give out as much heat either and they were lower. So, there was a fog hanging low around each lamp; a nice diffused glow like in a Van Gogh—you know? […] The fog was like a cover; a warm blanket through which you could see the stars if you wanted. There was not so much parody on the streets, no relentless mockery. There were large writings and advertisements on the brick walls, awnings freshly painted to match the shops next door. There was, how do you say, conviviality? There was art, too; paintings in the shops, always. Beautiful paintings everywhere. Even if it was a sausage seller! And in the night, the lamps glowed within the fog hanging low over everyone. People looked out of their second-floor windows and called out gently to their neighbours. The fog wasn’t a fog. It was a feeling.” She laughed out loud, startled by her own words.

It’s no wonder Chuck sat and listened with absolute adoration! The words that Mr. Bose skilfully pens make the character of Mrs. Meeropol and the Main come alive within the reader’s imagination. We are cleverly drawn into Chuck’s world of the Main.

I’ve quoted a lot from the novel, and I haven’t even touched on the solving of the Trois-Pistoles Cold Case, Chuck and Myra’s relationship, her personality disorder and Nat’s “crossing over,” by leaving the Main to take a security job in Afghanistan. Chuck’s trip to Calcutta to spread his Grandfather’s ashes in the River Hooghly was especially poignant.

There was so much I loved about this book: it’s pacing, the characters, the life lessons learned and the importance of communities and neighbourhoods in big cities like Montreal. I gave Fog 5 stars at Goodreads where I summed up the book, saying:

“I’ve read many good books this year and Fog is certainly near the top. A literate mystery/thriller set in Montreal (on “the Main”) with side trips to Calcutta and Kandahar, this is a superbly written book about a neighbourhood, friendships, justice and belonging. Highly recommended.”

I’m adding it to the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.

Fog by Rana Bose
Baraka Books

This review of Fog was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by Baraka Books in exchange for a fair review. Fog will be released on June 1st, 2019. You can pre-order it from Amazon.ca using the link below. Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link I 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/2T9SGBx Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

An Exile’s Perfect Letter by Larry Mathews

Good intelligent humour seems to be in short supply these days, especially when we could all use a little of it in our lives given the depressing dross served up as so-called “news.” An Exile’s Perfect Letter (2018, Breakwater Books) fills that need, particularly for those of us Boomers nearing retirement age like Professor Hugh Norman is. He’s sixty-two and has three more years to go. He’s also a realist about his situation:

An Exile’s Perfect Letter is the best kind of challenging, literary fun.

Tom Halford, the author of Deli Meat

A new life awaits, and although it’ll be much shorter than the old one, it won’t involve making a fool of oneself in front of groups of forty or fifty inattentive twenty-year-olds. And from this perspective, how unnatural does my professional life now seem. Forcing people to read poems, stories, novels, herding them into classrooms and insisting they pretend to listen to me talking about them. How cruel.

Yes, Hugh is going through the motions, realizing that he may be a “lost cause” when it comes to departmental reforms and new initiatives. He doesn’t understand young people today. He just wants to live a quiet life with his partner Maureen, who is a poet. However, a few things are preventing this just now: the death of a friend, Cliff; Andy, an overly neighbourly neighbour, and oh yes, a corpse Hugh has stumbled across in a park.

Naturally, the unforeseen death of his childhood friend Cliff causes him to reflect on mortality and his own apparent proximity to it:

I feel a certain pulse of irritation. He’s my age. Was my age. Where does he get off, doing something like that? It’s not time for people my age to die, certainly not people I know. Knew.

Then there’s the body he finds while walking in the park. Detective Gene Brazil from the Newfoundland Constabulary is somewhat intimidating and has Hugh constantly on edge, pondering whether his responses sound self-incriminating or not. He sums up what the Detective knows of him from his questioning:

Back in my study, I’m feeling both shame and fear in approximately equal intensities, ridiculous emotions both. Why should Gene Brazil have such power? Yet his dissection of my life has revealed to him and vicariously to me how absurd and morally shady an enterprise it is in the eyes of any down-to-earth guy like himself. A man drawing a salary from a public purse who doesn’t have to show up at his office, who can sit at home reading books and writing about them at his leisure, who can in the middle of the day take the time to wander aimlessly into the woods like a homeless person drunk on cheap wine. Sixty-two years old, holder of a Ph.D., and this is the best use he can make of his time?

You can see the dilemma Hugh faces. Much like when you are driving and a police car is in your rear-view mirror. Did I do something? Forget to do something? Paranoia sets in rather quickly.

What is most enjoyable and entertaining about An Exile’s Perfect Letter is Hugh’s running dialogues to himself. Whether they are about his department at the university, his friends (dead or alive) or his predicament with the corpse in the park, they are by turns humorous, yet thought-provoking to the reader as well. What considerations would we have about a childhood friend who died recently, but we hadn’t seen in many years? How would we conduct ourselves in a police investigation if we were to find a body? What interests would we have in our workplace or our jobs with retirement looming on the horizon? An Exile’s Perfect Letter excels at taking mundane occurrences and turning them inside out, both to our amusement and to our wonder. Great reading for us Boomers!

Tom Halford, the author of Deli Meat, had this to say about An Exile’s Perfect Letter:

“An Exile’s Perfect Letter is the best kind of challenging, literary fun. Larry Mathews delivers an engaging and humorous narrator, who consistently provides thoughtful commentary on everyday life. The novel is also interesting in what it does with the crime genre. Midway through An Exile’s Perfect Letter, an event occurs that would normally take place at the beginning of a crime novel. Mathews shows how such an event would be experienced by an average person. There are so many reasons to read An Exile’s Perfect Letter. These are just a few of them.”

An Exile’s Perfect Letter by Larry Mathews
Breakwater Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2RPOaYH Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Carpenter From Montreal by George Fetherling

I love noir fiction (and film), so I was eager to read this book of criminal men with power, some in control, some out of control in the Prohibition Era of 1920-1933. On the back cover of The Carpenter from Montreal (2017, Linda Leith Publishing) it states to any curious reader that may pick up this novel: “In this cinematic and genre-bending novel, George Fetherling both honours the roots of serious noir fiction while also pushing its boundaries.” I’m not so sure about the “pushing the boundaries” part, but the “genre-bending” statement works for me.

“This whole business, it is not a moral way to live. But that has never stopped us, has it?”

The Carpenter
Mr. Fetherling “bends’ the noir novel format by not having a hard-boiled detective like the Continental Op character created by Dashiell Hammett tell the story. Instead the story of James Joseph Lahoud (“Jim”) and the “Carpenter” (an English version of Charpentier, or “Sharpen Tear” as the character Pete Sells would smugly say) of Montreal is narrated by three separate voices: a lawyer, a newspaperman and Cynthia McConnell, a young woman who is deceased as the story begins but continues, in her afterlife, to take an interest in how it all unfolds. Once you get used to the different voices, the story gets pieced together and progresses in a compelling way. It is about the rise of both men in the business of smuggling of liquor out of Canada (among other things) and selling it in the speakeasies of New York. It follows the eventual downfall of both as the gangster era ends after WWII. They must find new ways to make money. Some legit, as in real estate, others, as in prostitution, not so legit.

The novel begins in a definitely noir-ish way:

The muzzle flash was so beautiful, like the explosion of a bright five-pointed star, that it tempted the triggerman to continue firing a few seconds longer than necessary. But he was a professional, controlled, réservé, even timide, and did not allow himself to linger or be distracted. The racket, the yellow petals of pulsating light, the screams of the woman inside the expensive automobile, the man dead on the pavement—it was all part of a single event. It was three hours past midnight, three hours past New Year’s Eve 1937, and snow was coming down like ashes after a fire.

As was mentioned, the story behind The Carpenter From Montreal centres around Jim (in New York) and a large Montreal man known to all as The Carpenter. Jim travels to Montreal to see if he can get some business from Canada running liquor across the border. This man appears to control a lot of what goes in Montreal. The Carpenter meets Jim in his Montreal hotel room and informs him:

“…the next time you come to Montreal we will talk business before I” – he groped just a half-second for the right phrase – “give you a present of the town.” He made an expansive gesture with his massive arms. “We are surrounded by possibilities. Nothing is far away.”

The Carpenter left as quickly as he had come. Jim wondered whether the man had even been there at all.

Jim’s partner (and brother-in-law) is Pete Sells, a violent, reactionary man who likes big money, fast cars and flappers. He prefers to spend his money while Jim prefers to save and invest his. Pete is wary of The Carpenter and believes that the suggestions he gives to Jim about business will not work as well south of the border. But they do, and this further alienates Jim and Pete. Jim knows The Carpenter is smart and will often travel to Montreal for advice and a listening ear. The Carpenter, like Jim, abhors the inherent violence in the business. He confides to Jim:

“This whole business, it is not a moral way to live.” He looked sad – heavy and sad. “But that has never stopped us, has it?”

The Carpenter From Montreal was an unconventional kind of read, but the story coalesces in a way that individual drops of liquid Mercury quickly come together to create a larger whole. At times, you may be fooled into thinking that you are reading a work of non-fiction, particularly the recollections of the journalist Edwin Staffel. To the author’s credit, there is no profanity and physical sex is merely alluded to, tipping his hat to the noir masters of the past, who focused on a good story and fast action. I gave The Carpenter From Montreal 5 stars at Goodreads.

The Carpenter From Montreal by George Fetherling
Linda Leith Publishing

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2PdGVJ9  Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott

Over the years, Flanker Press of Newfoundland & Labrador has published a vast array of books, both Fiction and Non-Fiction, including the excellent historical fiction books of Gary Collins. Operation Wormwood (2018) is a fictional crime thriller that was interesting to read, to say the least. The main theme is that a “disease” of sorts is affecting a particular group of people, namely pedophiles. They experience prodigious nosebleeds and unquenchable thirst. When they are given water, it tastes so bitter they cannot swallow it. When it strikes the Archbishop of Newfoundland, the church is scandalized and Father Peter Cooke declares to the world that this nothing less than a plague sent by God to get pedophiles to repent of their sins.

“The name of the star is Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned into wormwood, and many of the people died from the waters because these had been made bitter.”

Revelation 8:11

Once they do confess, they will get relief from their symptoms. But is not only the clergy, the disease subsequently exposes a pedophile ring in St.John’s that the police have been unable to crack until now. The medical community wants to believe in a scientific explanation, yet none of their tests show anything wrong with the patient. The police just want the pedophiles caught and their victims to get help, they don’t really care if this an act of God or not. Very divisive, this disease!

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s Newfoundland

Taking the lead in the medical investigation is Dr. Luke Gillespie and Nurse Agatha Catania (who seem to be the only doctor and nurse in the hospital, whether it is in the ER or the ICU). For the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, it is Sgt. Nick Myra, a veteran of the force who has seen too much and suffers from PTSD. Luke and Nick join forces to attempt to get to the bottom of what is affecting the patients, if it is contagious and who their victims are.

While Operation Wormwood was a good read that had my attention all the way through, it left me dissatisfied at a certain level. The main characters such as Luke and Agatha are somewhat one dimensional, and the most defined characters were the Sgt. and Sister Mary Pius, a knowledgeable nun who despises the pedophiles and is happy to see them get what they deserve.

“It may only be a matter of time before God unleashes a plague upon the earth.” Sister Mary Pius

As for the story, it is certainly a good topic from a religious as well as a secular viewpoint. There are bad priests and good, so the Catholic church is not being singled out, although it is the prime offender. Readers who are fascinated by medical issues will be engaged, as well as those interested in the police investigation of criminal activities (The author is a retired civilian member of the RCMP).

As I mentioned earlier, the story itself left me a little disappointed, like a meal that looks and smells good but lacks real flavour. Operation Wormwood is what I would classify as a “cozy mystery” for there is no profanity or sex in the story at all. It might be rated PG-13 due to the nature of the crimes committed, however. There is a certain amount of good, thriller-type darkness to the story, but I believe with a little more depth in some of the characters and a few more plot lines followed (such as the Minister of Health who is a pedophile and attempts to hinder the research from getting national attention), there would have been an excellent book to read. Nevertheless, I rather liked it, and I’m sure most readers will too.

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle edition) through Amazon using the link below I 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/2xcRNyW Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Moon is Real by Jerrod Edson

Saint John, New Brunswick native Jerrod Edson has published his fifth novel, The Moon is Real (2016, Urban Farmhouse press) the manuscript of which won the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s David Adams Richards Prize in 2013. A novel of urban restlessness that is set in Saint John concerns the lives of four main characters, who appear to be settling for the status quo of everyday life. There is Prin, the sex trade worker who lives only for her daughter Daisy, Charlie, the Canada Post employee that drinks and drives as he delivers mail in the tony neighbourhoods of Quispamsis and Rothsay, Eddie Smythe, the east coast drug contact for the Montreal mob, and Jeremy Wiggins, the son of a funeral home director.

The Moon is Real is a big story contained in a small 140-page book.

The book’s cover is reminiscent of the 1940’s or 50’s style of cover and it made me think that there might be a film (or book) noir hiding within. Saint John, often shrouded in fog and with all its hills and crazy street layout make a perfect setting for this story of likeable losers and misfits. The book opens with an obituary for the druggie Eddie, revealing a little of what we can expect from the next 140 pages: seriousness but with some lighter moments as well. The Moon is Real does not disappoint in either of these areas. The layout of the book takes us forward in time (to Eddie’s wake) then back to how Eddie ended up in the Wiggins Funeral Home in the first place, with the Ukrainian hitmen Ivan and Dimitri standing over the coffin. Mr. Edson has chosen to give us very little of each character’s backstory: we don’t know how Prin came to be in the sex trade, how Eddie got connected with the Montreal mob (or why he owes them $12,000), or the reason Charlie drinks on the job. This keeps the plot to the fore and firmly rooted in the present. Actually, other than Eddie’s uncle Walter, few of the characters lament their present situation or regret their past and this serves to maintain a steady drive as the plot advances to the climax.

The reality trope appears throughout The Moon is Real. Prin, after being raped by a client, tells herself that “it wasn’t real and you must say it again and again and again. IT DID NOT HAPPEN!” Walter, upon hearing his dead sister Iris’ voice come from a photograph: “Is this happening? This isn’t happening. Is it? It isn’t. It’s not you, not really. Is it?” Charlie, who finds himself embroiled in a scheme to help Eddie outwit his killers, thinks to himself: “Was it even real”? He cannot believe Eddie, who he thinks as a bit of a moron, would even be a potential target for the Montreal mob. But it is real, and we are taken along as the plot follows the Ivan the solemn, world-weary hitman and Dimitri, his over-anxious partner, Detective Ladd of the Saint John police and the three young men as they try to keep a step ahead of the mob.

***** Spoiler Alert Begins!*****

To save Eddie from certain death, they come up with a scheme real enough to get the hitmen off Eddie’s trail for good. It would appear to have initial success, but like with any plan, there are loose ends, which turn out to have consequences for both the hunted and the hunter.

Later, while Charlie and Prin leave the funeral home to try and work out their renewed hopes for a life together, Ivan and Dimitri are pursued by the police as they try to make their way back to Montreal. Their vehicle is pulled over and one policeman is shot at point-blank range. His partner manages to seriously wound Dimitri and Ivan seeks shelter and help for his partner on a farmhouse off the highway. The climax of the book cleverly juxtapositions Charlie and Prin’s blossoming renewal of love with Ivan and Dmitri’s end-of-life drama unfolding in a rural farmhouse just north of Saint John.

***** Spoiler Alert Ends *****

The Moon is Real is a big story contained in a small 140-page book. It is by turns humorous and melancholy, dark and bright, warm and cold (such as the Brunswick Square bathroom stall that serves as Prin’s cocoon to morph into her hooker garb). Charlie and Prin are stable in their own way, using love as their motivating strength to keep them head and shoulders above the general morass of life in a big city.
It has been eight years since Mr. Edson’s last book, and almost five years since the manuscript for The Moon is Real won the David Adams Richards Prize. It would appear that he has spent many an hour honing the story down to the bare bones, adding a little flesh, sinew and muscle in all the right places to make this a very poignant story of love and loss in the unforgiving Port City.

The Moon is Real by Jerrod Edson
Urban Farmhouse Press

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I 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/2LsSMEn Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

New 2018 Fiction from Goose Lane Editions

Here are a couple of mini-reviews of two recent fiction titles New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions, Marry Bang Kill by Andrew Battershill and Catch my Drift by Genevieve Scott.

Marry Bang Kill by Andrew Battershill

The title of this book comes from a popular question: when presented with three things (typically celebrities) who would you: (need I say more?). While this question is only posed once in the book, the title is a sure attention getter, and the writing between the covers, while perhaps not to everyone’s taste is excellent.

It begins simply enough with small-time thief Tommy Marlo snatching a laptop computer from a teen. Unbeknownst to Tommy is that the laptop belongs to the head of a biker gang and the teen is his daughter. Tommy soon discovers that on this laptop there is a file that tells of the drop-off point of $100,000 dollars. Simple but likeable Tommy acts on his own, manages to get the money, and ignites the origin of an adventurous pursuit story as Tommy heads west to BC and Quadra Island, where his estranged mother lives. On the way, we meet characters like Alan Mouse (“Mousey”) a retired Chicago police detective with a shady past, Glass Jar Jeffries, a small-time dope dealer and a Quadra Island low-life who gets bitten by a rabid dog, and Greta the highly trained contract killer sent to kill Tommy and recover the money he stole. The cast is truly remarkable, and Mr. Battershill writes each one to be likeable despite their flaws and shortcomings on moral issues. If Hunter S. Thompson were to write a crime thriller (which he cannot because he is deceased), Marry Bang Kill would be the result. The character of Mousey, high on drugs and alcohol sitting in a lawn chair in his backyard wildly firing his pistol at random targets was enough to say “Raoul Duke” to me. Quirky, but enjoyable writing, witness this exchange between Mousey and a boatman he has hired to get Tommy off Quadra Island:

“I might be here to see him off, I might not. And I hate to b8reak the professional vibe and all, but take care of him. He, uh, he’s a nice kid.”

The boatman again studied the distance past mousey’s shoulder for a reasonable period before speaking. “I’ll see him over. You’re talking to a man with six children and seven toes. That doesn’t mean anything specific. But it does mean something.”

Mousey smiled at the boatman in the same surprised way he smiled at clean babies.

The best chapter of the book is the alcohol-soaked meeting of Greta the hitman (not “hitwoman”) and Mousey as they banter back and forth in a local bar:

Greta wobbled slightly away from him. “You’re old.”

Mousey grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her up to sit steady. “You can’t prove that.”

Great dialogue, a good story and some memorable individuals all contribute to making Marry Bang Kill a winner in my book.

Catch My Drift by Genevieve Scott

Catch My Drift is at its heart, a mother-daughter story, and at the same time, a story of life imitating life, and not always for the better. It begins in the summer of 1975 with Lorna, a university student and an aspiring competitive swimmer with her sights set on the Olympics. That particular dream ends when she is involved in an accident as a passenger in her boyfriend Kenneth’s car. Both her knees are damaged, and her boyfriend leaves her for the Albert oil fields once she no longer needs his assistance. Devastated, for she had dreams of a family life with Kenneth, she soon finds herself pregnant after a one night stand (against her better judgment, but she had been drinking away her sorrows) with Alex Ketchum, a fellow student (and former child actor) she is tutoring in English. She gives birth to a daughter, Cara, and two years later she and Alex have another child, Jed. This simple and all-too-brief synopsis gives no hint of the engrossing story of Lorna and Cara in the 300+ pages of this excellent read by first-time novelist Genevieve Scott. The story is told from the perspectives of both women and I’m sure any mother (or father for that matter) will identify with the strained relationships between parent and child over many years. This is also a story of what-ifs, of lives that could have had another outcome if a different choice was made, if an action was taken instead of inertia, and so on. Catch My Drift could be considered a “feminist” novel, for the women are the strongest characters (as they often need to be in real life) and the men, while well-meaning, are not models of reliability and steadfastness. Catch My Drift is a beautiful and bittersweet life story that needs to be on your summer reading list.

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