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The Death and Life of Strother Purcell by Ian Weir

My late father was an avid reader of the Western novel. When a new one arrived at the local branch library, Ed Fisher would be the first one to read it. He was a fan of Zane Grey, if I recall correctly, but would read anything with a western theme. As for myself, I think the only western novel I read was Lonesome Dove. No doubt there have been other westerns worth reading, but when it comes to CanLit, the Canadian West was a different place than its American counterpart, and so westerns (as we know them) have never been a Canadian genre as such.
Now, BC author Ian Weir has written The Death and Life of Strother Purcell (2018, Goose Lane Editions) a sweeping epic that covers the North American continent east to west and north to south. It has all the components of a good read: good guys, bad guys, good girls, bad girls and everything in between. Feuds, vengeance, heroic acts and cowardly ones, sham preachers and lots of drinking are all here too.

“Three riders coming hard, this way. With fell intent. They’ll ask for lodging till the storm blows past. They’ll want stabling for their horses, and a hot meal for themselves and they’ll be cordial enough for a time. But then they’ll ask for whiskey, and when they drunk it they’ll ask for more – and that’s where it starts.”

Tom Skiffings
“It was a dark and stormy night.”  So goes the famous opening line as Snoopy (the Charles Shulz character)  attempts to write the Great American Novel. Well, for Professor Brookmire, it was a dark and stormy night in 2004 when he was contacted by Tilda Sturluson in regards to some papers she had come into possession of concerning the famed western lawman (and gunslinger), Strother Purcell. It the Professor that speaks to us in the book’s Prologue and throughout the text by means of footnotes. An exceptional work of creative fiction, Mr. Weir uses different voices from the compilation of papers to tell the story of Strother Purcell (and others, such as his half-brother Elijah) as if he was a genuine historical figure. It is all so seamless, and so engrossing that you’ll be quite ready to believe that Strother Purcell actually existed. (Just for authenticity, Mr. Weir includes a cameo appearance by Wyatt Earp and his common-law wife at the time, Josephine Sarah Marcus, who now live in San Francisco.)

The heart of the story involves the dogged pursuit of Elijah Dillashay, Strother’s half-brother across the North American continent, eventually ending up in British Columbia (where the book actually starts, but not where it ends). Elijah (or Lige, as he is commonly called) has committed wrongs as a young man and Strother feels it is his righteous duty to bring him to justice. As a Sheriff’s deputy, he tries to explain this to a woman friend, Maria Teresa Lestander:

“My brother is a fugitive,” Strother said. “He’s wanted by the Law. What sort of a lawman would I be—?
“A bad one. A bad lawman, derelict at best. But…what sort of a brother?”
“Brothers don’t come into it. The distinction is false.”
She searched his face in some bewilderment. Maria Teresa had no brother of her own—no family at all, besides the sheriff. She would have liked, very much, to have had a brother.
Strother drew a breath. He said. “You need to understand –.”
“What?” Maria Teresa demanded. “What is it that I need to understand?”
“The law.” He spoke doggedly. “There’s brothers, Miss Lestander, and then there’s law. It tells us where we stand—what’s right, what’s wrong. Without the law . . . It comes down to obligations. Obligations on either side—what’s rightly ours to take, and what we owe. If those accounts get lost, or confused. or disregarded—then God help us. We lose our way, and then the devil only knows . .”
Strother’s voice trailed away. He seemed to struggle for words. When he found them, his voice was unaccountably hoarse. “I lost my own way, once. I collected, maybe, more than what was owed. Well, I learned from that. I learned, never again. The law. What’s due, and what’s owed. If a man transgresses, then that man must stand trial, never mind whose brother he is.”

The themes of love, justice, retribution, family honour and forgiveness resonate throughout The Death and Life of Strother Purcell. It truly is a never-ending story, a mix of fact, legend, hearsay and first-hand accounts. Mr. Weir has skilfully managed to arrange these different accounts told by distinctly singular voices into a narrative that will entertain and fully engross the reader (male or female, for there are several strong female characters in Strother’s and Lige’s life).

To say I loved this book would be an understatement. I loved the writing, the various marginalized characters that each brother attracts, the geographical contexts, not to mention the well-imagined storyline that slips back and forth in time periods. Then it all culminates in an electrifying clash of old friends and enemies. It definitely goes on my 2019 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Fiction category. This book will not disappoint any reader.

“Weir takes every trope in the Western’s playbook — the one-eyed avenging lawman, the feckless brother, tarts both with and without hearts, gunslingers, gimps, and gamblers — and makes of them something new and utterly wonderful. This wildly entertaining and witty yarn made me gasp, hoot, and holler.”

C.C. Humphreys

The Life and Death of Strother Purcell by Ian Weir
Goose Lane Editions

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This article has been Digiproved © 2018-2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Warrior Lawyers by Silver Donald Cameron

Silver Donald Cameron is one of Canada’s most versatile and experienced professional authors and is the host and executive producer of TheGreenInterview.com, a subscription-based website with interviews (100 and counting!) of people from all parts of the globe and with every type of background imaginable. Mr. Cameron believes that “this is the most important work I’ve ever done — and this is my 18th book!” 

“In some countries, Mother Nature herself has legal rights. But not in Canada or the United States.”

Out of those interviews came Warrior Lawyers, which includes 15 interviews with lawyers helping environmentalist groups and individuals navigate the law in order to help save the earth.

I’m going to limit this review to looking briefly at two of the interviews, one of which prompted Mr. Cameron to begin this project, and the other that deals with the practice of fracking, which sparked not only deliberations here in New Brunswick, but protests, arrests, and torched police cars.

The first interview in Warrior Lawyers is with David Boyd, and it was at a lecture he gave in 2012 at Dalhousie University that changed Mr. Cameron’s life. Mr. Boyd is an environmental lawyer and a proponent of the belief that humans have a constitutional right to a healthy environment.

“Canada and the US are the only countries in the world that actively oppose recognition of this fundamental human right.”

To which Mr. Cameron responds:

“That’s astonishing, particularly given that Canadians think of themselves as being quite progressive people.”

Mr. Boyd:

“…there’s a real disconnect between how Canadians view themselves and view their country, and our actual performance on these matters.”

This interview was as eye-opening for me as it was for Mr. Cameron back in 2012. From this initial interview, you are pulled into the fight for a healthy environment, because yes, it is an inherent right for every living thing.

The other interview I was keenly interested in reading was that with Larry Kowalchuk, a Saskatchewan lawyer committed to environmental and Aboriginal rights, which he believes are closely connected. Mr. Kowalchuk is the lawyer representing two groups in New Brunswick who have launched legal challenges against the provincial and federal governments and the petroleum industry regarding the practice of ‘fracking” which attempts to extract fuel from shale rock. (In 2014, the Government of New Brunswick issued a moratorium on fracking in the province)

Here is an excerpt from his interview:

Warrior Lawyers is a must read for any Canadian who is even remotely interested in environmental issues and a healthy world for generations to come. The interviews are surprisingly pleasant and easy to read. These lawyers are people first, lawyers second and Mr. Cameron while being well-educated and knowledgeable, lets the interviewee do the talking, never does he become intrusive at any point. 

“You get to the end [of the book] and realize you have feasted on both revolution and hope.”

Alanna Mitchell, environmental journalist

I found that reading an interview is quite different than watching one. With reading, you take the place of the interviewer, thinking: “yes, good question, Mr. Cameron!” and you can dwell on the response more. However, watching one of these interviews is fascinating because you get to see the passion these people have for the environment.

Warrior Lawyers and The Green Interview website are both valuable resources that one can have access to (on a monthly or yearly membership basis) for a reasonable fee which is strictly used to support research, travel and technology expenses.

Warrior Lawyers is available from Amazon.ca in paperback or Kindle edition formats.

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Silver Donald Cameron

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
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Truth & Honour by Greg Marquis

Subtitled “The Death of Richard Oland and the Trial of Dennis Oland” this book is due to be released just weeks after the New Brunswick Court of Appeals is to hear Dennis Oland’s appeal of his conviction in late October 2016. Dennis Oland is accused of second-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of his father, Richard Oland in Saint John, New Brunswick back in 2011.

The Evidence

As I removed this hardcover book from its cardboard container I noticed two names gracing the dustjacket. The first was Greg Marquis, UNB professor and most recently the author of the excellently researched book The Vigilant Eye: Policing Canada from 1867 to 9/11 (2016, Fernwood). With such a well-respected author writing about a much-sensationalised murder, I knew the text would be authoritative, informative and, above all, impartial. I was not to be disappointed.

The second name on the cover at the top is that of author and former forensic anthropologist Debra Komar who is quoted as saying about the book:

“A thoughtful, detailed, minute by minute account of a murder that captivated a province…A perfect balance of scholarship and storytelling.”

That summed it up nicely for me since I came to the same conclusion after reading Truth & Honour, for over the years I have become quite distrustful of any sort of news reporting; whether broadcast, online, or in print. As a history buff, I prefer to read about events such as this sometime after the fact, once the all the details and confidential information have been made public and the ordeal, for the most part, is over reminding me of the quote by Joe Murray in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal: “More and more, I tend to read history. I often find it more up to date than the daily newspapers.” To his credit, Mr Marquis does not resort to fabrications or speculations. Not having access to the full police investigation and court files (Mr Marquis does note at the beginning of the book that he did not have full disclosure of the all the facts of this case), he will sometimes make inferences based on the known facts, but no wild speculations are proferred.

The Verdict

As mentioned above, Greg Marquis is a UNB professor hence putting him in a perfect position intellectually (he teaches courses in Canadian and criminal justice history) and physically (for he lives just outside Saint John) and has been closely following the investigation since its inception. Aside from the actual murder and investigation, one also learns much about the Canadian and New Brunswick justice system. Mr Marquis explains why it took so long to examine physical evidence (several federal crime labs were closed by the former federal government, affecting turnaround times), and how a preliminary trial works: all gathered evidence by the prosecutor has to be presented to a  judge who then decides if  there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict of guilty. If so, the case goes to trial. It is details like this that helps one to understand the intricacies of the criminal justice system.He also provides a background of the Oland family for those of us not familiar with this wealthy East Coast family of beer brewers.

Other interesting facts:

  • to date, this trial had the largest jury pool selection in Canadian history: 5,000 were gathered at Saint John’s Harbour Station arena for the process.
  • the judge assigned to the trial was John (Jack) Walsh, who was also involved (as a Crown prosecutor) in the Allan Legere trial in the early 1990s.
  • New Brunswick has one of the highest conviction rates in Canada for adult defendants (77% in 2010-12)
  • complex methods of interrogation employed by the police (the Reid method taught by the RCMP vs. the PEACE method which is used in Britain).

The only negative about this book is that Nimbus appears to have rushed it into release, bypassing a good proofread. By midpoint in the book, I came across at least six errors, mainly of a missing or incorrect connective word. The most obvious (and humorous) error being the reference to rock icon Bob Seger as “Bon” Seger, either a misspelling or a possible mixing up of names with rock singer Jon Bon Jovi.

Nonetheless, Truth & Honour is highly readable, engrossing and above all, informative. It should prove to be of great interest to true crime enthusiasts, historians and students of criminology and justice systems.

Includes four pages of colour photos, chapter end notes and an index.


This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved