Tag Archives: murder

Random Act (A Jack McMorrow Mystery) by Gerry Boyle

Gerry Boyle

Random Act is #12 in the Jack McMorrow Mystery Series penned by Gerry Boyle and published by Maine’s Islandport Press. As soon as I received this Advance Reading Copy in the mail, I eagerly started to read it, for having read most of the series, I am an unabashed fan.

“Send McMorrow for coffee and he comes back with three good stories and five guys that want to kick his ass.”

Number twelve does not disappoint. I read it in a few hours, only interrupted by the need to sleep. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that this may be the best installment in the series I’ve read thus far, and that’s saying a lot. Mr. Boyle continues to let his characters, such as Jack, Roxanne and their neighbour Clair grow freely; their development has not been hurried along from book to book. Outstandingly, Mr. Boyle’s storytelling and particularly the dialogues are as crisp and sharp as ever. Two examples:

Marta, an old girlfriend of Louis’ has just arrived in Sanctuary, Maine and says to Clair:

“What else is there around here?” Marta said. “There’s woods and then there’s more woods.”
“After you’ve been here a while, it’s more complicated,” Clair said. “There’s woods — and then there’s different woods.”
Marta looked at him, smiled. “Right. Maple trees, pine trees, some other kind of trees?”
Clair let it roll off.

Here, a former editor of Jack’s is speaking to him on the phone:

“I remember what Jim Dwyer said about you. Send McMorrow for coffee and he comes back with three good stories and five guys that want to kick his ass.”
“It’s a gift,” I said.

Random Act moves along quite quickly, and while there are chapters, there is no convenient break in the story to place a bookmark. There are several things I liked about Random Act:

  1. less violence, more investigative journalism by Jack
  2. his neighbours, Clair and Louis are both ex-Marine, but their abilities with various weaponry and tactical planning are downplayed compared to previous books
  3. Roxanne and their daughter Sophie are less prominent than formerly, which means more Jack, less domesticity.

Then there are the constant features of Jack’s world: rural Maine and it’s not-so-cozy aspects, cops that would prefer he not get involved in a case for it means only more trouble and lots of driving in and around Maine. The story of Random Act introduces features such as an axe murder, a homeless shelter and Harriet, its beleaguered director, local meth addicts, the comic book scene, and mental illness. Mr. Boyle has done some diligent research (as he mentions in the Acknowledgements) into these areas and it all adds to the realism and heightened mystery and confusion surrounding the seemingly random axe murder of a woman in a big-box store just moments after Jack passes her in the parking lot. Jack wonders if he could have done something to avert it. Could he have talked to the woman a moment longer? Would that have prevented her death? It’s enough to get Jack set on a course of resolute investigation about the murderer and the victim.

If you haven’t read any of the eleven previous Jack McMorrow Mystery Series, don’t worry. Random Act would be a good place to get initiated into Jack’s world. It’s a very different Maine from what summer visitors see.

“The tourists could turn the Maine coast into a fantasy. Thanks to Teak’s dad and brother Jason, and drugged-out Tawny, I knew better. Thanks to Rod Blaine, the phony, self-centered coward, I saw through it. On this day, for me, the Maine coast was a rockbound place of drug- addict scuffles and shameless shiny greed.”

Five stars for a first-rate, fast-paced yet intelligent murder-suspense-mystery. Add it to your summer reading list. Random Act will be available in June 2019.

Random Act by Gerry Boyle
Islandport Press

More McMorrow:

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Court of Better Fiction: Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty by Debra Komar

What better place to write and research a historic event that took place in Canada’s far north than while living in Canada’s north? Debra Komar was writer-in-residence at Berton House in Dawson City for one year and considered her time there one of the “greatest experiences” of her life.

Ms. Komar’s latest book is a concise, scathing, and at the same time, sympathetic account of a travesty of justice committed against the Indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle.

The result is a concise, scathing, and at the same time, sympathetic account of a travesty of justice committed against the Indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle. As a retired forensic anthropologist who participated in numerous legal proceedings, Ms. Komar’s prior books have won her many honours, including the 2016 Canadian Authors Award for History for The Bastard of Fort Stikine. As a writer, she excels at getting to the crux of the matter, both legally and forensically. She fully sketches out the characters involved, using her research skills and critical thinking.

Alikomiak, one of the two Inuit men charged with murder.

The story of The Court of Better Fiction* is that of the arrest, trial, conviction and hanging of two Inuit men charged with murder. The murders of not only those in their own band but of two white men, one an RCMP officer, the other an HBC employee. Considering the event in hindsight will leave most readers aghast at the legal circus that travelled north from Edmonton and Vancouver to convict and hang these two men. There were even a hangman and the materials for a gallows sent along, intimating the verdict was already in. Chapter Fourteen, “All Evidence to the Contrary” highlights how Judge Dubuc’s court was “awash in procedural and ethical violations” just two days into the proceedings. The two accused, Alikomiak and Tatamigana, were unrepresented by counsel. Officers had failed to fingerprint the two, and the body of the victim, Corporal Doak, never underwent an autopsy to recover the bullet that took his life to be matched against the murder weapon. Any of these miscarriages of justice would have been enough to get a mistrial for the defendants, had they taken place in a conventional court of law, but as Judge Dubuc admonished the jurors:

“Our Government has not undertaken this expensive Judicial Expedition to have exhibited a mockery and travesty of justice before these primitive people.”

Yet, that is what it was. It was all designed to show these “primitive people” the white way of law, one they didn’t comprehend, never having been educated in our school system or even in the English language. As such, they were amused by the spectacle of it all.

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Ms. Komar is an acknowledged expert at parsing historical crimes and then re-creating the crime scene and sequence of events based on modern technology. It is fascinating to read The Court of Better Fiction as she methodically puts everything into perspective so we can see just how the British legal system was foisted on peoples who had no conception of judges, juries and legal proceedings. To them, all white men were “rich men” who were to be appeased. The Court of Better Fiction makes for compelling reading and it certainly earns a place on the shelf alongside her previous works of historic forensic legal cases. Five stars, and a place on the 2019 longlist in the Non-Fiction category for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for 2019.

The Court of Better Fiction: Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty by Debra Komar
Dundurn Press

*Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by 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/2WnkaX2 Thanks!

Poplar Falls: The Death of Charlie Baker by Pierre C. Arseneault

Just down the road a piece from Miramichi on Route 126, you’ll pass through the lovely little Acadian town of Rogersville. Famous for their annual Bluegrass Festival, it is also the birthplace of Pierre C. Arseneault, whose most recent book is a bit of a departure from his past novels of “things that go bump in the night” type of story. Poplar Falls: The Death of Charlie Baker is a crime/mystery that’s a little bit different. 

Charlie Baker is a popular man in town. Popular with the ladies, that is. Charlie is also a sex addict who is undergoing treatment in Poplar Falls’ Magnolia Wellness and Rehabilitation Centre. He lives in the town in a small bachelor apartment whilst getting treatment. However, he is found dead one day by his landlady, naked and tied to a bed (readily, so it would appear) with a pillow over his face. The cause of death is no mystery, but solving the homicide is the responsibility of Poplar Falls Police Detectives Franklin Dodge and Roxanne Tilley. Roxanne is a Poplar Falls native, so she is familiar with a lot of people in the small town which aids the pair in the investigation. Dodge has only been in town for two years and is still considered new in town. He wonders if this murder is somehow tied to the unsolved “Panty Bandit” case that recently terrorized the town until it mysterious stopped.

You may even find yourself looking at your neighbours a little differently after reading this quirky, light-hearted crime fiction novel.

In Charlie’s apartment, they discover several video cameras, discretely hidden and attached to a laptop, which the killer presumably absconded with. Charlie far from being cured of his addiction was making amateur porn. Lots of it. However, Charlie’s killer did not know about another secret recording device, and the police are going over the files on it to see if the suspect was caught on tape. That’s all I’m going to say about the main story, just to avoid any spoilers. Suffice it to say that due to Charlie’s popularity, the list of potential suspects is long and there are hours of video to go over. There are jealous husbands and lovers to rule out, even a Hollywood star who was seeking treatment at the Magnolia Centre. Oh, and the “Naughty Knitters Club” is not to be left out of the picture either. There’s definitely something in the water in Poplar Falls, and it isn’t fluoride. More like Viagra.

If this sounds R or even X rated, it isn’t really, aside from strong language. In fact, it reads like a so-called “cozy mystery” for the most part: not too dark, no truly evil intent, and the characters are friendly sorts for the most part. However, they are very nosy and well-connected on social media.

As for the characters, some are quite humorous (such as the senior women in the Naughty Knitters Club) but others, particularly the detectives, Calvin, who is a police CSI member and Walter, a brain-damaged young man who lives in a dilapidated trailer and collects refundable cans and bottles for cash get the most intuitive and thoughtful character sketches from the pen of Mr. Arseneault. Here’s a scene from later in the book when Walter returns home after a long day of collecting recyclables.

He put the money in the box with the rest of the cash and didn’t bother putting the lid on the box. He was tired an didn’t know how long he could keep this up. Being a moron was exhausting, thought Walter. He had a sense of who he had become, but he couldn’t form a proper train of thought to figure all this out. He knew he needed to wash his clothes and try and wash himself, but that would have to wait until the morning. If he remembered by then. And washing to Walter was going to consist of rinsing out his clothes and standing under a cold shower for a few minutes. No soap would be used on either the clothes or himself, but he would be satisfied with his efforts. These thoughts crossed his mind but were fleeting as he climbed onto his bed, fully clothed and dragged a large, heavy, dirty blanket on top of himself.

Conclusion

Perhaps a Poplar Falls sequel may be in the back of the author’s mind? One can only hope so, for Poplar Falls is quite the place, and The Death of Charlie Baker is quite the introduction to it.  I’m sure there are many more stories to be located in Poplar Falls. You may even find yourself looking at your neighbours a little differently after reading this quirky, light-hearted crime fiction novel.

“Arseneault is a clever storyteller who fills his tale with subplots that diverge and frequently intersect as his narrative unwinds. Characters are drawn broadly. […] This is a relatively lighthearted take on some dark goings-on. As is often the case in this genre, don’t be surprised if you think you’ve put the mystery to bed only to find there are more shoes under it than you realized.” — The US Review of 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/2BIrlQ0 Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Lindstrom’s Progress (Trilogy #2) by John Moss

I left off my review of the first installment in the Lindstrom Trilogy (Lindstrom Alone) stating that I very much looked forward to reading the next installment. I’m happy to say I liked Lindstrom’s Progress (2018, Iguana Books) much more than I did its predecessor. The former was somewhat overwhelming with its complex philosophical references (Harry Lindstrom is a retired professor of Philosophy) and diverse locations. However, in Lindstrom’ Progress (a nod to The Pilgrim’s Progress, of which there are several references in the story, such as a Vanity Fair magazine) the philosophy is kept to a minimum and the places are relegated to Toronto and Austria.

Harry is tasked by a Viennese police officer (Madalena Strauss) to prove she murdered her lover (I’ll leave the whys and wherefores of her strange request to the reader). Before their meeting, though, Harry witnesses two adults and a child jump off the balcony in the room next to his to their deaths. This disturbing event is witnessed by Harry via a reflection in the glass building across from the hotel, so he is powerless to prevent it. Shortly thereafter he is visited by a fat man by the name of Sakarov, who threateningly tells Harry “You see nothing.” In the intricate story that follows, Harry finds himself not only investigating the murder of Ms. Strauss’ lover but also of his involvement in a child abduction ring of global proportions. Ms. Strauss, as a member of the police, has specialized in investigating the people involved in this ring and has the files to expose them (many are wealthy people such as Conrad Fearman, whom Harry meets in due course at Mr. Fearman’s Muskoka home). Sakarov is involved in this too, somehow, for he threatens Ms. Strauss as well. Knowing she will likely be killed for her knowledge as well as her possession of incriminating files, she gives two priceless Klimt paintings to Harry. Harry is struck by the resemblance of the redheads in each painting with Ms. Strauss and finds there is a connection there as well.

Mr. Moss has created memorable characters such as the Beau Brummell Simon Wales (whom Harry hires as a researcher) that enliven the story and keep the reader’s interest as we follow Harry from ordeal to ordeal. There is a dash of humour as well, such as Harry’s too-easily compromised security system, which is a running joke. The intricate storyline and dialogues are well executed, resulting in an elevated type of literary murder mystery; one that deals with such varied themes as religion, morality, guilt, and facing and accepting reality. In short, a taut and interesting story, great characters and several plot twists that will surprise you. Highly recommended for crime fiction enthusiasts looking for something a little different.

There is an imminent third entry, Lindstrom Unbound, which is due out in March 2019. My review copy of Lindstrom’s Progress was supplied by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lindstrom’s Progress by John Moss
Iguana Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle eBook) 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/2JZwlU4 Thanks!

 

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Murder Lost to Time by Joseph A. Lapello

Clipping from the Toronto Mail and Empire Newspaper

The year is 1917. Less than two decades into the new century and already the Great War is occurring in the muddy fields of France. Soon there will be the Spanish Influenza which will kill many more millions. An inauspicious start to a new millennium, to be sure. In one of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, there has been a murder. A cab driver is found dead in west-end Toronto, stabbed multiple times. The cabbie’s name is Carmine Lapello (AKA Tony Lapello, Tony Ross), an Italian Canadian. Inquests occur, but the murderer is never found.

Now, we take a leap forward to the year 1964 when a ten-year-old Joe Lapello is going through some cardboard boxes in his parent’s basement. He finds an old photo of a handsome young man (see book cover above). He takes the picture to his father and is told that the picture is of Joe’s great uncle, Carmine Lapello. Joe’s father was only seven years old at the time of the murder.

I was left wondering, my eyes lingering on the photograph in my hands. My great uncle stared back at me, forever trapped in monochrome, a mere memory lost in time. Still, his image seemed so alive. Perhaps it was his escaped smile or maybe the sorrow in my father’s voice, but for whatever reason, a single thought began to haunt me then. Even as I left Carmine behind, back in his box, and continued cleaning. Even as I closed my eyes when night came; for days to come the words would always echo in the back of my mind: who took my great uncle’s life?

A cab similar to Carmine Lapello’s

Joe Lapello vowed to someday discover who had killed his great uncle. It would seem that “someday” would never come, for life intervened, forcing the deceased Carmine to take a backseat until the time was ripe for Joe to investigate. Ten years after discovering the photograph, Joe meets Joseph Pill, who was actually with Carmine the night of the murder. Mr. Pill, by this time, is quite old, and pretty much down on his luck. Incredibly, their paths cross in a downtown pool hall and Joe gets more information about that fatal night.

Take another leap forward to 2005 and Joe comes across Carmine’s photo once again while cleaning out his deceased mother’s house.

Up until this point my resolve to someday solve my great uncle’s murder had been no more than a child’s fantasy, an unreachable adventure that could only ever be a dream. After all, I was only a child when I first encountered Carmine and the stories of his unsolved homicide. Back then, clutching his photograph with hands too small to clean a storage shelf, I had looked at the unshed tears in my father’s eyes with a dismay I hadn’t yet properly grown into. But I was no longer that young innocent boy; I had grown up with my great uncle’s ghost following me periodically along the way. I now had the renewed inspiration needed to begin my quest. With these thoughts in mind, I took my great uncle’s picture and attached it to my computer’s monitor as a reminder of my decision. I would research this old murder with the sole intention of answering Joseph’s question. Sooner or later I would find who took Carmine’s life.

Murder Lost to Time was a captivating book to read. I think it is pretty safe to say that Mr. Lapello would have been hard-pressed to discover much information before the Internet came along. It was by using it that he was able to get leads on where to look, what archives to search and he even uses Ancestry.ca to assist in tracking various descendants and such. Mr. Lapello took a very methodical approach and used good old-fashioned faculties such as logic and reasoning to put together a complete picture of  “the Ward” (St. John’s Ward) a poor immigrant section of Toronto now lost to high rises, condos and businesses. It was quite amazing how Mr. Lapello pieces it all together, narrowing down the list of possible murderers, the places they went, the people they knew and even their eventual ends. Prohibition, bootlegging and the “Black Hand” all figure into the grand scheme of things, too. I learned quite a bit about this time period in Toronto!

If you enjoy true crime stories, and especially ones that happened in another time period, then I know you will like Murder Lost to Time. I gave it 4 stars at Goodreads.

Murder Lost to Time is available in paperback as well as a Kindle edition.

 

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Joseph A. Lapello

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Deadline (A Jack McMorrow Mystery #1) by Gerry Boyle

Gerry Boyle began his writing career in newspapers, an industry he calls the “best training ground ever.” His first reporting job was in the paper mill town of Rumford, Maine. After a few months, he moved on to the (Waterville) Morning Sentinel, where Boyle learned that the line between upstanding citizen and outlaw is a fine one, indeed. His experiences as a reporter inspired Deadline, his first novel, was first published in 1993. Islandport Press of Maine has now printed all the of the Jack McMorrow Mystery series, several of which have been reviewed here, including an interview with the author.

Jack,like any good reporter, he does a little digging, and uncovers a town secret that has rested dormant for years.

I started reading this series from the present to the past, from #11, Straw Man, to #10, Once Burned, to #7, Pretty Dead to Deadline, where it all began. It is a testament to the series that it can be read this way, for every book is a new adventure, and the backstory of Jack and his girlfriend (and eventual wife) Roxanne develops slowly enough – and more importantly- is not a huge distraction to the taut cadence of the novels. Action and dialogue take precedence over relationships, but the strain spills over, as it must, into Jack & Roxanne’s daily lives.

I worked until three in the morning, mostly to keep from going home. Roxanne called at eleven-fifteen to say hello. She was in bed, she said, curled up with a magazine, wearing a warm flannel nightgown. “Everything okay?” she asked.
“I guess,” I said. “Somebody broke into the house. Messed it up a little, if you can believe that.”
“W
hat? My God, what did they mess up?”
“Not much,” I said. “Just sort of threw things around a little.
Nothing too terrible. So don’t worry about it.”
“Well, I will worry about it.”
“Well, you shouldn’t.”
“Well, I will.”
“Well, don’t,” I said.

She said good night, sounding worried anyway, and I wished I hadn’t told her. We hung up but not on a romantic or sexy note.

Jack is the new editor of the Androscoggin Review, a weekly newspaper for the pulp & paper mill town. Roxanne, a social worker for child protection services, lives and works in Portland. The book opens with the dragging of a body, that of Arthur Bertin, the photographer for the paper, out of a canal belonging to the mill. What was he doing there at night, miles from anywhere? Jack can’t help but think it is very mysterious and irregular, and the apparent disinterest of the Androscoggin Police, as well as the state police, is bewildering to him. So, like any good reporter, he does a little digging, unknowingly uncovering a town secret that has quietly remained dormant for years.

“Even without that it’s strange,” I said. [Lieutenant] Vigue waved a balky truck through.
“That so?”
“Don’t you think so? I mean, how’d he get here? Out here in the middle of nowhere. Mill people don’t even come down here. He didn’t drive. You see him walking all the way down here? In the cold? What’s he gonna do? Go for a swim?”
“Wouldn’t be a long swim,” Vigue said. “Friggin’ ice water sucks the life right out of you, Mister Man. Only good thing is they don’t smell when you pull ’em out of the water.”
“Nothing like a silver lining,” I said.
“Yup.”

What attracted me to the Jack McMorrow series is that Mr Boyle writes in the style of Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, two of his (and my) favourite crime writers. Gritty, with concise dialogue and witticisms, such as when Jack phones the coroner to get the results of the autopsy on Arthur Bertin, but cannot get past the receptionist:

God, I thought. That wasn’t a receptionist, that was a guard dog. If she ever broke her chain, she’d be dangerous. But then I supposed somebody had to man the phones so that down the cool halls and through the swinging doors, where the only sound was the whine of bone saws and the clatter of instruments in steel sinks, the good doctors could carve their stiffs in peace.

Deadline is an excellent crime fiction novel. Having read the more current installments, this initial entry in the Jack McMorrow Mystery series is no lightweight debut. It is a brisk, well-told story that, like all good, well-crafted mysteries, keep you guessing until the last few pages. A highly recommended series for fans of the genre.

Deadline (A Jack McMorrow Mystery #1) by Gerry Boyle
Islandport Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Islandport Press, Gerry Boyle

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Pretty Dead (A Jack McMorrow Mystery #7) by Gerry Boyle

Pretty Dead is #7 in the Jack McMorrow Mystery series by Maine author Gerry Boyle. It is a 2016 Islandport Press reissue of the original 2003 edition. Two of his latest books in the series, Once Burned (#10) and Straw Man (#11) was reviewed here in 2016. Of note, Straw Man was the winner of the 2017 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. You know you’re getting a good read with Mr Boyle’s books.

Pretty Dead has Jack and his girlfriend Roxanne Masterton visiting the Maine coast where an allegation of child abuse (Roxanne is a social worker) has been levelled against the Connellys, David and Maddie, a wealthy blue-blood Boston family vacationing in Blue Harbor. Jack goes along for the ride but gets involved in the case when David Connelly invites him in. Then Jack’s investigative reporter mode kicks in. An attractive young woman named Angel Moretti who works for the family’s charitable foundation is later found dead, murdered near Jack and Roxanne’s home in Prosperity, Maine. Naturally, Jack is first on the scene and identifies the body. Now he is fully involved in the case which takes him to Boston (as guests of David and Maddie) where he and Roxanne sense that all is not as it appears to be in this friendly, welcoming couple. Jack gets pressured by hired muscle Mick and Vincent to stop his investigations, which only serves to make Jack more determined to get answers to his questions about the case.

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Pretty Dead is a worthy instalment in the series, but as I have read the latest books in the series first, it is easy to pinpoint a marked evolution of the characters of Jack, Roxanne and even their ex-Marine neighbour Clair Varney over time. Nevertheless, there are all the hallmarks of a Gerry Boyle mystery: terse, snappy dialogues and turns of phrase worthy of a Hammett or Chandler:

“It occurred to me that Angel’s problem wouldn’t be hooking up with men, but setting the hook so deep they couldn’t be released.”

“When we rolled into Blue Harbor, the air was brisk and cool. Summer people in the village had sweaters tied around their necks by their sleeves, like they were being strangled by pastel ghosts.”

Book #8, Home Body, is also on my “to-be-read” list, so we’ll see what’s in store for Jack and Roxanne next in that book. All of Gerry Boyle’s Jack McMorrow series are being reissued by Maine’s Islandport 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/2AtDVW5  Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey

Award winning author Donna Morrissey revisits the hardscrabble Newfoundland outport world of her 2009 book Sylvanus Now in The Fortunate Brother (2016, Viking) her sixth novel.  The Fortunate Brother is Kyle Now who has recently lost his beloved older brother Chris in an oil well accident in Alberta. This accident has ripped the family apart, Chris being the oldest and most favoured of the Now family (which also includes a daughter, Sylvie). Sylvanus has turned to drink, and Kyle has somewhat too, neither of them having an emotional outlet for their suffering. The mother, Adelaide quietly suffers her loss (she had lost three babies in childbirth previously) and soon has her own health issue (breast cancer) to deal with.

“At times Kyle cursed Sylvie and Chris both. For leaving him torn between two grieving parents whose desired end could never be found in him. For his feeling lame because there wasn’t enough of him to fill their hearts. Times he wished for a sword to cleave himself in half: one traipsing behind his father, keeping him from the loneliness of pain, the other shadowing his mother, helping her cleanse her house of grief.”

Playing out against this dramatic background is the recent death by stabbing of Clar Gillard, the local bully and wife abuser. No one in the small community mourns his loss (aside from his loyal dog), but the police must get their perpetrator, so they methodically question everyone, including prime suspects Sylvanus and Kyle both of whom had a recent altercation with Clar just before his murder. There are a number of people who would have been happy to kill Clar if they thought they could get away with it, so there are several suspects and Kyle is hoping that it wasn’t his father who, in a drunken rage may have done it. Or, could it have been his mother, who was seen comforting his widow Bonnie on the night of his murder?

“He watched the seaweed floating on the water, watched again as it settled onto the vacant eyes of Clar Gillard, and wondered if light had ever entered those dark orbs or if he’d been a darkness even unto himself. Doing as he, Kyle, was doing. Fleeing down side roads and detours and never stopping to think that yesterday can never be fled, that its ills and thrills work hand in hand shaping the morning’s path.”

Ms Morrissey’s writing treads the fine line between contemporary and literary fiction like an expert on the balance beam. The story is accessible enough for the casual reader, and the extended conflicting thoughts and emotions of Kyle do not get in the way of the main theme. The theme of a family and its individual members dealing with the loss of a child and sibling has been told many times, but what we have in The Fortunate Brother is the added complication of a murder (as well as Addie’s cancer) being overlaid so that the already beleaugered Now family has even more burdens to bear.

Joseph Boyden, author of the hugely successful book The Orenda states that The Fortunate Son “might very well be her most powerful [novel] to date.” This novel is decidedly powerful. By the first few pages, Ms Morrissey had the main characters defined, the outport mood detailed and the backstory of Chris’ accidental death presented to the reader. She has a knack for getting the language of the north peninsula Newfoundlanders and their idioms authentic enough to add to the atmosphere of the story. When Clar Gillard is found dead, we silently cheered, for Ms Morrissey had already had us firmly set against him for the latest cruel thing he did to Bonnie. That’s good writing. I rated The Fortunate Son 4 stars at Goodreads (3.5 stars rounded up) for a good story, good writing and likeable characters, even if they (and their language) are a little rough around the edges.

Awards:

The Fortunate Brother was the winner of the 2017 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing, Best Novel and the winner of the 2017 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.

The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey
Viking Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Donna Morrissey, Viking Books

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Between Rothko and 3 Windows by Corrado Paina

Corrado Paina has published five collections of poetry with Mansfield Press (Toronto) including Hoarse Legend (2000) and cinematic taxi (2015). In Italy, there have been numerous publications including a collection of short stories, several collections of poetry, and the original version of this novella, “tra Rothko e tre finestre”.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is a literary thriller that should not be overlooked.

One of the greatest joys in reviewing books is the unexpected pleasure of discovering an excellent story when you least expect it. Such was the case with Between Rothko and 3 Windows (2016, Quattro Books). It’s title alone slightly discouraged me from choosing it over other more recent releases, but it idled patiently in my stack of TBR (to be read) books on my end table. Quattro Books has a good standing (with me at least) of publishing excellent shorter works of fiction so while I did not rush to start reading it on arrival in my mailbox, I knew its time would soon come.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is, essentially, the story of two Italian-Canadian men living in Toronto: Luigi Sasta, the beleaguered editor-in-chief of an Italian language newspaper in slow decline and Michele Carrieri (or Michael Karrier as he has changed his name upon arriving in Canada), a nondescript office worker with a sketchy past in Italy that he is attempting to evade.

“The time had come to tell the truth, not because of remorse, as many people would think, but for a darker purpose, the sense of justice….he must talk again.”

While at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) on his lunch break, Michael is murdered in a quiet, secluded spot between a Rothko painting and a visual art instalment of 3 windows. Sergeant Stevens of the Toronto police contacts his old friend, Luigi, as he often does when a murder in the Italian community occurs. Luigi has the instincts of an investigative journalist and becomes entwined in the case whilst dealing with angina, a heat wave, a newspaper on the edge of folding and his approaching retirement (to Italy, he dreams). Also, Michael’s killer makes an attempt on his life in a stressful scene near the R.C. Harris water treatment plant. More resolved than ever to uncover why Michael came to Canada, why he felt he needed to change his name and the motive for his murder, Luigi sets out on a mission to set matters right, for himself as much as for the deceased.

“He [Luigi] glanced again at the moon, listening to the muted sounds coming from the main street. Ioccurreded to him that Michael Karrier’s past and his own were bound together, half asleep, on that corner just behind the road, invisible, suffocating and alive.”

Between Rothko and 3 Windows is a literary thriller that should not be overlooked. At less than 200 pages, Mr Paina tells a comprehensive story of youthful misadventures (and their future consequences), middle age “should-have-done” missed opportunities and the changing times, particularly the loss of culture for Italian Canadians in Toronto as successive generations move out of the city to the suburbs. A beautifully rendered story with an appropriate melancholy pace, as befits the novel’s aforementioned themes. A five-star work of short fiction, and I have added it to my 2017 Longlist for a “Very Best!” Award.

Between Rothko and 3 Windows by Corrado Paina (translated by Damiano Pietropaolo)
Quattro Books

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Corrado Paina, Quattro Books

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Deadly Care: A Claire Burke Mystery by Emma Pivato

Deadly Care (2016, Cozy Cat Press) is book #6 in the Claire Burke Mystery series, penned by Edmonton Alberta writer Emma Pivato. It finds Claire Burke and Tia, her best friend and partner in crime-solving, searching for a killer in the nursing home that Tia’s mother Marisa is residing in after her debilitating stroke.

Deadly Care is a “cozy mystery”, a genre that is growing in popularity as an alternative to novels that have become excessively graphic in their depictions of murder, sex, and the overuse of profanity.

 Deadly Care is a “cozy mystery”, a genre that is growing in popularity as an alternative to novels that have become excessively graphic in their depictions of murder, sex, and the overuse of profanity. As such, they are quite suitable for any audience, from young adult on up. Deadly Care is no exception. All the murders in the nursing home are non-violent (i.e. bloodless) and the characters are, well, nice. Even the murderer has a reason for their actions, unacceptable as they are. They remind one of the long-running TV series of the eighties and nineties, “Murder, She Wrote” with amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher solving murders that seemed to happen wherever she went.

As this is book #6 in the series, I felt like I had walked in in the middle of an intricate story, and I struggled to catch up on what was occurring. Thankfully, Ms Pivato does provide some back story for her diverse characters, so it is not like you must read all five previous books to enjoy this one, but it would definitely be of benefit. I found myself skimming over the pages that delved into the lives of Claire’s numerous friends and mentally challenged charges, desiring to progress to the actual mystery story of Deadly Care. To be sure, there were some tense moments, particularly when Claire, Tia, and Hazel (an accomplice who works in the nursing home) attempt to carry out their after-hours surveillance and capture of the nighttime killer.

If you like cozy mysteries, I definitely recommend the Claire Burke Mystery series by Emma Pivato. All of the storylines of her previous instalments in the series sound quite interesting as well. Her books can be purchased on Amazon.ca; the Kindle versions are a particularly good price, even free if you have a Kindle Unlimited account!

Deadly Care: A Claire Burke Mystery by Emma Pivato
Cozy Cat Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland by Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon

It’s not very often you get to review two books covering the same topic practically back-to-back. Such is the case this month (October) with the coverage of the Dennis Oland trial. Dennis Oland was convicted of second-degree murder in the bludgeoning death of his father millionaire Richard Oland in 2011. His bail appeal is set for Oct. 31st.

Very impressive to read, Shadow of Doubt is a consummate account of every aspect of the case, especially the trial process.

The first book out of the gate was Truth & Honour by Greg Marquis, published by Nimbus Publishing. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. It lost a star due to it appearing to be rushed to publication. There were numerous spelling errors which detracted from the overall ‘fit and finish’ of an otherwise great book. Released in hardcover (it is not clear why) with a cover price of $29.95, it may get passed over by all but the keenly interested reader. Now from Goose Lane Editions comes Shadow of Doubt: The Trial of Dennis Oland by CBC reporter Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon. I’m giving this book 5 well-deserved stars. While I wasn’t exactly keen to read another book about the Oland trial, I must say that Shadow of Doubt was very impressive to read and wasn’t simply a rehashing of already published information. Let’s take a closer look.

Full Coverage

While Truth & Honour was written in a more documentary-like style by an author with a strong legal background, Shadow of Doubt is a well-organised comprehensive account of the entire investigation and trial that garnered national attention and tested the mettle of one of the world’s oldest police forces. Ms MacKinnon states in the Preface:

“As a reporter for CBC News, I covered this case from the day Richard Oland’s body was discovered. I attended press conferences, jury selection, numerous court proceedings, and the entire trial.”

Such involvement translates into a consummate account of every aspect of the case, especially the trial process. She includes a few details here and there that add realism to the process for those of us not familiar with the Canadian justice system. Details such as elaborating on the jury selection process, computer forensics, text messages, cell phone towers in the Saint John area, and the qualifications of expert witnesses. There is also a chapter on what the jury did not hear; these were court records and testimonies from the inquiry that were not opened until the trial was over. Much of this was covered by Mr Marquis in Truth & Honour, just not in as much depth. His focus understandably was on the legal system and processes.

Conclusion

So, which book to choose, dear reader? If you have the money and are deeply interested in this trial, then I would recommend both. However, if I had to choose between them, then Shadow of Doubt would be the clear winner. Available in softcover for the suggested price of $19.95, Shadow of Doubt will give you more value for the price: fascinating, extensive coverage from Day One of the investigation nicely rounded out with details that only a dedicated insider like Ms MacKinnon could glean.

Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon is a reporter and web editor for CBC Radio and Television. She has worked at the Telegraph-Journal, the Toronto Star, and the Ottawa Citizen. She has been a finalist for two National Newspaper Awards and three Atlantic Journalism Awards, including one for her early reporting on the Richard Oland murder. She lives in Saint John.


This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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