Tag Archives: RCMP

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

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

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

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

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Invisible Wounds: The emotional journey of a police officer’s battle with PTSD by Norm DeVarennes

Mr. DeVarennes tells us, in detail, of the emotional ups and downs of being a police officer and the heavy toll it takes on a person’s mental health.

This story is an eye-opener of what a police officer faces when he leaves for work. It is no wonder the situations they encounter can have such a devastating effect on a person, be they in the military, a first responder of a police officer. The bulk of the everyday job is dealing with lawbreakers, mean and angry individuals, death, fatal car accidents, the list goes on. As ghastly as many incidents are, police officers are expected to tuck it in and move on to the next call.  What we don’t hear about is the how big a price is paid by the honourable men and woman that have sworn to protect us. To complain or look for answers is to suggest that an officer is “weak” or unfit for the job. There is an undercurrent in Mr. DeVarennes’ story that this must change.

DeVarennes is quick to point out that not every encounter a police officer has with the public is a mental strain. There are many good people that respect the police and the work they do.

The difficult part of Mr. DeVarennes’ story is how the effects of PTSD changed his relationship with his family, the problems it caused, the isolation and worry it created. How it can and will lead to suicide in some cases. It becomes clear that his only “safe” spot was with his fellow police officers, only they could understand and talk about the pressures they experience.

 “The mental breaking point doesn’t happen suddenly. Instead, the breakdown starts slowly and progresses in stages, bit by bit until it reaches a point of no return.

Invisible Wounds was written as part of Mr. DeVarennes’ recovery and as a warning that the signs and complications of PTSD must be dealt with in the early stages of a person’s career. This story can help others and should be a must-read for anyone engaged in similar work.


About the author: Born in Grande Digue NB, Mr. DeVarennes’ first posting was in 1988 was in Joliette QC which includes close to a year working in Akwesasne Reserve during the Oka crisis. Transferred to Richibucto Detachment in 1993. Worked there from 1993-2011 working in Elsipogtog (Formerly Big Cove), highway patrol, shift supervisor and operational NCO (acting appointment). Transferred to Beaver Creek Yukon from 2011 to 2014 where he was the Detachment Commander. Transferred to Haines Junction Yukon from 2014-2015 also as a Detachment Commander (Retired after 28 years of policing).
Presently working with the Federal Labour Program since June 2015 as a health and safety officer but presently assigned as a course developer for the Labour Program. He presently lives in Scoudouc, NB.

  • Paperback: 117 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8554331114
  • Publisher: Independently published (Oct. 27 2020)

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Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning by Helen C. Escott

The long-awaited sequel to Operation Wormwood (2018, Flanker Press), The Reckoning concludes the story of a disease that appears to only target pedophiles and is accredited to God by those of the Roman Catholic Church.

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Helen C. Escott is Newfoundland’s premier crime-thriller author. Her novels such as Operation Vanished (2019, Flanker Press) and now the two Operation Wormwood books will cement her career as such. All three books lean toward the “cozy’ side of the crime-thriller genre, but they have touches of grittiness that keeps things a little on the edgy side too. Her decades of service as a civilian employee of the RCMP serves her well when it comes to the force’s officers (who are styled after real-life members of the RCMP and RNC) including the crimes and criminals they encounter as well as the investigative process.

“I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that Helen C. Escott is Newfoundland’s premier crime-thriller author.”

The Reckoning continues with the same character ensemble as it’s predecessor: Sgt. Nick Myra of the RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary), Father Peter Cooke, former nun Sister Pius (now Kathis Fagan), pedophile Kevin Macy, nurse Agatha Catania and Dr. Luke Gillespie of the Health Sciences Centre. (As I mentioned in my review of Operation Wormwood, these appear to be the only doctor and nurse working there, and they are always there when something major happens). Kevin Macy is free on a technicality and Sgt. Myra is out to get him behind bars. But will Wormwood kill him before he can do any more harm? This, along with the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in the global spread of the disease are the two main storylines. The other is Myra’s PTSD and his attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife Maria, which adds a human touch to the otherwise beleaguered Sgt.

As with any mystery (and particularly so here), certain stretches of the imagination are required to keep the story uncluttered and progressive in the telling. As a health care professional, I chafed at some of the medical scenes and the lack of other medical personnel in the care of Wormwood patients, but this is something that will pass unnoticeably to the majority of readers.

I highly recommend the reading of the two books in order, so if you haven’t read Operation Wormwood already, then you should do so before reading The Reckoning. Both books are well-written and contain enough plot lines to keep the reader thoroughly engaged. I know I was! Well done, Ms. Escott!


  • Format: Paperback
  • Published:2020-09-02
  • ISBN-13:9781771178174
  • Pages: 322

*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/33XX7qD Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Helen C. Escott Interview

Helen C. Escott is the author of the widely read blog-turned-book I Am Funny Like That, which has over 222,000 readers, and two bestselling crime thrillers: Operation Wormwood, which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel in 2019; and Operation Vanished, which was the Silver Medal Winner for Best Regional Fiction, awarded by the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Both Operation Vanished and Operation Wormwood have appeared in the Atlantic Books Today top 5 bestsellers lists. Her fourth book is, In Search of Adventure: 70 Years of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland and Labrador, which profiles retired RCMP members and commemorates their service. And her fifth book, Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning, is the exciting conclusion to the crime novel Operation Wormwood.

Miramichi Reader: Helen, please tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.  

I am a retired Civilian Member of the RCMP. I served for 17 years as the Senior Communications Strategist and was the communications lead on high-profile events including the RCMP’s NL response on the September 11th terrorist attacks.  I wrote and implemented the Atlantic Region Communication Strategies to combat organized crime and outlaw biker gangs. I created a Media Relations course and taught it at the Canadian Police College, Ottawa. I also served as a communications strategist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Before joining the RCMP I worked in the media for 13 years.  

In 2017 I was presented with the CLB Governor and Commandants Medallion in recognition of my achievements of excellence in volunteering and fundraising work, including creating the idea and concept for the Spirit of Newfoundland dinner theatre, “Where Once They Stood.” In 2019 I was presented with the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. 

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.  

As a creative student, I was never at the top of the academic food chain. I would much rather daydream than do math.  I did have a teacher in grade nine, who would bring in song lyrics and then have the class intrepret them. I loved reading and music, so this was right up my alley. That teacher lit a flame in me that never went out. He introduced me to Shakespeare and Ernest Hemmingway and made it fun. One Halloween he came in wearing an old man mask and a T-shirt that had a big “C” wrote on it. (He was the ‘Old Man and the Sea!” To this day I can recite Romeo and Juliet almost word for word and reread Hemmingway.  

MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?  

Asking me to pick a favourite book is like asking me which child I love best. I could not pick just one. I love my books and I never lend them or give them away. I have never disliked a book. Even if it was not my thing, at least it entertained me for a few hours. I do love biographies. I love learning about what makes people tick. How their childhood shaped them. Why they made the decisions they do. Maybe that is why I get so caught up in my own characters.  

MR: Fair enough! Let’s now talk about your “Operation” novels which will soon be up to three. The debut novel was Operation Wormwood. How did it come about? What was the response?  

When I was still with the RCMP I was called out to take over the media on a very gruesome child murder case. I was the Senior Communications Strategist/ Media Relations Person. One day I turned to a co-worker and said, “I wish when someone hurt a child, they would die a slow, painful death.” For some reason I wrote that down when I got back to the office. Then I started keeping files of my thoughts and ideas. After I retired, I found the file again and started to read it. It read like a crime thriller. I started putting it together and things begin to make sense to me. You know that old saying, “A book doesn’t come from you, it comes through you?” Well, the first Operation Wormwood novel was exactly like that.  

With each funeral for a Veteran, I watched our history slipping away. I just said, “I need to capture the history of each of these people before it disappears.”

MR: This brings us to your new non-fiction work, In Search of Adventure, about the history of the RCMP in Newfoundland. Lately, the RCMP as an organization has come under scrutiny for systemic racism, misogynist attitudes and so on. What was your experience in all the years you worked with them in NL?   

I am enormously proud to say I served in the RCMP. We live in a world where people make judgements based on a few seconds of video, with no context, not knowing if the video has been altered. Then they convict without a trial. It is not a fair playing field. I know that 99% of police officers are good and fair people who join policing because they genuinely want to help people and make a difference. Unfortunately, the videos of police officers doing a good job never get shared. That is why I wrote this book. With each funeral for a Veteran, I watched our history slipping away. I just said, “I need to capture the history of each of these people before it disappears.” 

MR: How long did it take you to compile all the interviews and research contained within In Search of Adventure 

It took over two years to put it together. It was an arduous task finding all the Veterans. I spoke to Veterans from right here in Newfoundland and Labrador right over to British Columbia. You have to remember that most of these people are in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It was great when I could interview them in person but when I had to do the interview by phone, and it got a little trickier due to some having age issues like hearing loss or other ailments. Although one member I spoke to was 91 years old and could not wait for me to leave because he was going hiking! Once I had the interview, I had to transcribe it and research all details to ensure accuracy. Then go back to approval from the Veteran. All in all, it took one to two weeks to interview one person. But it was a labour of love. I truly loved hearing these stories and I could have kept going with the interviews. 

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be? 

I love biographies and if I could write one about any person it would be Pope Francis. I find him absolutely fascinating. I love how he has changed the church and how he relates to people. He seems like the real deal and I would love to know how he got that way.  

MR: What are you working on now?  

Right now, I am working on a true crime book. It is something I have always wanted to do. I am in the research phase, so I am not sure where it is going yet. I try not to know how my books end; I like to be just as surprised as everyone else. I like to go where the book takes me. That is where I am at right now. I am waiting for the book to say, ‘Look this is what I am about.’ 

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?  

I write three days a week. I am extremely strict with my writing times. My family and friends know I am ‘at work’ when I am in my office. But outside the writing days I am obsessed with urban exploring through abandoned places. I take pictures and write blogs about my travels. They are on my website at https://www.helencescott.com 

MR: Finally, tell us a fun fact about yourself! 

I just finished a play! I always had an idea about this play I wanted to do. But I had no clue how to put it together. Two years ago, I took acting lessons for a year and last year, I took a Screenwriting class at Memorial University. Then I started putting my ideas on paper. I presented it to a local theatre company and the director helped me edit it more. Now they are interested in doing the play for their audiences. So, in 2020, I added ‘Playwright’ to my resume. 

Excellent! Thanks, Helen!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Black Cop: My 36 years in police work, and my career ending experiences with official racism by Calvin Lawrence, With Miles Howe

The title and subtitle pretty much sum up what this book is about: being black and facing systemic racism in two police organizations in a 36-year career. Calvin Lawrence was born in 1949 in Yarmouth and raised in Halifax. His parents (he was actually raised by his Uncle and Aunt) were a mixed-race couple living in Halifax. His father worked as a porter for the railway, one of the few respectable jobs available to blacks at the time. As there were no black police on the Halifax force, Mr. Lawrence wanted to be a policeman figuring that it’s better to be a black cop than have racist white cops police black neighbourhoods. This resulted in him being ostracized by both blacks and whites. Over time, aided by his boxing as an amateur (and he was good at it), he built up a thick skin. The hiring of blacks as Halifax police recruits was a knee-jerk reaction to The Black Panthers visiting that city in the late 1960s.

When I look back and ask myself whether the police department would have hired black officers when they did if there hadn’t been political unrest in the community, my answer is hell no. Not a chance. Over the years, different people on the force have told me that there had been previous qualified black applicants who’d put in for police jobs. Before the Panthers showed up, the standard procedure for dealing with a black applicant was to thank him, then throw his application in the wastebasket and laugh at him once he walked out the door.
There was no softening of the rotten core of white supremacy. Rather, the hiring of black officers was a panicked reaction of the white power structure to the suddenly real threat of black radicalism in Halifax. We black officers were hired because the government was scared shitless and was looking to put black faces in the right places. I call this the “colour connection.” We were tokens. And tokens by definition replace the real thing. Tokenism only benefits the individual token, not the masses. Back then though, I was totally unaware that the opportunity I had just been handed was so politically loaded. The way I saw it, no other job was going to give me, a black teenager, a uniform a salary and the perception of a meaningful career. Given my lack of career options, I thought I’d try being a cop.

So begins his long career in both the Halifax force and later in the RCMP where he found white supremacy facing him down at every opportunity he had for advancement. He did undercover work, VIP detail (such as protecting visiting dignitaries and Prime ministers, etc) and even training other officers in Regina. Still, he would be passed over for promotions or for requests for relocation or reassignment.

“At the end of the day, I was still just a n****r in a uniform, and to certain people in positions of power, that would never be acceptable.”


Mr. Lawrence, true to his training as a boxer, pulls no punches. this is obvious from the start. He comes across as “this is who I am, take it or leave it.” The N-word appears numerous times in the text, often he is called this to his face, other times anonymous notes and defaced pictures appear in the workplace. He keeps files and photocopies of all the injustices, and under the Access to Information Act, obtains official emails that prove he was being blackballed and held back from any responsible position, no matter how well-trained he was for the job. Toward the end of his career, it all begins to take a toll on him.

I come from people who come from people who come from very strong places. If life gets hard, then you work harder. And that’s what my parents taught me. At night, as I conjured their memories, I knew I could not let these people down. I will say this, though, I was stretched as far as I could be, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.

Black Cop is an enlightening and persuasive read. Mr. Lawrence’s account needs to be heard; perhaps today’s young men and women who desire to have a career in law enforcement will be the ones to enact some small change in the existing power structure of organizations such as the RCMP. However, as he notes, it will always be run by white males. Mr. Lawrence also includes an appendix of other cases of racism allegations that have been brought against different policing units across the country, thus confirming that his experience is not an isolated incident.

I’m putting Black Cop on the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Non-Fiction category. 5-stars.

Black Cop: My 36 years in police work, and my career ending experiences with official racism by Calvin Lawrence, With Miles Howe
James Lorimer & Company, Ltd.

*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/31HN1HM Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Darkest Before the Dawn by Mike Martin

With the release of Darkest Before the Dawn (2018, Ottawa Press and Publishing) the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries has reached book #7. I reviewed the previous two, A Long Ways From Home (#5) and A Tangled Web (#6) along with an author interview*. As I had “jumped in” in the middle of the series and I had enjoyed both books so much, I was eager to see what #7 brought to the series. RCMP officer Sgt. Winston Windflower is the creation of Newfoundland native Mike Martin, who currently lives in Ottawa. The series is set in the fictional town of Grand Bank, Newfoundland.

The Murder Capital of Canada?

I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say that Winston and Sheila now have a baby girl, Amelia Louise. Sheila is the mayor of Grand Bank but is on maternity leave. A body of a loner, Jacob Crowder is discovered in his home, stabbed to death. Soon another body turns up, this time one shot to death in a van in a deserted area. RCMP Inspector Ron Quigley quips to Windflower: “When did Grand Bank become the murder capital of Canada?” Which is amusing, because each book has had at least one murder, so the Inspector shouldn’t be surprised by anything that goes in the sleepy hamlet by this time. While trying to determine if the murders are related, life goes on for the RCMP and for the Windflowers. Before writing this review, I did something I had never done before and that is to read another reviewer’s thoughts. To be honest, I didn’t find Before the Dawn as good a read as the two previous installments in the series. Mainly due to the fact that easily half of the book is taken up by scenes of the Windflower’s domestic bliss with their new daughter. Winston is, of course, the perfect father, including (but not limited to) changing Amelia’s diapers, bathing her and getting up in the middle of the night to attend to her needs. There is lots of cooking and dog-walking of Lady to be done, which Winston always happily has time for. Reviewer (and genuine bay-boy) Harold N. Walters at The Packet said of Darkest Before the Dawn:

To tell the truth, I was beat to a snot trying to keep up with Windflower and Lady on their frequent walks — up the trail, down the path, along the beach.
Diapers, walking the dog, and cooking. (Listen, I’m not even going to mention a stray cat that’s pussy-footing its way into Windflower’s family.)
At the end of Chapter 19, Windflower is seated at the supper table “lost in food heaven.” A little farther along, as part of preparing to cook, Windflower “put on a hairnet and apron.”
As well as striving to solve two murders and sort out the particulars of a possible suicide, Windflower manages — with Shelia’s help — to set wheels in motion to find some way of improving the quality of mental health care in Grand Bank.
Windflower is up-to-his-arse busy. So busy, in fact, that he engages his often-inebriated Uncle Frank (Yes, Uncle Frank is back from the Canadian West) to stake out a crime scene under the spot-check supervision of otherwise occupied Mounties.
During his frenetic investigation of two murders, money laundering, and “cryptocurrency” shenanigans on the Dark Web — oh, get this, there are rumours of a ghost prowling in the fog — Windflower squeezes out a few minutes to get down on the beach for capelin scull.

You can read the entire humorous review here: https://www.thepacket.ca/living/book-remarks-darkest-before-the-dawn-261810/

Still, when it comes to writing about police work, Mr. Martin excels, particularly at demonstrating Windflower’s keen skills when he interrogates the murder suspects in addition to handling the various day-to-day duties of running the Grand Bank RCMP detachment. Not a few times during my reading of Darkest Before the Dawn did I yearn for a little more “cops & robbers” and a little less “quality family time.”

A Mix of Old and New

The one that started it all!

Nevertheless, All the old RCMP gang are here (Eddie Tizzard, Carrie Evanchuk, Betsy Molloy), newer ones (like Constables Yvette Jones and Rick Smithson) as well as Doctor Sanjay and the Stoodleys. The Mug-Up coffee shop is as busy as ever. If you have never read any of the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries, then Darkest Before the Dawn may not be the ideal installment of the series to start with. The obvious best place to start, is of course, in the beginning with The Walker on the Cape, and I recommend you do so. Mrs. Miramichi Reader loves the series (she has started at the beginning) and that’s a pretty good recommendation if there ever was one!

Darkest Before the Dawn by Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing

*I see most of the series are available at either Chapters-Indigo or at Amazon.ca, in both print and Kindle editions. The Kindles are all under $4.00, which makes them the best option, in my opinion. 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/2U3qLF5 Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan by William C. Malone

William C. Malone is a retired RCMP officer who spent a year in Kabul from 2011-2012 as deputy Canadian police commander. It is a little-publicized fact that Canadian police personnel were part of Canada’s NATO commitment; one thinks of the mission as purely a military one. From 2003 to 2014, hundreds of Canadian policemen and women volunteered to spend a year in Afghanistan to assist in the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan (2018, Flanker Press) goes far in highlighting the important role Canadian peace officers played in that theatre of war.

Cops in Kabul truly shines in bringing to light the dangerous role of Canadian peace officers “on the ground,” but also the environment they had to work in, and the always=present demand for constant vigilance even when “within the wire” of protection.  Mr. Malone describes the endless meetings he needed to attend with military types, with other international peace officers and even with Afghan officials themselves, which didn’t always go as hoped. Red tape, corruption in Afghan government and heavy-handed bureaucracy (from Ottawa, Washington and Kabul) all combined to make Mr. Malone’s duties all that more difficult to perform. He makes this great analogy: “Afghan politics and the machinations of departmental bureaucracy were complex, constantly changing, a moving target that was hard to understand. The difficulty for the international community was figuring out the impact of such changes. It was like flying an airplane while you’re building it. There was a lot of crazy turbulence, thousands of moving parts, and in the end, no one knew if we would reach our destination. Despite all that, we kept going and hoped for the best.”

“My job was to make sure that every Canadian peace officer was exposed to as little risk as possible and that we all got home safe and sound.”

I was very impressed by Cops in Kabul, for it has the qualities of a good memoir: insightful, educational, as well as the requisite ability to describe places and events clearly. Where I felt it could have really excelled was in the more personal side of Mr. Malone’s experience. He never truly takes us inside his deeper thoughts about “being there.” What were his thoughts and manner of life away from his desk? What were his coping strategies? He doesn’t mention much about keeping in contact with loved ones back home. Perhaps he chose to keep this part of his commitment out of the book, and it was “all business” for the majority of his time there. Whatever the reasons, his writing style is very readable and I found Cops in Kabul one of the better non-fiction offerings from Flanker Press in recent years. In short, Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan is a compelling read about a year in the life of a high-level Canadian peace officer in Afghanistan. Recommended, and it will go on the 2019 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Non-Fiction category.

  • Imprint:Flanker Press
  • Format:Paperback
  • Published:2018-08-15
  • ISBN-13:9781771176668

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber

Three deaths: one, a popular Chinese businessman, the second his adopted son, and the third a rookie RCMP constable in a popular cafe and store in the unassuming town of Botwood Newfoundland. If that doesn’t have the makings of a good mystery-thriller, then I don’t know what does. But this isn’t fiction, it’s a true crime story that occurred in 1958, and it remained untold for many years, but lay dormant in the collective memory of the town and any eyewitnesses that happened to be in Botwood that fateful November day.

“After intense research, I was able to uncover an RCMP file and the findings of a provincial magisterial enquiry, completed in December of 1958 and withheld from publication for nearly sixty years after the event. Its findings and formal statements from those called by the enquiry, most now deceased, combined with current interviews and research, have been used to create Death at the Harbourview Cafe.

Fred Humber, a native of Botwood, was thirteen years old at the time. and as a first-time author, he has done an admirable job of getting the facts straight and unfolding the story in an easy to follow chronological order. He provides us with a backstory on the times, the extensive Chinese population in Newfoundland, as well as life in the busy port of Botwood itself. Notable too, are the inclusion of black and white photos which help to set the scene in the reader’s mind.

“I told the Mounties that Mr Ling had a gun in his quarters….I mentioned to the officers that I believed Jim had hurt Ken so the latter could not talk.”

Hearsey Canning's official statement

The following excerpt from the book takes place when Hearsey Canning (an employee of the cafe Cafe whom Jim Ling affectionately calls “Boey”) climbs a ladder to the second story to call out to Jim whom no one has seen for days now:

Hearsey climbed up the ladder, stepped out onto the roof of the back porch extension, and went to the window on the left. She had to be careful of the barbed wire. After twenty minutes of knocking on the window, she finally heard Jim speak from the inside. “Who is it?”
Hearsey replied with the Chinese name Jim had given her. “Boey. Come down and let me in, will you, Jim?”
“No! No! No!” Jim sounded quite agitated.
“Where is Ken?” she asked.
“Me not know,” he replied, his voice rising in volume and sharpness.
“Is he in there with you?”
Jim replied, “No! No No!” This time he was even louder and quite emphatic.
“Do you need a doctor?” Nothing. The place fell silent.
There was no question about it. By this time, Jim was coming unglued. He had screamed in such a high pitch and volume, Hearsey figured he had gone savage with rage and frustration. Her questions to him seemed normal enough.
What the hell was going on?

This was a particularly tense part of the book, and there are others too. Death at the Harbourview Cafe is a story worthy of a prime-time drama, and Mr. Humber draws on the many peculiarities in the story (an unarmed RCMP constabulary, citizens milling about the cafe after shots have rung out, and Jim Ling’s mental health issues just to name a few) to maintain a level of strangeness, confusion and suspense in the telling of this real-life drama. Included are nineteen appendices which contain artifacts, photographs, news clippings, official letters and eyewitness statements.

A well-compiled and researched book, Death at the Harbourview Cafe will be enjoyed by all fans of the true crime genre, fact or fiction. It goes on my 2018 Longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the Non-Fiction category.

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*Please note if you choose to purchase the book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the ad below, here is the direct link: https://amzn.to/2Dy27Hq Thanks!

Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber
Flanker Press

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher

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The Mike Martin Interview

The Sgt. Windflower Mystery series is a series of cozy mysteries set in the small Newfoundland town of Grand Bank where Sgt. Winston Windflower is the top cop in the RCMP detachment there. The latest instalment in the series, A Tangled Web (2017, Baico Publishing), has just been released.

It begins innocuously enough:

“Life doesn’t get much better than this,” said Winston Windflower. The Mountie looked over at his collie, Lady, who wagged her tail at the sound of his voice. If dogs could smile, she smiled back. His world was almost perfect. He had the love of a great woman and a good job as a Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrolling one of the lowest crime regions in the country. Plus, the weather had been mild so far, at least for Newfoundland in early December, and that meant no snowstorms with forced overnighters at the detachment.
Life was very good indeed.

The tranquility is soon broken by news that Sarah Quinlan, a young girl is reported missing. Then there is the issue of missing supplies from a warehouse. To add to his workload, a murder is thrown into the mix and the stage is set for another well-spun edition to the popular series.

A Tangled Web, the sixth book in the series, follows A Long Ways From Home of which I commented:

If you like police detective crime fiction that takes place outside the customary big city setting, then the Windflower mysteries will be enjoyable to you.

A Tangled Web is no exception, and it serves to gradually advance the backstory of Winston and his wife Sheila Hillier, who happens to be the mayor of the town and newly pregnant. This leads to the consideration of some important life decisions for both of them.

I thought it would be interesting to interview Mr Martin, and he readily agreed.

The Interview

Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
Mike Martin: I was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and now live in Ottawa. I am a long-time freelance writer and my work has appeared in print and online in Canada and the United States. I am the author of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series, set in beautiful Newfoundland.

“I didn’t make Windflower indigenous, he came that way. He kind of walked out of the fog in Grand Bank and started telling me his story. I just write it down the best I can.”

Mike Martin

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
MM: I had three older sisters who taught me to read early. So many books influenced me that it hard to list just a few. I think that the imagination of JRR Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings inspired me. So too did Stephen King and his fabulous book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was a great tool for me in my writing career.

MR: Let’s talk about the Sgt. Windflower Series, which is up to book #6. I would describe these as “cozy mysteries” but do you even like that term for the genre?
MM: People like to classify things and I don’t mind using cozy to describe the Windflower series. But I just call them some nice stories from Newfoundland. On social media I refer to them as Cool, Canadian Crime fiction.

MR: Where and when did the idea for this series begin? Is it based on any personal experiences or people you know? Did you ever consider a setting other than Newfoundland & Labrador?
MM: I always wanted to write fiction and kind of liked the idea of setting the books in Newfoundland. When my partner bought her grandfather’s house in Grand Bank, I fell in love with the place. 6 books later I still do.

MR: Why did you make Windflower an Indigenous person?
MM: I didn’t make Windflower indigenous, he came that way. He kind of walked out of the fog in Grand Bank and started telling me his story. I just write it down the best I can.

MR: If they were to make a movie based on the books who do you envision playing the main characters? (Windflower, Sheila, Eddie Tizzard,, etc.)
MM: There are lots of great Indigenous actors who could play Windflower. I like Adam Beach from several CBC series. Tizzard could be played by Jonny Harris from Murdock Mysteries. As for Sheila, I’m still looking.

MR: Could Windflower ever get transferred back to Alberta where he is from?
MM: He could, but not likely. He’s got his Auntie and Uncle out there, but very few roots to pull him back. His future is likely closer to the east coast.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
MM: Lord of the Rings. I used to try and read it once a year. Now I can watch the movies too.

MR: If you could write a biography of (or spend an evening with) any person, living or dead, who would that be?
MM: I think it would be fascinating to spend an evening with Ernest Hemingway, if he was sober. I’m not sure I could handle a drunk Ernest Hemingway.

MR: What are you working on now?
MM: Right now I am working on promo for A Tangled Web. I want to make sure it has a good push out into the world. A book is like an author’s child. We try and write them well and then we set them free. Each book has their own journey and as a book parent, I am always interested to see where they end up.

MR: Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing?
MM: I like to walk and ride my bike when the weather is nice. And when it’s not I love to curl up with a good book. Maybe the latest by one of my favourites, Louise Penny.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

A Long Ways From Home by Mike Martin

Instalment #5 in Mike Martin’s Sgt. Windflower Mystery series finds the Grand Banks Newfoundland RCMP officer monitoring a relatively peaceful motorcycle gang show of strength in the province, only to discover two dead bodies in its wake. This, along with tracking down a missing female motorcyclist has Windflower stretching his limited resources to the full.

Sgt. Winston Windflower is a Cree from Alberta but loves life in Newfoundland with his dog Lady, and his long-time sidekick Corporal Eddie Tizzard. Winston has found love with Sheila Hillier, who happens to be the Mayor of Grand Banks, which has the potential to place them in compromising positions at times.

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This was the first book I have read in the Sgt. Windflower series, and I didn’t feel like I had jumped into the middle of an ongoing saga. Although the majority of the characters in A Long Way From Home had been introduced in previous instalments, one doesn’t really need to know the background stories on any of them to appreciate their characters in this book. The story is well paced and the characters likeable enough although I didn’t find them all that fleshed out, descriptively speaking. It was difficult (for me, anyway) to picture them in my mind’s eye. However, the places in Newfoundland that Windflower travels to and from are very descriptively laid out for the reader, and along with a map of the island provided at the beginning of the book shows Mr Martin’s love of his native province more than anything else. Windflower, true to his aboriginal background tries to stay in tune with his ancestors (living and deceased) by his morning smudging ritual, his attention to his dreams as well as the nature that surrounds him on the island.

A Long Way From Home was refreshing to read in that there was no profanity (even from the bikers!) and any ‘adult’ situations were merely alluded to. There are some very tense moments in the book, one such was when the RCMP, led by Windflower are attempting a surprise raid on the motorcycle gang’s headquarters. It was well choreographed by Mr Martin. There are some underlying themes as well, particularly that of a small community supporting the police and judiciary in ridding themselves of gangs who distribute drugs and arms from warehouses in places like Newfoundland to the rest of the country.

If you like police detective crime fiction that takes place outside the customary big city setting, then the Windflower mysteries will be enjoyable to you.

You can find out more about the Windflower series here: https://sgtwindflowermysteries.com/

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Confessions of a Mountie by Frank Pitts

Subtitled Behind the Red Serge, retired RCMP Officer Frank Pitts, a veteran of 32 years with the Mounties, tells his story in dramatic fashion in this 2016 Flanker Press publication. Born in the small community of Freshwater, Bell Island Newfoundland, Frank joined the force in 1981 and had twelve different posting assignments, from the west coast to the east, where is now retired, living in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is the human side of the RCMP that is highlighted in Confessions of a Mountie.

The book is a series of work experiences, or flashbacks, centered around a major standoff Frank had with a large, intoxicated machete-wielding man. The man dares Officer Pitts to shot him; Frank realizes that this man is opting for ‘suicide-by-cop’ rather than trying to end his life by his own hand.

Here’s a brief excerpt from when Officer Pitts first confronts the suspect:

Cautiously and, yes, a little scared, I opened the car door and stepped outside. Behind the cover of the driver’s door, I stood quietly, in full working RCMP patrol uniform, minus the hat. I was alone. The adrenalin rush on the way here had left me with a mild shiver and a burning in my gut. I was not feeling cold, but I felt a shiver nonetheless.
Then, suddenly, without warning, there was a crash as the basement door burst open, and a man came stampeding out. He had a huge machete raised high above his head. He charged at me, screaming with rage as if he were part of the soundtrack of a bloody horror show. Despite his roaring voice muffling the words somewhat, his message to me was very clear.
“Shoot me, you [expletive] pig, shoot me!”
It had been a great day until now.

While Frank awaits his backup, his life as a Mountie passes before his eyes and he takes us through his training, rookie years, and other experiences, both tragic and humorous, throughout the book’s 171 pages.

Conclusion

Despite the title, there are no real “confessions”, no insider information or dirt on the RCMP. This is simply a few exceptional experiences from the career of a long-serving, highly decorated officer who doubtless could have said a lot more. Oddly, there is no mention of any of the tragic shootings of Mounties over the years either, such as in Moncton in 2014 and Mayerthorpe in 2005, to name just two. However, it is the human side of the RCMP that is highlighted in Confessions: harmless pranks played on a rookie, helping a fellow officer and friend cope with fatally shooting a suspect, how an officer feels when they fail to protect. While I found this book all to brief, it was nevertheless an entertaining read. Put Confessions of a Mountie on your summer reading list!

This article has been Digiproved © 2016 James FisherSome Rights Reserved