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A Klondike Korner: The Double Bob is a Dawson Tradition June 4, 2013

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A Klondike Korner: The Double Bob is a Dawson Tradition

By Dan Davidson

January 15, 2013Chris carving

John Tyrrell, a former Dawsonite now living in Cyprus, where he is Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Nicosia, writes to say that the Anglophiles in his city are organizing a Burns Night for January 25, and that they are following the Dawson tradition of calling it a Double Bob. This is a reference to the fact that both Roberts, Burns and Service, share the month of January as their birth months, though they are, of course, some 146 years and 9 days apart.

Both men are known as “The Bard” in their respective regions of fame, Burns being the Bard of Scotland and Service the Bard of the Yukon. Both men are Scots, though Service was born to a Scottish family living at the time in Lancashire, England.

Service believed himself to be distantly related to Burns, though his verses certainly owe more to the style of Rudyard Kipling than to the Ploughman Poet. Indeed, Service is often referred to as “the Canadian Kipling”.

The notion of the Double Bob began in Dawson close to 20 years ago now. There had been Burns Dinners, an annual tradition around the world, but members of the Dawson Community Library Board wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to inject a bit more of the Klondike into the affair. Noting that both poets were born in January (the 25th and 16th respectively), they decided to have a combined celebration and call it the Double Bob Bash.

It’s not a big gathering. Somewhere between a dozen and two dozen folk get together – some in full Scottish regalia – to celebrate good verse, good food, and good company.

The site has moved around a few times, but recent years have seen folks gathering at the Legion Hall for a potluck meal, which always includes a Haggis of some description, and Celtic music, either live or canned.

Following the meal comes the meat of the evening, recitations of poems by Burns and Service, as well as some original works by members of the feast. Some will have prepared their choices beforehand, even to reciting from memory; others will choose from a selection of volumes provided for the evening.

It is safe to say that Service, being easier to read, tends to get more space in the evening than Burns, whose faux-Gaelic renderings can be a bit hard on the tongue, but both poets get a good airing.

It’s nice to see some of our Dawson innovations migrating to other places. I am aware of one or two Outhouse Races held at points south and east of here after visitors saw our annual Labour Day Weekend event, and now the Double Bob has gone to Nicosia. This is quite fitting as the Tyrrells, John and Carol, were among those who arrived at the evening in full regalia during their time here. Avid supporters of the event, it is no wonder that they would help to export it to their current home.

The Double Bob will be held at the Legion Hall on the evening of January 26 this year.

– 30 –


* Chris carves Haggis – Chris Collin carves the Haggis with his  Sgian Gubh (ceremonial knife) after reciting Burns’ “Address to a Haggis” in 2012.




A Klondike Korner: Building the Klondike Music Puzzle June 4, 2013

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A Klondike Korner: Building the Klondike Music Puzzle

By Dan Davidson

January 7, 2013

Peter Menzies, though his involvement in both the Dawson City Arts Society and the North Klondike Highway Music Society, likes to see all the music going on in Dawson City these days as pieces of a puzzle, or perhaps something like the giant puzzle mural in the ballroom at the Oddfellows Hall, where many musical events take place in the run of a year.

Menzies acts as emcee for most of the Open Mic/Coffee House events at the hall and also for the various Home Routes House Concerts that take place during the year, and nary an event goes by without his patented mid-concert community notes.

The latest update occurred on January 5, in the middle of the monthly open mic “KiAC Saturday Night” (there’s’ actually a song to celebrate our coffee houses) but since it concerned a batch of things that are either ongoing or will be happening here during the next several weeks, it seems appropriate to highlight his comments here.
Menzies is a lead player in this as well, taking online lessons via Skype and passing on what he has learned to the others. One of his instructors has been Zavallennahh Huscroft, better known as Zav RT, who hails from Victoria.Coming right up is a fiddle workshop with Amelia Rose Slobogean, who will have visited Dawson for the second of three winter weekends on January 13. The fiddle group gets together every Sunday afternoon in the music room at the Robert Service School and some of them are regular performers at the open mic evenings.

You can read a detailed account of her work in our April 12, 2012 online archive.

In addition to lessons, the fiddlers are honing their chops by providing some of the music for the contra-dancing group that will be meeting during the winter.

As noted here last December, Nathan Tinkham recently completed recording sessions with a number of local performers and the CD sampler that came out of those sessions should appear in Dawson before spring. There is a previous sampler disc that was produced a year or so back, and it is always available at the open mics.


The music program at the Robert Service School includes a junior and senior rock band, two choirs and classes working with both recorders and ukuleles. All of these groups have made stage appearances over the last month, either at the open mics, the school’s Christmas concert or the Christmas Music Extravaganza in the hall just before the holidays.

Some of the students in the school’s junior choir are also working with former RSS choir leader (now retired) Betty Davidson in a new kid’s choir that meets at the Richard Martin Chapel weekly.

January will see an emphasis on ukulele in the Klondike, including both school kids and others within the community who are interested. Hélène Beaulieu visits from Whitehorse to help with this program.

On top of all that there is the Calypso Rose Concert, which will have occurred by the time you read this, and the remainder of the house concerts that I profiled in the fall, at least one of which (Qristina & Quinn Bachand) will feature a workshop for local musicians interested in Celtic music.

“It promises to be a busy winter,” Menzies concluded, “and these monthly coffee houses are very much a part of it all.”





* Peter Menzies.jpg – Peter Menzies takes his lessons with Zavallennahh Huscroft via Skype and then passes on what he has learned to a local group.

Peter Menzies









* Uke time – Hélène Beaulieu met with a small group of interested ukulele students in December and will be returning in January.

Uke time


Bookends: Chicago’s Resident Wizard Becomes a Real Cold Warrior after he Returns to Life June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Chicago’s Resident Wizard Becomes a Real Cold Warrior after he Returns to Life

Cold Days

By Dan Davidson

February 27, 2013


Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files


Roc Hardcover

528 pages



Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has been through a lot of changes over the last 13 novels and one book of assorted short stories. While he originally set out to be Chicago’s only consulting wizard and hoped mainly to be helping people with problems that involved minor magical elements, as time wore on it became more and more obvious that there was gong to be more to his life than simply assisting the police in solving some of the stranger murders and robberies.

Indeed, at one point Harry found himself sharing a corner of his consciousness with a fallen angel, one who sought to turn him to the dark side of magic by tempting him with the power boosts he needed to solve some of the more serious problems that came his way.

He managed to survive that acquaintance with his soul intact, but there was always the issue of his fairy godmother (really), who had designs on his allegiance, and also Queen Mab (see Mercutio’s speech in Romeo and Juliet), the airy queen of Winter, who wanted to swear him in as her Winter Knight.

In the novel Changes Harry was finally forced to accept Mab’s offer. His back had been broken and he needed healing in order to be able to save the daughter he had only just discovered he had. With the healing came power. Magical power of the wrong sort corrupts as badly as any other kind. Harry had had to deal with the last Winter Knight and, fearing what sort of a monster he might become, he arranged for his own assassination once his task was complete – and also arranged to forget that he had done that.

Death did not quite take for Harry, and in the aptly name Ghost Story, he still manages to save the world from evil entities from another realm while being little more than an ectoplasmic apparition in this one. As the book ended it turned out that he was merely “near death”, perhaps a side effect of the infusion of the Winter Knight’s abilities. He woke to find himself be tended by Mab and some of her minions in a strange cave.

Cold Days is about Harry’s struggle to cope with the effects of his new magical status. The Winter Knight’s power tends to make one into a bully, and certainly ramps up testosterone effects right across the board. Harry’s not into demonstrations of machismo by nature, but finds himself having urges and reflex thoughts that are not welcome. Without the earlier experience with the Fallen, he might have had more trouble controlling himself.

He is given a number of conflicting tasks by Mab and some other entities, and finds himself having to take on yet another by way of his empathic connection to a mysterious island off the coast of Chicago. When he establishes contact with the Demonreach, the spirit of the island, it turns out that he is not just a Warden (warrior wizard) of the White Council, but also the Warden (jailer) of some powerful beings imprisoned beneath the island, Cthulhu-like creatures which may have inspired the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Worse, someone or something is trying to free them. The Demonreach needs his help.

The Dresden Files often feature a ticking clock of some sort, a deadline by which harry has to accomplish some impossible thing or else horrors will result. There are several in this story. The books also rocket along at breakneck speed, usually taking place over the space of one to three days. Finally, Harry is nearly always a physical wreck at the end of each novel.

In this one he would certainly have been really dead several times over if not for the power boost attendant to his acceptance of the role of Winter Knight, and to the months long healing and training regimen Mab puts him through (basically, a daily attempt to kill him which he must overcome) in order to make him more combat ready. Harry’s always been ready for a scrap, but he has never been more ready than he is in this book. Good thing, since there are enemies almost literally popping out of the woodwork from the time he returns to Chicago from Mab’s kingdom of Arctis Tor, a specific part of the otherworld known as the Nevernever. In spite his new strength and abilities, he is seriously ground down by combined attacks by a variety of foes.

He is assisted by a number of members of his regular cast of friends and helpers. Some of them are badly injured in the fray and the life of one of them is irrevocably altered.

It will not give away much to say that nearly everything that’s happening in this book is the outcome of an internecine war within the Winter Court, that nothing is quite what it seems to be and such victories as there are, are tinged with sadness.

While the Dresden books are serious adventure novels, they retain a touch of their noir detective origins and a filled with lots of humour as well as lots of action. Butcher seems to manage to produce one a year, and I do look forward to them.



Bookends: This Book Gives a Misguided Account of the Events of the Klondike Gold Rush. June 4, 2013

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Bookends: This Book Gives a Misguided Account of the Events of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Klondike Rush

By Dan Davidson

February 20, 2013

The Klondike Gold Rush

By Sandra Dooling

Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd.

32 pages


Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd. has had a really good idea in terms of creating interesting non-fiction books for the grade 5 to 8 crowd. The format is a compact 32 page hardcover comic book style presentation. The illustrations are serviceable, if not up to current genre quality, and their potential for telling a story is strong.

Unfortunately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This book contains a great many errors. Some (like spelling “Carmacks” as “Carmarks” a couple of times) might be simple typing and proofing errors, but others are just plain sloppy scholarship.

Let’s begin with the picture showing the discovery of gold in 1896. It shows Kate (who wasn’t there at the time) and George Carmacks panning together on a riverbank, while Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie cut down a really massive tree (by Yukon standards) in the background. The text reads, “Someone noticed gold in the stream.”

Most historians agree that Jim found the gold, but aside from that there’s this neat wood-frame cabin in the background with a fenced pasture leading away from it to the left. Sorry, they really weren’t homesteading on Bonanza Creek.

As we move on, it appears that the Stampeders trekked over the Chilkoot Pass wearing nothing more than sports coats that they didn’t bother to fasten.

At Bennett Lake we find more wooden cabins and no tents, while the boats that head down the river after breakup have no gear and supplies in them, just people.

Both Whitehorse and Dawson appear to have been fully constructed and waiting for the gold seekers to fill their streets; again, there are no tents in sight.

Sam Steel was the Superintendent – not the Commander – of the Northwest Mounted Police, and when he left in 1899 it was to report to Regina, not Montreal, though he was quick to head off to the Boer War after that.

While the Hän people suffered from a great many diseases imported by accident by the new arrivals, Smallpox did not “decimate” the population. There was chicken pox, tuberculosis, several flu epidemics, measles, diphtheria and tonsillitis, and they took their toll, but “decimation” would be too strong a word.

On page 25 we learn that “The government, concerned by the impact of the Gold Rush on the region, began to negotiate treaties with the First Peoples.”

This is perhaps the biggest error in the text. We have just passed the 40th anniversary of the Yukon Native delegation’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, the meeting that began the slow process of Land Claims, which was concluded here in Dawson in 1998. Why were there ever Land Claims negotiations? Because there never were any treaties, neither here nor in most of British Columbia.

This error is repeated in the small “Brain Teasers” section at the end of the book. This is a nice feature, but not if it has bad information.

Surely there was enough existing photo reference material that the two panels dealing with Robert Service could have placed him in his log cabin – but no, because there aren’t any log cabins to be seen in this book at all. Nor did the artist seem to realize that most Dawson commercial buildings of that period were single story affairs with false fronts that make them look like they were bigger.

Moving on, Dawson City lost its capital status in 1953, not 1950 as stated in this book.

The story ends rather abruptly with a family of tourists visiting a dredge. It’s supposed to be Dredge No. 4 from the text, but surely some photo reference could have been used to come up with something like the actual dredge. When the dialogue balloon says it’s eight stories high and you can only see four, something is amiss.

Books of this type generally have a short bibliography at the end and, these days, some website references. I can’t fault the latter, and two of the books listed are fine. Berton’s Klondike is great, though why they didn’t list the junior readers versions of his Klondike works is strange. They are illustrated and more age appropriate. Claire Rudolf Murphy’s Gold Rush Women is probably a good one for that age level.

The spoiler in the list is Howard Blum’s misnamed The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush. It’s misnamed because it’s a pulpish adventure novel that plays fast and loose with the actual events and is therefore not a “true tale” at all, however much fun it may be to read.

So what have we here? We have a really good idea rendered fairly useless by bad research. This is part of Weigl’s Defining Moments in Canadian History series, which the publisher likes to claim “has it all” by pairing “engaging illustrations with educational text to give readers an inside look into the setting and gain an in-depth understanding of defining events” in our nation’s history.

I don’t know about the rest of the books in this series, but what this one has is a lot of mistakes.


Bookends: Gamache investigates the death of a wonderful victim June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Gamache investigates the death of a wonderful victim

Cruellest Month

By Dan Davidson

February 13, 2013


The Cruellest Month

By Louise Penny

Headline Publishing Group

372 pages


Three Pines, Quebec, seems like such a quiet, idyllic little village. The major characters that we have come to know include a nationally famous poet, another woman who would like to be a poet, a married couple who are artists, a gay couple who run a B&B/Inn and a smattering of other people who turn up from time to time.

It’s also a lethal place, for people seem to die there in all seasons of the year. In this, the third of Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries, we arrive in town for a third season of murder.

It is April, T.S. Elliot’s “cruellest month” according to “The Wasteland” and the village is celebrating Easter Weekend, though sometimes the passage of time in Three Pines is a little obscure.

“Time eddied and swirled and sometimes bumped into it, but never stayed long and never made much of an impression.”

Much like Agatha Christie (and she has won the Christie Award a number of times now) Penny spends a lot of time introducing the place and the people that we need to know in order to make sense of what follows. We are eight chapters into the story before the police are even mentioned.

Readers of the two earlier books will know of the Hadley house, the scene of the murderous climax of an earlier novel and a place full of haunting menace for both the residents of the town and the Sûreté du Quebec homicide team that will eventually be dispatched from Montreal to deal with the latest strange death.

It was a dreadful place to hold a séance, and when one member of the circle drops dead – apparently of fright – after the visiting wiccan practitioner (everyone calls her a witch) has set the stage for a spiritual visitation, it seems at first that the explanation for this particular death might be quite routine, The woman, Madeleine, was already dying of cancer, though she hadn’t told anyone and it wasn’t obvious yet. In addition, her heart had been weakened by the treatments used to drive away the first bout of the disease.

Madeleine dies on page 55 and we turn the page to meet Gamache in a moment of family intimacy. Four pages later he is informed of his next case, and begins to assemble his team. What he does not know at the point is that his powerful enemies have begun to assemble his ruin, and that his own actions of some year earlier, when he cleaned up a corrupt vigilante unit in the upper echelons of the force, will haunt him throughout the case at hand.

There are two tracks to this story, for though we have been aware of the Arnot Scandal over the course of the series, it is only here that we learn exactly what happened. Gamache has to explain it to his chief lieutenant, Beauvoir, in order to make his game plan clear as both cases heat up.

The assault on Gamache, carried out by means of a well orchestrated release of ambiguous information to the lower class Montreal tabloids is, in many ways, more compelling than the murder at hand, but Penny manages to hold our  interest in the lesser of the two mysteries and lay down enough red herrings in both cases to keep us guessing.

In particular, she manages to cast a lot of doubt on just who might have killed the luminous Madeleine, for she is one of those natural bright lights that everyone loves, and who always seems to excel in relationships without really trying. Her ex-husband even goes so far as to suggest that he drove her out of the marriage because he was being blinded by her light, something for which he does not blame her one bit.

Who would kill such a person? That’s the mystery here.

As for Gamache’s problems within the Sûreté, these are not a mystery to us. We know exactly who is plotting against him and the only mystery is that the otherwise canny chief inspector seems unaware of just who that is.

Penny’s website reveals that Still Life, the first of the Gamache novels, has been made into a television movie for the CBC, and will star British actor Nathaniel Parker, who will be known to fans of BBC mysteries for his starring role as Inspector Thomas Lynley, the character created in the mystery series by Elizabeth George.

The Penny books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages all over the world now, though it was years before they were actually released in French in Quebec. Her website, blog and Facebook page contain some interesting anecdotes about her writing life, and the CBC website contains a fine interview that she die with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter about a year ago.


Bookends: What became of the world after all the bombs were dropped June 4, 2013

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Bookends: What became of the world after all the bombs were dropped

Swan Song

By Dan Davidson

February 6, 2013


Swan Song

By Robert J. McCammon

Pocket Books

856 pages



Swan Song follows the lives of three groups of survivors of the holocaust that follows when all the red buttons have been pressed at once, all over the world. In a scenario familiar to readers of post-apocalyptic science fiction novels, and such television shows as “Jeremiah”, “Jericho” or the current series, “Revolution”, America breaks into a series of survivalist “republics”, each struggling to recreate its own vision of what used to be, working with meagre and damaged resources to achieve that end.

In the first section of the book we meet our main cast. Swan, the title character, begins as a young girl who is befriended by a down-on-his luck black wrestler named Josh. They both survive the atomic destruction in a crude fallout shelter that had become the basement and storeroom of a roadside garage. Swan has an uncanny ability to cultivate and grow plant life. At first this seems like a regular green thumb, but as the story moves on, it becomes something more.

In New York we meet Sister Creep, a bag lady whose mental breakdown seems to be cured by living though the bombing while huddling in subway tunnels. She pairs up with a man named Artie, who is determined to go home to his wife, even though he knows she must be dead. Sister (as she is known when her mind returns) comes into possession of a strange talisman, a circle of fused glass and gemstones, which grants her (and sometimes other people) visions and urges her to travel in a westerly direction.

Colonel Macklin is a former soldier and survivalist who is the front man for a survivalist bunker scam built in a former mine. He’s more than slightly crazy as a result of his experiences in Viet Nam.

Roland Croninger is a teenage role-playing gamer who fancies himself “Sir Roland” after the disaster collapses the bunker and helps Macklin build what will be one of the rampaging armies, The Army or Excellence, that will ravage the land as the years go by.

Both eventually fall under the influence of The Man with the Scarlet Eye, who seems to be an avatar of the devil.

As you would expect, we follow the individual quests of these people until they come together during the last 200 or so pages of the book, after the passage of more than a decade. Sister is drawn to Swan by her visions. Swan develops the ability to revitalize dying plants and bring new life to dead agricultural land. The Man with the Scarlet Eye wants to silence both of them, for they have the capacity to limit the spread of the chaos on which he thrives.

One of the unique features of the novel is the development of the ailment called the Job’s Mask, a cartilage-like bony growth that eventually covers the heads of many of the people in the story. At a certain point the masks crack and fall off peoples’ faces, revealing their “true face”, the visage that fits most closely the kind of person they really are. As you can imagine, some of the results are quite horrific, while others are quite the opposite.

There are a number of similarities between McCammon’s 1987 novel and Stephen King’s earlier book, The Stand, which predates it by about nine years.

Each book deals with the total collapse of civilization, King’s brought on by a rabid flu-like disease and McCammon’s by global thermonuclear war. Both concentrate on the impact of the disaster on the United States and both involve continent crossing quests. Both have a character who seems to personify evil and who has had something to do with the collapse.

King’s was Roland, or the Walkin’ Dude, who would later turn up as the Man in Black in his Dark Tower saga.

McCammon’s doesn’t have a name other than the descriptive one I’ve used  (or sometimes the Man of Many Faces) but his close association with flies suggests what his true name might be.

The biggest difference between the books is probably that McCammon’s has been out of print for over a decade, until the last few years. Unlike King, when McCammon decided to write less in the horror genre and more in the mainstream, he ran into resistance from his publishers, despite the fact that his work sold well and had picked up a number of the same genre awards and nominations. This one took the 1988 Bram Stoker Award for best novel, a prize he would win twice more during that phase of his career.

After a 10-year hiatus in that career he began publishing again, concentrating on a series of historical novels featuring Matthew Corbett, which seems to be a cross-genre blend of thriller and detective story set in the 18th Century.

I had read some of McCammon’s earlier novels years ago and had wondered what had become of him, so when this one turned up I was happy to have the publisher send it along.



Bookends: Father Time Finds the Meaning of Time At Last June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Father Time Finds the Meaning of Time At Last

Time keeper

By Dan Davidson

January 30, 2013

The Time Keeper

By Mitch Albom


224 pages


Somewhere way back in the mists of time …

No, I can’t start this review that way. See, this one begins so far back that the very idea of time hasn’t been invented yet, and it’s partly about the man who was bold enough, or obsessed enough, to think of it.

His name is Dor, and he’s one of the three central characters in this story. He is thousands of years old – but he is still young. He has lived through the ages, but the ages have passed him by.

As a boy he became fascinated with counting, with sequences of events and how they seemed to repeat. As time, which as yet had no name, passed, he developed ways of keeping track of the intervals between their repetitions. He mapped the passage of day and night, became aware of seasons, invented the sundial and the water clock.

He married his childhood sweetheart and ran afoul of his boyhood chum, Nim, who became a powerful ruler and determined that he would build a tower into the heavens so he could conquer them as well. You know the name: Babel.

When Nim’s Alli died he broke the rules and ascended the tower, which collapsed, shredding language into bits as it fell, but Dor was plucked up by a strange being and placed incommunicado in a cave, until the day when he could understand the real meaning of time. Ironically, he became Father Time, an iconic image that echoes in art and legend down through the ages.

Fast forward millennia to now, to the lives of a troubled teenager, Sarah Lemon, and frustrated old man, Victor Delmonte.

Sarah is one of those people who don’t fit in; an awkwardly formed geek who yearns for acceptance and all the emotional trappings the world says she ought to have. She is misunderstood and rejected by her peers – well, no, really she has no peers, but wants them dreadfully. We follow her through a series of events that leave her wanting to die. Shunned by a boy she has a crush on, ridiculed on social media, time is the one thing she wants no more of.

Victor is a self-made man who has achieved worldly wealth and fame. He has a good wife and everything he could possibly want – but he wants more. He has always wanted more. As he approaches he mid-eighties, he begins planning to cheat death. Now he wants more time.

In his cave, Dor, sometimes near madness, has often been able to hear the voices of people talking about time. He hears Sarah asking for hers to end and Victor asking for more. He is visited by the being who had imprisoned him, given a mystic hourglass, which allows him to control the flow of time for himself, and sent into the world after 6,000 years of isolation.

We follow him as he learns about the world. He is technically adept. When he needs to know about something he stops the flow of time until he has learned what he needs and then continues. He has stamina and endurance. He swims the Atlantic Ocean to get to New York, drawn there by a pull he doesn’t really understand. In the course of time, he takes a job in a clock shop to learn more about people, and it is there he meets both Victor and Sarah, on different errands in pursuit of goals that will bring each of them to a bad end.

You can imagine how this needs to work out. The narrative, with its 81 little chapters, shuffles us back and forth through the lives of its main characters, with some tiny input from other people: Sarah’s mother, Victor’s wife. Dor’s task is to provide the two mortals with a sort of George Bailey experience. It’s not so much that theirs are wonderful lives, but it is the case that they have more meaning than they have understood them to have, because they have been focussing on the wrong perspectives.

And that is true for Dor as well, which is something he comes to understand while he is helping them, a task he undertakes without any thought of personal reward.

A story like this one has a great tendency to become mawkish and preachy. Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, and other bestsellers, certainly has a message about life and focus here, but he’s not really beating you over the head with it. The narrative was clever and the concept interesting.


Bookends: Crime and Punishment are hard to connect in Aberdeen June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Crime and Punishment are hard to connect in Aberdeen

By Dan Davidson

Broken Skin

January 23, 2013


Broken Skin

By Stuart McBride


568 pages



Broken Skin is the third book in Logan McRae series. It’s my introduction to the work of a homicide division in Aberdeen, Scotland, and so I can honestly say that a reader can dip into it and figure out all the characters without having read the first two. Number one was Cold Granite, by the way, so named because Aberdeen is called the Granite City, and is the Oil Capital of Europe.

I’d have to say that I didn’t get much of a sense of the place from reading this book. Rankin sold me on Edinburgh, but it may have helped that I’d been there when I read my first Rebus mystery. Our UK tour a few years back took us to a number of places at the same latitude as Aberdeen, but not to that city.

While the boys and girls at Grampian Police Force HQ do eventually get the job done, I’m not entirely certain I’d want most of them investigating anything for me. They’re an odd bunch, and Logan seems to be the one among them who has his head mostly screwed on straight. Even he is hung over after far too many late nights at bars with the rest of his work mates.

The first person we meet by name is PC Jackie Wilson, Logan’s live-in partner. She’s in the act of taking down a rapist, but since Rob McIntyre is a major football star on the local scene, that case turns out to be a lot more difficult to pin down than it seems like it should.  While we are pretty sure that he is the bad guy from the time we meet him, it’s a puzzle as to how he’s managing to get away with it.

The next case to join the lineup is the apparent death by misadventure of a BDSM fan who has had something way too large inserted way too far. Fortunately one of the officers at Grampian is a devotee of the lifestyle and recognizes the rising male porn star whose body they have found. Of course, getting called “Spanky” for the rest of the book rather makes PC Rickards wish he had kept his mouth shut.

During the next three weeks – the break between pages 102 and 103, we have to assume that things were not going well for the team, but when we rejoin the story, it gets worse. Within a few pages both Logan and an unnamed policewoman are taken down by an eight-year-old boy who has just killed an old man who had tried to stop him from snatching a woman’s purse. We will spend quite a bit of the book trying to find Sean Morrison and puzzling out what might possibly have turned him into such a holy terror. Naturally, his parents say he’s a sweet kid.

Naturally, Logan’s superiors could care less about what made the boy (who formerly was a sweet kid) go bad, but Logan cares. And it’s Logan who figures out just how to tag McIntyre too. The third crime – well, that gets wrapped up as well, but the outcome is much less desirable.

Logan seems to be in the midst of a mad bunch of characters. His immediate boss, DI Steel, is a gruff lesbian who seems to be more concerned with her crime stats than with actually understanding the cases. For part of the book he’s seconded to work with DI Insch, a short-tempered fat man with an apparently bottomless appetite for candies and sweets of all sorts. Insch is a rush-to-judgment kind of fellow who seems to get tunnel vision while working cases.

On the other hand, he’s no less obsessed with McIntyre than is Logan’s roommate, Jackie, who probably put the football star in the hospital, unconscious and with a impressive catalogue of bruises and fractures. Hell hath no fury like a lady copper who knows she is right but can’t quite prove it and is determined that no more young women will be defaced.

On the whole, I’d have to say that I enjoyed this book, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (lots of that in the book, too). It’s a rough read full of nasty bits and some fairly brutal people, leavened by some fairly coarse humour. Oh, and you’ll need to keep your handheld within reach so you can run searches on some of the impenetrable Scottish slang. Most of it has to do with food, but I found I had to look up half a dozen words as I was reading, and that’s not something I usually need to do.



Bookends: Sampling the World of Detective Murdoch June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Sampling the World of Detective Murdoch

Except the Dying

By Dan Davidson

January 16, 2013


Except the Dying

by Maureen Jennings

McClelland & Stewart;

368 pages



Now that Murdoch Mysteries has moved over to CBC, where it should probably have been in the first place, I thought it was time to read some of the source material. I have read one of Jenning’s other mysteries, the second in her Christine Morris series (The K Handshape) and knew her work was enjoyable, but I hadn’t gotten round to the Murdoch books. Indeed, while I had seen the original TV movie trilogy, in which the main character was played by Peter Outerbridge, I hadn’t paid much attention to the present series until they decided to film the season five opener here in Dawson.

In preparation for meeting the new Murdoch, Yannick Bisson, best known to me from those breezy CIBC commercials, I searched out the available past episodes on the CITY-TV website and watched the concluding shows from season four.

The TV movie version of Except the Dying bears a closer resemblance to the book than the subsequent television series. That’s fine. Books and TV shows are different animals and what works in one format doesn’t always in the other.

The latest reprint edition of Jennings’ 1997 novel has a cover featuring the characters from the show. New readers will be surprised to find how few of them are in the book. Neither of the lady medical examiners made it to Jennings’ version of 1895 Toronto. Inspector Brackenreid is there, but he’s a bit different. Slender Officer Crabtree is a massive football player of a fellow. Murdoch himself sports a mustache and isn’t quite the amateur inventor we have come to know; nor is he quite as well educated.

Lacking a Dr. Ogden to bounce his ideas off, this Murdoch retires to his boarding house at the end of the day and talks things over with his landlady and her consumptive husband while sipping tea and huddling under blankets in bitterly chilly sick room where the windows are open to help effect a cure.

At this beginning point in the series there is no romantic interest, but there is a hint that a single mother and her young son may soon be fellow boarders, and something may develop over the next six novels in the series. Jennings seems to have concluded making additions to the series in 2007, the year before the TV show began, but after the three TV movies were produced.

Since that time she’s been working on the modern day series Christine Morris and a series about another detective set in World War Two England, which is where and when Jennings was born. There are some other projects mentioned on her website.

Except the Dying takes us to Toronto on 1895, and to the murder of a young maid who is seeking to avoid desperate circumstances in the house where she has been working. She is found naked in an alley, stripped of her clothes by two lower class women who took them for themselves. They describe themselves as glove makers, and they do a bit of sewing, but they make a living in other ways as well.

Who was she? Why did she die? When it is discovered that she had been drugged, there is no longer any question as to whether she was murdered. Murdoch and Crabtree pound a lot of pavement and the case only seems to get murkier once they ferret out her identity.

She was pregnant. Does that mean that someone in her employer’s house had something to cover up? Who else have had a motive? There seem to be too many possible suspects and everyone in that household seems to have a secret they want to keep.

When one of the glove makers, who did see the girl before she was killed, also vanishes and then turns up dead, it is clear that there is something nasty afoot, but this actually provides a few more clues as to what has been going on and leads to the discovery of the villains behind the murders.

This was a good read. Not heavy going, but heavy enough to keep my interest. The books are available in a new set of matching covers, or as e-books.





Bookends: Mike Carey’s Visions of the Supernatural June 4, 2013

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Bookends: Mike Carey’s Visions of the Supernatural

Vicious Circle

By Dan Davidson

January 9, 2013

Vicious Circle

By Mike Carey

Grand Central Publishing

577 pages


In Felix Castor’s world the dead have been coming back for some time and the results have been messy. Some come back in their own bodies, and are zombies. Some come back as ghosts and can be difficult in other ways. Some invade the bodies of animals and reshape them into humanoid form. These have the ability to shape shift into monstrous beasts and are were creatures with a sometimes tenuous hold on their former humanity.

No one knows why the dead have begun returning, but some sensitives have the power to banish them or control them, and Fix, as he is known to his associates, does it with music. His favorite focussing tool is a tin whistle, but just whistling will do in a pinch.

Felix is hired by a couple who claim that the ghost of their late daughter, who has been “living” with them, has been kidnapped by some sort of sorcerer and they want to get her back. Fix, who has bills to pay and a major responsibility for the well being of his friend, Rafi Ditko, who has been possessed by a major demon, takes the case.

Yes, there are demons in these stories, and there’s succubus named Juliet who makes Bo (from the Lost Girl TV series) look positively tame, even if she has been trying to cut back on her natural sustenance. Juliet gets involved because she has been retained to look into events at local church. Felix ends up there too and the pair find themselves struggling with an entity that has somehow possessed the sanctuary and is somehow corrupting anyone connected with the building.

While trying to figure this one out, Felix keeps trying to track down the missing shade and runs into all manner of difficulty in that quest. Of course, it emerges that the two mysteries are somehow connected, but that’s only after a lot of stuff happens and Felix gets fairly well worn down by the strife.

In that sense, fans of the Dresden Files series will find these books familiar. The pace is frenetic, things always get worse, and the hero really takes his lumps. There are differences other than the British flavor of Carey’s work, but the outlines are similar. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

Unwritten - Words

Story by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross & M.K. Perker

Vertigo/DC Comics

240 pages


It’s not really a surprise that Mike Carey would create a character like Felix Castor. After all, he had a long run on one of the original trench coat mystics, a nasty fellow named John Constantine, for DC Comics, as well as a scripting a batch of other series for both of the major comics houses.

What got me interested in him as a writer was this Tommy Taylor series, The Unwritten, in which a young man whose father used him as the model for a series of boy wizard books, grows up (resentfully) to discover that there actually is something to this magic business after all, that there is power to be found in words and stories, that he just might be the incarnation of his father’s imagination, and that if that wasn’t exactly what happened, he had nevertheless been programmed by his dad to be a weapon against the cabal that has been secretly running the world for centuries.

(My, that was a long sentence.)

The Tommy books bear more than a slight resemblance to the Harry Potter books, and Tom’s plight to that of the real Christopher Robin. The trick here is that stories shape the world, and in the places where stories touch the world the walls between fact and fiction are thin (think of the Jasper Forde books here). Tommy can cross these boundaries and, powered by the fandom the books have created, he has the ability to act in several worlds.

In this volume, which collects issues 31 to 35 of the continuing series, Tom finally comes face to face with the cabal’s hit man, Pullman, who may be dead by the time the story ends, though it’s hard to tell. This volume, like the last, intersperses Tom’s story with the history of the cabal, as chronicled by his late father, Wilson. It’s a history that goes back to Gilgamesh and in spite of the way things play out in these chapters, I’m pretty sure it’s not over yet.

I do look forward to these trade collections.