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Bookends: This murder was decades in the making October 19, 2014

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Bookends: This murder was decades in the makingA small death

By Dan Davidson

March 26, 2014

– 815 words –


A Small Death In Lisbon



536 pages



This book was an object lesson about how the part of a story that annoys you the most can turn out to be essential to understanding the part that you like. There are two strands to this complex mystery, which was first published in 1999 and won the British Crime Writers’ Golden Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel in that year.

It begins with the murder scene, a long paragraph which runs over a page and a half and is given to us from the point of view of the person being murdered. We don’t know her age, her name or anything about her, including just when this is taking place., but it is clear that she is being killed.

When we turn the page again we are in February 1941 in Berlin, meeting Klaus Felsen for the first time. Felsen is of Swabian peasant stock, but he has improved himself in business and attracted the attention of the German SS, who need a shrewd man with a facility for languages to manage their secret trade in wolfram (tungsten) in Portugal.

Before they can trust him they must break him so that he knows to whom he must kowtow and what fate might await any failure.

Felsen is not a nice man when his story begins, and he doesn’t get any better as his story arc continues over the next 50 years. His part of the book was the part that annoyed me, and yet it introduces a whole host of other characters and motives that are important to the fate of the young girl.

We are up to page 53 before we meet Inspector José Afonso Coelho. It is 199(something) in Lisbon, and Zé, as he is better known, is having his beard shaved off, the penalty he has to pay for failing to lose the exact amount of weight that he has put on while grieving the death of his wife a year earlier. To encourage him (and perhaps save his life) his daughter has organized this as a charity event.

While Felsen’s narrative is thankfully in the third person (I don’t think I’d want to spend much time in his head) Coelho’s is a first person account of his investigation into the murder we witnessed on pages 1 and 2. Coelho grew up during Portugal’s fascist years, which were a remnant of the political turmoil of the period between the Spanish Civil War and the end of World War II. The remaining fascist dictatorship collapsed in 1974 and repercussions are continuing to reverberate a quarter century later.

The two narratives overlap at that point, and during part of the Felsen narrative we see the young Coelho in one scene.

As he and his young partner, Carlos Pinto, work to uncover the identity of the murdered girl, they find she is the daughter of Dr. Oliveira, and that the Oliveira family is an extremely dysfunctional one. Caterina, the daughter, was a young woman with twisted sexual appetites but, oddly enough, that was not why she died.

There’s quite a bit of sex in this book, but it’s interesting how the tone and the sense of it varies between the two narratives. There is nothing nice about any of the liaisons in the Felsen narrative, no matter who is involved, what the characters think they are feeling, or what the outcomes are. Each coupling left me feeling soiled and anxious for it to be over as they were essentially selfish and grubby.

Coelho has been celibate since his wife’s passing and is surprised and almost guilty when he finds himself attracted to Luísa Madrugada, a university teacher whose expertise is of some use to him is shedding light on the history that he keeps turning up as the investigation progresses. It is a mutual attraction and it leads to scenes that feel so much cleaner and correct than those in the other strand of the novel.

When Coelho’s daughter, Olivia, hooks up with his partner, Carlos, that too, seems natural, though Coelho feels the odd sensations that any father feels on suddenly realizing that his daughter is a woman.

There are many twists and turns in both of the story arcs that make up the strands of this mystery. The detective story is actually more straightforward than the generation spanning Felsen story. For a long time it seems as if there cannot possibly be any link between these distinctly different tales, but eventually it does become clear that they are inextricably connected, and it all makes sense in the end.

It’s easy to see why it won that award, and why the publisher felt the urge to put out a 10th anniversary edition.




Bookends: The Spanish Civil War and Buried Treasure inspire these stories October 19, 2014

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Bookends: The Spanish Civil War and Buried Treasure inspire these storiesLost Cause

By Dan Davidson

March 19. 2014

– 900 words –


Lost Cause


Orca Book Publishers

224 pages



Lost Cause is another in the “Seven” series of books about seven grandsons who are given money by their dead grandfather in order to carry out certain tasks. The tasks are connected to events in his life and also intended to bring out something that he has seen in each of the young men.

While it is a series of novels, all the events take place in around the same time frame and it makes no difference which order you read the books in. Each one starts with a different point of view repeat of the same basic frame sequence, beginning after the funeral and leading into the reading of the will at the lawyer’s office. Here the boys see a video the old man made for them before he died and receive the first of a number of letters that will outline their tasks and get them started.

What is different about this series is that each volume has been written by a different Canadian author. This means that each book has a distinct flavour and this, to my mind, is to the advantage of the series.

Steven is the slightly younger (by minutes) twin brother of DJ, whose story I reviewed here a couple of weeks back. Steven is insecure and has tended to feel himself second best next to DJ. While DJ was close to Grandfather David, Steve has always been more reserved. It seems that it is for this reason the old man chose to reveal to him parts of his history that no one else in the family knows, including the story of his first true love.

Steve is sent to Spain to reconnect with events that his grandfather experienced when he was just slightly older than him and volunteered to fight on the side of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War that provided the Italians and Germans with a test run of their battle tactics.

His letter sends Steve to a specific address in Barcelona, where he meets Laia, the granddaughter of a nurse that his grandfather knew during the months he fought against the Fascists. Laia has an old suitcase to which Steve has be given the key, and in it are mementoes of that time, including a hand written diary.

John Wilson specializes in young adult historical fiction, so this book is perfect for his style. Once Steve has the diary, easily half the rest of the narrative is given to us in his grandfather’s words, as he and Laia retrace the old man’s steps and visit the places he mentions in his journal.

Steve learns a lot about his grandfather and comes to appreciate him as he never did in life.

It’s a very effective story.


Seizure: A Virals NovelSeizure

Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs

Puffin Books

512 pages



In the second novel of the Virals series our four teens are faced with a serious problem flowing from the events of their first adventure. In that first book they were infected with a virus that re-wrote part of their DNA, giving them some canine enhanced abilities and something of a telepathic link. When they “flare”, a reaction over which they don’t always have any control, their eyes turn yellow, their senses become acute and they gain extra strength and speed.

Tory lives with her father since the death of her mother. She is the grandniece of Temperance Brennan, the protagonist of Kathy Reichs’ mystery novels, and shares some of her traits. Kit, her father, has a new lady in his life and Tory is trying to deal with that situation.

She is the alpha of her group, able to communicate with the others and sometimes to trigger their flares. Her friends are Ben, who serves as the muscle of this Scooby Gang; Shelton, the gadget guru; and Hiram, the overweight comical sidekick. One of things I liked about this second volume is that the boys are better fleshed out this time.

The overarching issue in this book is that the research facility all their parents work for is about to be closed due to a lack of funding. This will also cost them their homes and they could be split up to places all over the country, if not the world. Since they are linked as they are, and are still trying to find out exactly what has happened to them, this would make their lives even more difficult.

Their solution is to try and find a centuries old pirate treasure and in so doing come up with the funs to save the centre, the island it’s on and the creatures that live there, including a lot of monkeys and at least one pack of wolves. It’s a complicated caper that has quite a few twists and turns to it.

To my taste, this was a better story than the first book, but I have to admit that I read Virals two years ago and my recall relies heavily on the review I wrote at that time. I told you I’d get back to this series eventually. And here I am.

Brendan Reichs is Kathy’s son, by the way. They seem to work well together.



Bookends: Trying to keep the monsters at bay October 19, 2014

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Raven's Gate

Bookends: Trying to keep the monsters at bay

By Dan Davidson

March 12, 2014

– 766 words –


Raven’s Gate: Book One of the Gatekeepers

By Anthony Horowitz

272 pages

Scholastic Press



If you haven’t been wandering the Young Adult section of your local bookstore, you may still find the name Anthony Horowitz familiar. He’s been a writer on a number of BBC mystery shows, including the long running Midsommer Murders and Poirot, and he both created and wrote the Foyle’s War series.

Raven’s Gate is apparently a reboot of earlier attempt at a fantasy series that was never completed. Then Horowitz wrote his very successful Alex Rider (sort of a teenage James Bond) series and it appears he got the opportunity to retool his earlier work. Given that this is a fantasy series, J.K. Rowling may have had something to do with it. Comments I have seen online indicate that while the broad strokes of the original series are intact, the details and some of the characters have changed.

Matt Freeman is the central character of this book. When we meet him he is a disturbed teenager who has made some bad choices in life and is in trouble. Part of this stems from the loss of his parents at an early age and the very poor upbringing he’s been given by his surviving relatives.

In court for having participated in a break-in at an electronics warehouse, he is given the option of prison or taking part in the LEAF project, which is pitched to him as a program for young offenders. He is to live and work at a farm out in the country, while also attending school and shaping up. At least that’s what he’s told. Succeed at this and he will be given back his freedom.

Instead, when he gets to Mrs. Deverill’s farm, Hive Hall, he is kept isolated and made to work long hours. When he is taken to Lesser Malling, the nearby town, he finds everyone seems to be studying him as if he is some sort of specimen. When he tries to escape on his own he finds that no matter what road he takes he always ends up back at the farm.

Matt fears he is going crazy when he seems to be developing psychic abilities: precognition, psychokinesis and astral projection. His ability to foretell events is the first one he is aware of, and he has tried to suppress it because it is the reason he wasn’t in the car with his parents when they died. He was very young then, but he saw the accident and refused to go with them that day.

When he cannot escape, and when everyone who tries to help him dies mysteriously (a well meaning policeman being the first victim) Matt slowly realizes that he is being held for a purpose, that all the people in the nearby village are members of a witches coven dedicated to breaking down the barriers (the gates) that prevent ancient horrors (think H.P. Lovecraft stuff here) from breaking through into our world. In time he learns that he is somehow the reincarnation of an ancient hero who, with four other people, erected the gates that keep these beasts at bay.

Managing his escape from the farm and the immediate area of Lesser Malling, he hooks up with a beginning journalist named Richard Cole who desperately wants to tell his story. Together they reluctantly begin to explore some of the possibilities suggested by the things Matt has heard and seen in visions. Eventually they come into contact with some members of a shadowy international group known as the Nexus, who have an interest in young people with nascent powers and a mandate to keep the gates closed.

Any remaining skepticism they might have had regarding powers and ancient evils is banished during one horrific night in a museum, when the skeletons of ancient dinosaurs appear to come to life and actually kill Dr. Sanjay Dravid, the member of the Nexus that they had come to visit.

Matt is recaptured by the witches and returned to Yorkshire, where the shell of a decommissioned experimental nuclear power plant turns out to have been built over the site of one of the stone circles (a henge) which marks one of the gates. The plan is open the gate. The mechanism is a blood sacrifice. Matt’s blood.

Horowitz builds the story up very nicely and uses this book to outline the basic concept that will drive the next four books in the series. It was marketed in the UK as The Power of Five series, while the North American versions used his original Gatekeepers title. The five books were written between 2005 and 2012 and are all currently in print.





Bookends: A grandfather’s bequest sends young man up a mountain October 19, 2014

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Bookends: Between Heaven & EarthA grandfather’s bequest sends young man up a mountain

By Dan Davidson

March 2, 2014

– 900 words –


Between Heaven and Earth

By Eric Walters

Orca Book Publishers

247 pages



Shared universe series are not a new thing. In some ways one might even trace them back to the Stratemeyer Syndicate books. This company created and produced a number of different series of books for teen readers (Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, the Rover Boys, and others). Using a technique that would be lifted whole by the pulp magazines later on (Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, G8, etc) they created characters and basic plot lines and had the novels written under house names (Carolyn Keene, Frankllin W. Dixon and others) by a changing stable of anonymous writers, one of whom was Canadian Les McFarlane.

Of course, comic book companies do this all the time, with creative teams trading off books after maybe a year or two, or even just a mini-series, Earlier in the game their efforts were largely unaccredited, but that changed in the 1960s and most artists and writers are quite well known by their readers.

More recently, fantasy and science fiction writer George R.R. Martin has played a leading role in the continuing adventures of the Wild Cards superhumans, one difference being that the contributors to the series write under their own names. Another being that they probably make a lot more for a story than the $125 the original Stratemeyer Syndicate writers made per book.

Between Heaven and Earth is, for me, anyway, the opening entry in what Orca is calling Seven the Series. Seven grandsons are left a bequest by their dying grandfather, that being the opportunity to undertake an adventure that is somehow connected to something he did during his long life. He was all over the world, doing a great many things, but in his will he’s tried to come up with a challenge that will fit the individual lads and also, he clearly hopes, further their development as young men.

The stories all take place within the same time frame within a relatively short period after the reading of the will. The young men range in age from 15 to 17, with most of them being 17. They are all Canadians except one, who is American. They have known each other all their lives, except for the one that no one knew about.

DJ (named for his grandfather, David McLean, so David Junior) is the eldest of the seven, and sort of the leader. He has always been good at anything he tries, whether academics or sports (though he favours the latter) and has always had a sense of being in charge and being the best, his grandfather has set him a task that will test both of those assumptions.

He is to go to Tanzania and attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a formidable task which requires him to take direction, learn humility and discover that perseverance and character have more to do with succeeding than he would ever have guessed.

Outfoxed and robbed by street kids (while he as trying to help them) within hours of his arrival in the country, he finds himself beholden to a girl three years his junior (Sarah or Mambiri) and gains the anger of her father. Mr. Odogo, the leader of the climb, when he honours his promise to insist that she become one of his porters on the climb. Little did he know this would break a taboo and give him not only the youngest, but also the first female, porter on the mountain. Certain that he will outlast the elderly Doris, he learns that when it comes to coping with mountain sickness, age and physical fitness are just part of the story.

Walters, who has been writing young adult books since 1993, has 70 books to his credit at this point, and cam up with the basic idea for this series. He enticed John Wilson, Ted Staunton, and Richard Scrimger. Norah McClintock, Sigmund Broumer and Shane Peacock to join him in this adventure and Orca Books bought into it releasing all seven volumes as a matched set in 2012.

By doing this, he’s avoided one of the problems that might have arisen if he had tried to write all seven books. Writers do tend to develop a “voice” over time and all seven books might have ended up sounding the same. With seven different writers handling the chores, there isn’t much risk of that. I don’t envy the work of the editor though. There is some communication among the grandsons (mostly by texting) to link the books together and some of the background for the Grandfather David would have had to have been harmonized. Keeping everyone in sync would have been a tough job.

You don’t have to read these books in any particular order, although the one titled Last Message does suggest that you might want to save it till the end. I should mention that one of them is set on the Canol Road. This first one was good stuff. If I do get to the end, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, the series seems to have sold well and the publisher is planning to bring out another set of books by the same writers in the fall of this year.






Bookends: A writer’s search for the roots of depression and suicide October 16, 2014

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Bookends: A writer’s search for the roots of depression and suicide

By Dan Davidson

February 26, 2014

– 813 words –


What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son’s Quest to Redeem the PastWhat Disturbs Our Blood

By James FitzGerald

Random House Canada

512 pages



The title of James Fitzgerald’s memoir/history/detective story says a lot. What was there in his family’s past that needed to be redeemed?

Why, as he wrote in the essay that eventually grew into the book, did he react to the family home this way?

“As a small boy, I believed our house was haunted. In my bones, I felt that 186 Balmoral Avenue – – the gloomy, stuccoed-brick three-storey where I lived until age seven — was inhospitable to children. Sometimes, when I wandered alone through the dark rooms, I felt sure that some daunting, suppressed secret was about to burst out of the cast-iron radiators, flooding the hardwood floors.”

Why was his mother so shocked when one day, at the age of six, he announced that he wanted to change his name to Gerry?

Where had that come from? He did not know then that his grandfather’s name was John Gerald FitzGerald, that he generally went by Gerry and that he was one of the biggest names in Canadian public health history, right up there with Banting and Best, who worked out of the Connaught Labs that he founded.

James grew up in a desperately dysfunctional family, led by Gerry’s son Jack, who followed his father into medicine and had his own stellar career, though never one that equalled the heights of international acclaim his father had soared.

Indeed, jazz loving Jack would probably have been much happier running a nightclub and hobnobbing with the musicians who were frequent houseguests at the FitzGeralds.

James mother was also unhappy in her choice of career, which in the post WWII years up to the mid-1960s pretty much meant being a housewife and mother. She had other aspirations which she crushed.

James’ personal concerns probably began with watching his father fall apart in the middle of his life and end his days in a state of depression and drug induced lethargy in a small apartment, sans wife, sans children sans ability, sans self-respect. In James’ judgment, Jack was a victim of the psychology wars, where scalpel and medication were the politically correct tools of the trade and Freud was still spoken of as a Viennese quack with a dirty mind.

Much of this book, indeed, is an indictment of the profession, and James has researched it so thoroughly that he is now able to make part of his living telling auditoriums full of uncomfortably squirming doctors just what they are doing wrong.

Delving back into his family’s past he discovered case after case of depression and mental instability, and eventually found out what no one had ever told him about his grandfather, what the medical profession of the day had hidden away, that Gerry had crashed and burned in the middle of his life, too, and that his third suicide attempt had been successful.

Jack was treated unsuccessfully after his own attempt at ending it all.

James began his work this book partly out of a desire to figure out what was wrong with his family so that he could avoid the same fate.

For him, the talking cure so despised of the doctors who treated his grandfather and father, was the beginning of salvation. After that he was not quite so shocked to find that his great-grandfather was also depressed, that a great-uncle had leapt from a bridge, and that other relatives were alcoholics and manifested strange behaviors. After that, he had hope that finding out as much as he could about his forbears might be his own cure.

Aside from depression and insecurity being a family plague, James is quite convinced that there is something in the Irish temperament that rises in some families, turning into the Black Dog that Winston Churchill (who lived in Ireland as a young boy) used to complain about. Part of his research was to trace his family tree back as far as he could, only to find that there had been problems long before the FitzGeralds immigrated to Canada.

If you want to read an abbreviated version of this story, James’ National Magazine Award winning 2002 article “Sins of the Fathers” can be found on at http://www.sanofipasteur.ca/, the website of Sanofi, the company that now owns the Connaught Laboratories that his grandfather founded, where vaccines for diphtheria and other diseases as well as the discovery and refinement of insulin took place.

The book is worth the read even if you have already perused the article. It won the 2010 Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize and is available in both physical and digital editions.

James FitzGerald was the writer-in-residence at Berton House during the fall of 2013.










Bookends: High-octane adventure complicates a road trip October 16, 2014

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Bookends: High-octane adventure complicates a road trip

By Dan DavidsonA Wanted Man

April 2, 2014

– 757 words –


A Wanted Man

By Lee Child


624 pages



Jack Reacher was heading for Virginia, in search of the face behind the nice voice and agreeable intelligence that had assisted him during a recent adventure. He had a name and a location at the military base, and that was all, really. When he stuck out his thumb that night he wasn’t sure he’d get a ride. He was looking rough after the last few days. His broken nose hadn’t healed and he hadn’t had the opportunity to buy a change of clothes. He was surprised when the Chevy stopped to pick him up.

There are three people inside; two men in front, a woman in the back, all wearing the same sort of shirt, like they were part of a company group off to a convention or something. They’re going to Chicago, which is on his way, so that’s fine. There’s a funny feeling about the set up, but hitchhikers can’t be too choosy.

A little earlier three men had gone into a concrete bunker-like abandoned pump house near a small town. Only two had come out of the bunker and they were in a hurry. There was an eyewitness who called the county sheriff, Victor Goodman, who lived up to his name and found the body inside. It looked to him like a professional hit so he called the FBI and set up roadblocks. That’s when things started to happen.

About an hour later Special Agent Julia Sorenson arrives from Omaha, Nebraska. She is 47 years old and very professional.

Reacher, Goodman and Sorenson are the three narrative viewpoints we get to follow for about half of the book, as the plot thickens.

The woman in the car is Karen Defuesno, a waitress at a diner not far from the old pump house. It’s her car and she’s been kidnapped by the guys in the front. They swapped a hot looking red sedan for her more sedate looking Chevy and are using her to keep from being spotted as two guys on the run. Picking up Reacher was just bonus set decoration.

Eventually the driver gets tired and asks Reacher to take a turn. While he can see the rear view mirror, Defuesno manages, by means of an elaborate eye blink code, to tell him she’s been kidnapped. Reacher begins to wait for chances to do something about that.

Meanwhile Sorenson and Goodman are having to deal with a bunch of other federal agents (CIA?) who turn up and complicate things back near the original crime scene. Defuesno’s young daughter disappears, and the eye witness vanishes and things get very murky back in Goodman’s patch.

Eventually the three narratives run together and we begin to follow Reacher’s point of view exclusively. By that time Homeland Security is involved, Reacher is a wanted man (hence the title), Sorenson is in trouble with her boss in Omaha, and Defuesno turns out to be an undercover operative.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you, which is fair, because it’s not even a third of the plot twists that happen in this book before we get to the end. As sometimes happens in Child’s novels, this one takes place at a breakneck speed and takes us through only a few days before it’s all wrapped up.

There are car chases, escapes, gunfights, home invasions, and an assault on a fortified base before the story concludes.

But wait – as the commercials sometimes say – there’s more. Child is telling Reacher’s saga out of order, jumping around in time and location and sometimes using either first or third person narrative techniques. At the back of this book is a Reacher short story called “Deep Down”, taking us back to his days as an MP in the Army. There’s some kind of leak within the military related to a weapons procurement committee that is meeting to decide on a new purchase.

Reacher’s assignment is to join that committee and find out who the leak is. When one of the committee members is killed in a freak traffic accident the job either gets easier or harder, but there’s no way to know which until it’s almost too late.

I gather the Tom Cruise movie based on One Shot was a financial success, but this one would be hard to adapt. There’s a lot of interior pondering in this story and that usually doesn’t translate well to the big screen.



Bookends: Taking another look at the Lost Patrol October 16, 2014

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Bookends: Taking another look at the Lost PatrolDeath Wins

By Dan Davidson

February 19, 2014

– 790 words –


Death Wins in the Arctic

The Lost Winter Patrol of 1910

By Kerry Karram

Dundurn Press

232 pages



Kerry Karram’s fascination with tales of Arctic survival, made evident in her earlier book, Four Degrees Celsius: a Tale of Arctic Peril (Dundurn, 2012), continues with this detailed account of the famous Lost Patrol story.

Her interest in this expedition stemmed from her attendance at her son’s graduation and commissioning as a member of the modern day RCMP, which took place at Depot, in Regina. This is also the home of the RCMP Heritage Centre. It was also at Depot where she met Corporal Sean Chiddenton, who was able to show her the handwritten journal kept by Inspector F.J. Fitzgerald during his last, fatal trek from Fort McPherson down into the Dempster country and almost back again.

This is a document which is not referred to in the bibliography of Dick North’s earlier book, The Lost Patrol (Raincoast reprint edition, 1995), and I can only assume it was not available as a resource when North was researching his account back in the 1970s. Fittingly, his book is one of the sources for this one.

With the journal as a source Karram was enabled to give a day by day account, up to the point where the Inspector was too far gone to make any further entries. Quotations from the journal, from Robert Service’s poetry and from other sources introduce each chapter of the book.

Fitzgerald’s entries are spare, and she pads out the daily jottings with stories of the Force that the men might have shared with each other around the campfire at night before turning in. Aside from providing contextual tales of Royal Northwest Mounted Police history, this is a useful narrative device and helps enliven a story which might otherwise have consisted of repetitions of the same daily round, from the early morning rising, to the noon hour stop, the evening chores, looking after the dogs, having a meal and turning in while trying to keep as warm as possible.

The basic pattern is repeated so many times that it threatens to become tedious, but it does serve to give a sense of the daily grind on the trail in temperatures and snow conditions that eventually did in the four man patrol once they had managed to get lost.

It would certainly appear that they were defeated, for the most part, by overestimating their ability to find their way along the trail without a First Nations guide. The man in the patrol most familiar with the route had only ever travelled it from the opposite direction, and we all know that things can look very different depending on your orientation.

My friend, History Hunter Michael Gates, has pointed out a number of factual problems with this book. Some of them originate with Cpl. Chiddenton, who wrote the foreword. He has the year gold was found in the Klondike off by two years, confusing the Discovery with the Gold Rush.

Some of the captions and text references in the book bounce back and forth between NWMP and RNWMP. By the time this story took place the R had been added to the original name six years earlier. Some of the confusion comes from the telling of tales that take place before this, but it would have been good to clear that up.

Karram is at some pains to show how difficult this trek was in either direction. Inspector Dempster’s relief patrol succeeded because it was better supplied and used a guide, but it was still an ordeal. To underline this fact, Karram briefly tells the story of the 75th anniversary patrol, which was attempted in 1985. It was unsuccessful.

She does not mention the two other successful reenactments. One of these took place in 1969 and is mentioned briefly in Keith Billington’s House Calls by Dogsled (Harbour Publishing, 2018) Billington has since devoted an entire book, The Last Patrol (Caitlin Press, 2013) to this lively tale.

In 1995, to help mark the 100th anniversary of the force in the territory, another successful patrol was undertaken, using Dempster’s relief route from Dawson to Fort McPherson and back. This was also the year that North’s book was revived after its original eight printings by another firm.

Karram tells an interesting story and has a lively style, but the book does suffer from the reader’s certain knowledge that it’s going to end badly for the central characters. There were days when I simply found it too depressing to read about another really bad day. There was, however, never any doubt that I would finish the story.




Bookends: Teenage dystopias rule the book racks these days October 16, 2014

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Bookends: Teenage dystopias rule the book racks these days

By Dan Davidson

February 11, 2014

– 852 words –


It seems the current trend in young adult literature involves two things. First, the story will be some form of dystopia, as in The Hunger Games or The Mortal Instruments. Second, the story will be at least a trilogy, if not longer. We’ll have to see how this works out, the fear being that this might lead to a bit of padding and a whole lot of middle books that just pass the time between the beginning of the story and the end. Here are a couple of items that follow this pattern.


The AwakeningThe Awakening

By Kelly Armstrong

Doubleday Canada

368 pages


In volume one of the Darkest Powers Trilogy Armstrong introduced us to Chloe Saunders, a budding necromancer (she talks to and raises ghosts). Sent to Lyle House for treatment after her awakening powers made her think she is going crazy, Chloe learned that every other resident of this private school has some ability, from sorcerer to werewolf, and that they are being experimented on by the faculty. She escaped, with several friends, only to be recaptured and apparently betrayed by her Aunt Lauren, who turned out to be part of the sinister Edison Group.

Volume two is largely about escaping again and being on the run, but there’s a bit more character development in this part of the story. Brothers Simon (sorcerer) and Derek (werewolf) are fleshed out quite a bit and even the annoying Victoria (a witch) becomes less of a cipher.

We learn that it appears most of their parents have at one time been part of Edison, and that some have turned against the group. Edison has been experimenting on kids to increase their powers, but the side effects have not been positive and any failed experiments have been terminated.

After several harrowing escapes the kids link up with Andrew Carson, a former friend of Simon and Derek’s father, and they are taken to a supernatural safe house, from which, I am sure, the final installment of the trilogy will launch them.

Well, the book wasn’t just passing time. We did learn a few things, and I still want to know how it turns out so, as middle books go, this one succeeds.

Kelly Armstrong is the writer whose werewolf novel, Bitten, is currently playing out as a television series on the Space Channel.


The Maze RunnerMaze Runner

By James Dashner

Delacorte Press

400 pages;



Thomas arrives in the Glade in a mysterious elevator. He doesn’t know how he got there and while he has all kinds of general knowledge and skills he can’t remember anything specific about people and events in his past. In that way he is no different than the forty or so other boys who have been accumulating in the Glade over the last several years, at a rate of one greenie a month.

The boys are provided with food and sufficient supplies to maintain themselves if they work at it, and have decided that their task is to find a way out of there. The living area of the Glade is surrounded by a regularly shifting maze which some of the boys, designated Runners, explore and map during the day. By night it is automatically closed off by massive metal doors, and patrolled by bio-mechanical beasts called Grievers, whose stings bring on illness, the return of some past memories and distinct personality changes if the victim survives.

Shortly after Tommy arrives the elevator spits out a girl, Theresa, the first female ever. She arrives unconscious, bearing a note that says things are about to change. Sure enough, they do. The regular supply shipments stop arriving. The gates stop closing at night and the Grievers are able to access the Glade.

By that time, Tommy has already proven himself to be resourceful, adaptable and just about fearless in his approach to the group’s goal of escape. Teresa’s arrival is a shock to him as he is certain he knows her; he just doesn’t know how or when. This adds to the mystery of why every survivor of a Griever sting claims to have seen Tom in their vague memories of what it was like before they came here. Even more of a shock is the realization that Tom and Theresa can communicate telepathically.

Well before we reach the end of the story we know that these young people have been taken from their old world, had their memories altered, and have been sent to the Glade as part of some sort of test having to do with the situation (referred to as the Flare) back in the real world that sent them to this artificial place. It seems that by solving the puzzles and challenges presented here, they will be enabled to work on larger problems in the real world.

They do escape the Glade, but an epilogue makes it clear that this is all part of the testing and there is more to come.

This book was optioned for filming and the movie is due out this fall.



Bookends; When the end of the case is just the beginning October 16, 2014

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Bookends; When the end of the case is just the beginning

By Dan DavidsonAftermath

February 4, 2014

– 942 words –



By Peter Robinson

464 pages

McClelland & Stewart



My latest visit to the world of Inspector Banks begins where a lot of mysteries end. Banks has been in charge of a task force investigating a rash of serial killings. Teenage girls have been vanishing without a trace. When a neighbour, Maggie Forrest, hears signs of domestic violence at the house of Terry and Lucy Payne and calls the police, two officers arrive to find the wife unconscious and bleeding in the hallway and the husband, armed with a machete, hiding in the basement, ready to defend his secret cache of murdered teenagers.

One officer is killed in the fray and the other, Janet Taylor, successfully defends herself – a little too successfully, as it turns out. There are consequences.

No, I haven’t given you any spoilers; this is where the book starts. Well, not quite, there is a prologue that won’t actually make sense to you until quite a ways into the story.

So – the mystery is solved, sort of. It turns out that there are even more girls than anyone actually knew about. It turns out that there are other puzzles tangential to this set of crimes. It turns out that there have been some mistaken assumptions and all sorts of personal complications in the lives of the principal characters. It turns out that the aftermath of the discovery is just the beginning of the story.

Robinson writes mystery novels set in Eastvale, a fictional community not too far from the Yorkshire city of Leeds, where he grew up. He lives in Canada, though and this book was, he admits, somewhat influenced by the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homulka killings in Ontario, as well as a set of similar killings that happened in the UK. In an essay, Robinson admits to having had trouble writing this book, which he began working on some five years before he finished it.

It was going to be about Maggie, the Canadian woman in chapter one who is in England in hiding from her abusive ex-husband. Originally, it was going to be set in Toronto, but that felt too close to the scene of the real crime, so he moved it to the UK. At this point it was still Maggie’s story and it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t working so thoroughly that five other books got written and published while he was trying to figure this one out.

The late L.R. “Bunny” Wright, a British Columbia mystery writer, had the same problem when she was working on what became the first of her Sunshine Coast mysteries. When I interviewed her some 22 years ago she said she solved the problem by having a detective walk into the story. It was the beginning of the successful Karl Alberg series that spawned eight more novels and two in a successor series before she died in 2001.

Robinson writes that he did the same thing. He already had 12 Alan Banks novels under his belt and hadn’t intended this to be another one, but having Banks walk into the book solved all the problems he’d been having with its creation.

Reading that while doing some research for this review (yes, I do that) made me understand why there was so much about Maggie Forrest in this book. He had hundreds of pages of back-story already in his head when the time came to rewrite the book into a Banks’ mystery. I’m not complaining. It all fits in nicely and gave him the opportunity to score some telling points about peoples’ motives and the nasty British press.

There are continuing story arcs in the Banks series. In the beginning he was a married man, but like just about every other Detective Chief Inspector in British mystery fiction (the two DCI Barnabys in the Midsommer Murders TV series seem to be the exception) the marriage didn’t last. He has two grown children. The son is a moderately successful rock musician and the daughter is still in his life. His former wife plans to remarry and the big emotional hit for Banks in this novel is that she is pregnant with her new mate’s child.

Banks has not been celibate since the break-up. He has an occassional relationship with benefits with fellow officer Annie Cabot, who plays a significant role in this novel and in his emotional life. She is tasked to investigate the actions of Janet Taylor, to determine if she used excessive force in subduing Payne.

Also significant is the role of psychologist and profiler Jenny Fuller, who is tasked with developing background information on both of the Paynes, in order to assess what role each of them may have played in the murders. Lucy claims to have known nothing and to have been completely under Terry’s thumb, but Banks finds that hard to believe. Fuller would like to have a relationship with Banks, but so far hasn’t taken that step.

One of the disappearances in the book turns out to be totally unrelated to the main case, and is a fascinating red herring all by itself. As did Wright, Robinson has learned to write detective stories where the relationships among the characters are as interesting as the murder plots.

I’ve bounced around in this series and have read books on both sides of this one. There’s plenty of police procedural material in all of them, but the later books do seem to delve more into the personalities. They’ve all been good, however, and this one was no exception.



Bookends: Two months spent in the worlds of Alice Munro October 15, 2014

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Bookends: Two months spent in the worlds of Alice MunroMunro Best Stories

By Dan Davidson

January 29, 2014

– 775 words –


My Best Stories

By Alice Munro

Introduction by Margaret Atwood

Penguin Books

509 pages



You can’t get through a career spent teaching high school English without bumping up against Alice Munro’s work but, while I have taught several of her stories over the years, and read a few more, I haven’t spent an intensive amount of time on her writing.

That’s enough of a lapse when dealing with a three time winner of the Governor General’s Award (1968, 1978 and 1986) as well as two Giller Prizes (1998 and 2004) the Man Booker International Prize (2009) and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2005), not to mention a page long list of other honours.

I was, however, spurred to make her further acquaintance when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature last fall. The volume at hand was published in 2006 and contains 17 of her short stories, selected from books published between 1977 and 2004, the most recent story being “Runaway” from the book of the same name. There have been several books since that time, including another collection of best stories that overlaps this one for content.

What was useful about this book, rather than two other best stories collections, is that it has an informative 12 page introduction by Margaret Atwood. It contained much of the same material that I had heard on Q, As it Happens and Sunday Morning, and had read in Maclean’s, but gave it all a literary shape.

What would have made the book a little more useful would have been to arrange the stories in the order they originally appeared in either book form or in the New Yorker, where a good many of them first saw ink, though not, it seems, in necessarily the same form as the versions between hard covers. Munro apparently liked to tinker and revise.

There are books of short stories where you can sit down and breeze through several of them at a sitting. There’s nothing wrong with that sort of writing, but it’s not what Alice Munro does. One of her tales, which are usually not that short by page count (something my students used to complain about), is enough to chew on at one time.

Indeed, it has been said repeatedly than Munro’s short stories are rather like condensed novels, and I can certainly see where that idea comes from. Her tales may as easily span a lifetime as an afternoon, and often slide back and forth in time without a great deal of warning. They may be narrated in the first or third person, may be very individual in tone, or take what seems like a historian’s eye view of events.

They have been described as domestic in subject matter, but the activities of housewives are never exactly what they are about. They deal with relationships failed and successful, or under stress. The earlier stories have a lot to do with fathers and daughters in some way, and the ones in the middle seem to have a lot of failed marriages.

During her early life she was by turns a waitress, a tobacco picker, and a library clerk, and these professions appear in her work, along with that of bookseller, for she and her first husband opened Munro’s Books in Victoria, where she began her writing career.

Much of her life early life was spent in south west Ontario, which Atwood refers to as Sowesto. She seems to spend much of her energy bringing that area to life in her books, much as Stephen King spends his energy in New England and William Faulkner’s work lived in Yoknapatawpha County in the USA.

Not everything is set in Huron County and not everything is nicely domestic. “Runaway” deals with an unsuccessful domestic intervention. “Vandals” is a tale of malicious vengeance. “The Albanian Virgin” deals with life in the Old Country as well as the New World. “A Wilderness Station” is a bit of historical fiction told in letters that turns out to be a bit of a murder mystery. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” explores that unknown country of old age and dementia and asks how far a man might go to bring comfort to his fading wife, along with whether his actions are entirely altruistic. Having read that one I must now get hold of Away From Her, the movie Sarah Polley created from that source material.

I finished this collection today, after having spent about eight weeks in the Munro-verse. It’s an interesting place and I expect to visit it again.