Rogue Heroes tells the true story of Britain's Special Air Service, which changed the nature of World War Two. North Africa seemed to be where the war would bog down with the Allies trying to drive Rommel out. Before David Stirling conceived the idea of parachuting a small band of well-trained men behind Nazi lines, the war was fought as it always had been, with large groups of opposing troops facing off.
David Stirling was a Lieutenant in the Scots Guards when he had the misfortune to be paralyzed from the waist down after a parachuting accident. His back injury meant confinement to bed and hospital and as he lay there, bored, the concept of a special force was born. A small group of elite men could cause great damage to the German airstrips and disrupt their air war. The SAS was the first of Special Forces that are now part of most countries' military.
From this first rough plan, the Regiment was created, and the disruption to the German effort in the air and at seaports drove the Germans out of North Africa. A special force on the ground was added to the parachute actions. Jeeps were airlifted into the desert and the small SAS force would drive out of the desert, blow up planes, ammunition and fuel dumps before disappearing into the sand.
Men who served in the SAS were a different breed, reprobates, patriots, aristocrats and criminals. Each brought devil-may-care daring and determination to the Regiment. They committed and saw horrific violence and it was their single-mindedness that made their raids, guerrilla attacks and feats of espionage so effective.
Rogue Heroes is a book for the general reader; it is not a treatise on military history. The story is fascinating and if a writer had written a fiction with only a few of the exploits of the SAS, it would be unbelievable. It is hard to imagine the courage and nerve it took to face danger and death. A highly recommended account.
In 1691, Henry Kelsey was 24 years old. He had been sent by the Hudson's Bay Company "to call, encourage and invite, the remoter Indians to trade with us." The first white man to see the western prairies and the vast bison herds, Kelsey has been represented to school children and other casual readers of history as a heroic, romantic explorer. The truth is far less intrepid. His success and very survival depended on the goodwill and cooperation of the Indian people. Kelsey came as a passenger, not an explorer.
So begins the story of the region that will become the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Hudson Bay Company had a fur trading monopoly granted by the British government and claim to a vast territory. Instead of venturing out to meet the Indigenous population and bring goods to trade with them, the Company waited for the First Nations people to bring the valuable beaver furs to them.
Bill Waiser has written a book that describes the beauty of the countryside, the extirpation of the bison and the decimation of the people who lived there. Three smallpox epidemics and at least one of measles all but wiped them out. The portrayal of the Indian as lazy and indolent began early. The Cree, in particular, were self-sufficient. They enjoyed some of the amenities brought by the HBC traders but could live without them. When they felt like trading, they came. When they were busy with the lifestyle that had maintained them for generations, they stayed away. The introduction of alcohol and its inherent problems began with the fur trade.
The history of the "opening" of the west is one of exploitation and deceit. Even the employees of the HBC couldn't depend on security. When their usefulness as over, the company would cut them loose. It was a hard life for everyone. For over a century, the main industry was the fur trade. The white folk depended on the Indian for pemmican, a staple of their diet and sometimes the only thing they lived on.
Apart from the story of the people, the prairies and the area that became Saskatchewan have unique and beautiful geographical features. The cliche of the flat, featureless plain is false. There are rivers, swamps, muskegs and forests. Waiser's book is full of colour pictures that prove this and it includes reproductions of paintings, historical maps, and historic photos.
A World We Have Lost is a tome. Don't read it in bed. If you fall asleep and it drops on your face, you risk serious injury. It isn't a book to read quickly. Its pages are filled with fascinating information and the paper is high quality. I recommend this book BEFORE spring is here and there are fewer long evenings for reading.
In 1998, eight women were missing in Poughkeepsie, New York. The Spider and the Fly chronicles Claudia Rowe's relationship with the convicted serial murderer of these women. Kendall Francois is a huge, soft-spoken, self-effacing man and yet he killed eight and stored their decaying bodies in the attic and basement of his family home. His mother, father and younger sister lived in squalid chaos and accepted the horrific stench and falling maggots without question. Francois would not have been caught for a much longer time if he had not decided to confess.
Claudia Rowe wants to understand the mind of this serial murderer and she sacrifices her relationship with her boyfriend, her friends and nearly her sanity to the quest. What kind of man kills and kills? What forces act to develop such evil? Is there any scrap of humanity left in Kendall's heart? These are all questions Claudia tries to answer. She writes to Kendall, she calls him, she visits him in jail. She interviews the families of victims and the police officers and FBI agents who investigated Kendall Francois. A fascinating read that isn't just a true-crime who-dun-it? It raises questions about the potential evil in us all.
The Mormon Murders was first published in 1988 and I found it on the shelves of my local library. I was horrified but also intrigued by the true crime story of Mark Hofman who is still serving a sentence for manslaughter in the US. The subtitle of the book is A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit and Death. The subtitle isn't lying; The Mormon Murders has it all. Mark Hofman is a young, Mormon rare documents dealer, specializing in those that interest the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints). He lives with his wife and children in Salt Lake City, the urban centre of the Mormon faith. On Oct. 15, 1985, a pipe bomb packed with nails explodes, killing Steve Christensen, a local businessman. Two hours later, Cathy Sheets, mother and grandmother, is killed by a similar explosion in a quiet Salt Lake City Suburb. The next day, Mark Hofman barely escapes the same fate as a pipe bomb goes off in his car. He is rushed to hospital.
Then the twisted tale starts. The police, FBI, and the Church are interested in what happened. All three victims are members of the Mormon Church. Some police officers, FBI agents, and lawyers in the District Attorney's Office also belong to the Latter Day Saints faith. All kinds of obstacles face the investigators. The Church officials have a vested interest in keeping certain historical events Church secrets.
Mark Hofman trained himself to be a master forger and took advantage of his Mormon connections to sell the Church and true believer "original" documents. Some, supposedly authored by Joseph Smith, the founder, himself. The Church cannot let certain damaging documents become public. Amazingly Mark Hofman finds these and sells them to the Church to be locked away in the Vault. When Hofman gets too greedy, the whole scheme starts to unravel.
If you are looking for a fascinating read and would like a true story for a change, The Mormon Murders does it in spades.
Below is a picture of one of Hofman's forgeries- The Anton Transcript.
So Much for That is a dark novel. It examines the effects of serious illness on marriages while indicting the American lack of univeral health care. Shepard Armstrong Knacker's wife, Glynis, has mesolithemia, a rare cancer of the thin membranes covering most organs. Glynis' prognosis is poor and although Shep has insurance, it doesn't nearly cover all of her treatments. Their good friends, Carol and Jackson, have a daughter with the genetic disorder, dysautonmia. Flicka's disease is disabling, painful and humiliating. Her prognosis is equally dire.
The novel opens with Glynis' diagnosis and things just go downhill. In both marriages, the severe diseases shape the relationships and gut their finances. Even though both Jackson and Shep's families are covered by health insurance through their employer, the coverage is spotty; not everything is covered and to get the money or portion thereof, that they are entitled to, is a full-time job. There are so many hoops to jump through, phone calls to make, and forms to fill in. A small error at any point postpones coverage. They have to pay out-of-pocket. The stress and financial burdens take their toll. So Much for That isn't an easy book to read, yet I was compelled to keep turning the pages. Although the end a little polly-anna, after all of the horror that preceded it, it provided relief from all that darkness.
Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn's 2006 debut novel. It follows the story of Camille Preaker who has recently be released from treatment in a mental facility. A friend and editor, Frank Curry, gives her a job as a reporter at Chicago's fourth largest paper, Daily Post. Like all papers, Daily Post, is in a fight to the death for subscribers. When a young girl is murdered in Camille's home town of Wind Gap, Missouri, in the previous August and then a second goes missing, Curry sees a chance for an old-time scoop.
He sends Camille home. Her mother still lives in a kind of grandeur afforded to her as owner of the local hog slaughtering plant. There is a 13 year-old-half sister and the ghost of Marian, the sister who died. All kinds of small town resentments, feuds and mysteries inhabit Sharp Objects. The missing girl is found murdered and although the secrets and shadows from the past haunt her, Camille stays to unravel her personal tragedy and the tragedy of the murders. Their intricate intertwining makes this a thriller to enjoy.
Gillian Flynn is better known as the author of Gone Girl. Sharp Objects is more interesting and a more nuanced book.
It is June of 1944 in Camp 133, the German POW Camp in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Sergeant Neumann and his assistant, Corporal Klaus Aachen, have just found the body of Captain Mueller. His body has been hung in a corner to make its discoverers think they are dealing with a suicide.
In the prisoner of war camp, nothing is that simple. The communist sympathisers, French Legionnaires, SS members and regular soldiers of the Wehrmacht who are thrown in together and under the watchful eye of their Canadian guards, develop a culture of their own.
It is up to Sergeant Nemann to maintain peace and investigate anything untoward. Before long, Neumann and Aachen realize how complex the murder is . Their investigation takes them into danger and lets us have a peek into a time and place not commonly discussed.
This is historical fiction, a murder mystery and it's set in Alberta. The plot is intriguing and just when it seems that the mystery is unravelling, the unexpected occurs. I enjoyed Sergeant Neumann and Corporal Aachen. Wayne Arthurson has created a fascinating look into a POW camp in Alberta. I hope to see Sergeant Neumann again soon. The cover says this book is A Sergeant Neumann Mystery so I should get my wish.
1850's rural Ireland is a hard place. The people are poor and often hungry. Many of them are devout Catholics and as such, could use a miracle to lighten their dark and joyless lives.
Anna O'Donnell appears to be that miracle. She has lived for months without taking food, surviving on manna.
A committee is struck and Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to come and observe the girl to verify or falsify the miracle. Her job is to, in 12 hour shifts, make sure that Anna doesn't eat anything. She inspects the girl's room thoroughly and takes physical measurements everyday. A nun is chosen as her co-worker, to take the shifts when Lib is resting.
Is Anna a miracle? Her very life is at stake as Lib tries to unravel the mystery of her survival. Once the women are employed to observe, Anna begins to fail physically. Her nurses try to shield her from curious tourists and predatory press. Lib vows to save her, but how?
For me, The Wonder, started slowly but still drew me in. Then at about 2/3 of the way through, there was more drama and revelation of secrets.
Short-listed for the Giller prize, The Wonder, is good bit of historical fiction.
Darby Swank, 21 years old, is the unlikely heroine of this tightly written story of family secrets, small town insularity and rural life. In one of the most effective openings to a mystery that I have read in a while, Darby finds the body of her aunt floating in Brightsand Lake in northwestern Saskatchewan.
Sophisticates who read Vogue will know that Saskatchewan and Manitoba are "vaguely exotic" and on a list of places to visit. Lisa Guenther perfectly evokes the environment of Brightsands Lake and the nearby communities of St. Walberg and Turtleford. The murder is central, of course, but there is a forest fire, a cattle round-up and of course, romantic intrigue.
Friendly Fire exposes the horror of family violence and explains why a woman, in this case Darby's aunt, would stay in such a dangerous environment. It explores the heart of the abuser and looks below her Uncle Will's superficial charm to the tortured man who is compelled to strike out.
Wainwright and District Family and Community Services is hosting Ms. Guenther at the Wainwright Public Library for a reading from Friendly Fire. The reading begins a 6:30 PM and goes to 8:00. November is Family Violence Prevention Month and Ms. Guenther's book, although a novel, reveals how violence may be a secret and how this secrecy allows it to escalate until something so tragic as Aunt Bea's murder occurs.
William Pinkerton and Adam Floode seem polar opposites. William is a big, white man who works, of course, for the famed Pinkerton Agency. His father was its founder. Adam Floode is a small, mixed-race man, an orphan. He is part of the 1880s flash or loose association of thieves and scam artists.
Alan Pinkerton binds William to him by blood and family, Adam Floode by giving him a life-saving opportunity during the American Civil War. Charlotte Rickett and her cousin Martin supply some of the mystery.
This 700+ word tome alternates between 1860s American Civil War and 1880s London, England. William Pinkerton is in London on a mission of his own. He must find the elusive Edward Shade who may be a ghost but one that haunted William's father his whole life. Charlotte Reckitt is a part of the puzzle. When she is murdered, both Pinkerton and Floode work to find out what really happened. Floode because he loved her and Pinkerton because he thinks she may know of the mysterious Edward Shade. The point of view travels with William and then with Adam. There are twists and turns aplenty, the romance of the Pinkerton Agency and the horror of 1880s London with its opium dens and destitute thousands. It takes some reading but it's a hard book to put down.
This is Canadian poet, Steven Price's second novel. The language is rich and paints a vivid picture whether it is in the sewer systems of London or on the Battlefields with the Union Soldiers. Price's novel is complex and satisfying.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.