CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005
Canadian Crimes & Capers provides brief histories of 10 men and women who broke the law. A number were likeable rogues, but several were very vicious killers who ended their lives at the hands of the hangman. It also takes a look at the Black Donnellys, a notorious family that often took the law into their own hands in 19th century Ontario.
Author Angela Murphy has written four children's books and numerous book reviews and magazine articles. She has also had considerable experience in education as a university lecturer, public school administrator and curriculum consultant.
Most of Murphy's infamous Canadians will likely be unknown to readers. The best-known, because they have been of interest to other writers and featured in television programs are Edwin Alonzo Boyd, leader of a gang of bank robbers in 1950's Toronto, and Albert Johnson, often referred to as the Mad Trapper of Rat River who died in a hail of police bullets in 1932 in the Northwest Territories. Boyd has received considerable attention because two members of his gang were hanged back to back in Toronto's Don Jail. Johnson continues to interest because his real identity remains a secret.
In Murphy's hands, a number of the criminals she writes about appear to be ordinary folk, not like the hardened criminals one thinks of as bank robbers. People who met some of them often felt the same way. Ken Leishman, for example, a robber, "was unaccountably well-received in town. In 1978, he was elected president of the Red Lake Chamber of Commerce." Crooks, it seems, can often be charming as well as crooked. Murphy, in a lighthearted touch, has created nicknames for her villains. Thus, Hilda Blake, who murdered her employer, becomes the Homicidal Housemaid, and Bill Miner, a thief, is given the moniker, Highfalutin' Highwayman.
Canadian Crimes & Capers could be used either as a text or for recreational reading. If chosen as a text, it provides teachers with a lot of scope for discussions about why people break the law. Students will find the book appealing. It is written at the appropriate level, is very interesting and a pleasure to read. Unfortunately, it has few teaching aids. There are no illustrations or index. It does have an excellent ”Notes on Sources” which includes both print and Internet references. It also has the occasional footnote to provide definitions of unusual terms.
Thomas F. Chambers of North Bay, ON, is a retired college teacher.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.