33. - 546.) Murder in Gutenthal by Armin Wiebe – Neil Bergen lives on a farm with his mother near Gutenthal in the southern Manitoba heartland of Mennonite Germans. Last century, possibly the 1980’s, he is making a living as a private eye watching the countryside and helping people with their problems such as herding cattle back through a broken fence and then fixing the fence. His neighbours give him small amounts of money for his help. Like all the characters he is better known by one or more nicknames which range from cruel, horny Corny, to apt, Corny Pee-Eye, to the most common, Schneppa Kjnals (Flat German for Corny the Snoop). His quiet life is disrupted when he finds a black zipper Bible in the cemetery. While arranging to return it a mysterious doll like lady in a black dress asks him to buy a grandfather’s clock at a farm dispersal auction. The complications multiply as Schneppa Kjnals tries to carry out his mission. Longing for love he looks at every woman’s physical attractions. The book is a vivid description of life in a rural ethnic enclave. The initial murder to be considered is that of a prize pig. The story grows more serious as the “simple” lives of the characters are more complex than an urban dweller might expect of rural folk. Life has a fast pace that is different from the urban rush. Their deep faith is an important part of their lives. The frequent use of Flat German expressions and names is interesting, even charming, but also frustrating (there are few translations and so many characters with nicknames it is hard to keep them straight). The complexity of the plot led to a slow developing conclusion. I enjoyed the book. I appreciated the gentle understated humour. The descriptions of farm life in Mennonite country reminded me of life in rural Saskatchewan in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The good people of Gutenthal could have been my neighbours at Meskanaw. Corny’s shyness and awkwardness with women reminds of myself. By coincidence I was reading at the same time an article in The Saskatchewan Law Review Vol. 73(2) – Summer of 2010 – called Settling That Way: the Canadian Government’s Role in the Creation of Communal Religious Settlements on the Prairies. The article included a section on the Mennonites coming to Manitoba in the late 1800’s where they could carry on a semi-communal farming lifestyle. I had never heard of “The Privilegium” (The Government of Canada letter promising the Mennonites in Russia land in Manitoba, the right to live according to their faith in Canada including exemption from military service and other commitments to encourage their emigration.) See letter to author. Excellent. (Aug.20/10) (Third most interesting of 2010)
- Bill Selnes
- Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
- I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.