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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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Traditional Outdoor Journeys in Crime Fiction

On Tuesday I reviewed Scott Young’s mystery, Murder in a Cold Climate, set in the late 1980’s  in the Northwest Territories. In the mystery RCMP Inspector Matthew “Matteesie” Kitologitak undertakes a search for criminals in the bush of the southern Territories by dogsled.

While most of the time Matteesie searches while in an airplane or on a snowmobile he goes back to the old ways on this search.  It is a return to an earlier era when travel by dogsled was the only effective means of ground transportation in the Arctic.

It is done a classically understated Canadian way rather than the over the top American Hollywood like chase of Sheriff Walt Longmire in Hell is Empty. Longmire goes forward alone and on foot through the mountains in a way that stretches belief.

It is not to say there are not real life epic journeys in the Arctic. In Sledge Patrol by David Howarth there is recounted the 230 mile winter journey in Greenland on foot of Danish officer, Ib Poulsen. Remarkably he set off with neither winter boots nor supplies. He wrapped his feet in sacking to provide some protection. Poulsen survived by managing to reach supply huts set up for travelers needing assistance.

The journeys in the Arctic are beyond the personal experience of most readers. The vast majority of the world’s population does not experience travel in -40 weather (It does not matter which temperature scale is used. Both Fahrenheit and Celsius are the same at -40.)

In the Australian mysteries of Arthur Upfield there are often great trips made in the outback. Several involve aborigines walking great distances with little food and less water.

In Wilbur Smith’s book, The Burning Shore, French aristocrat, Centaine de Thiry, undertakes a dramatic trip across the Kalahari Desert with a family of bushmen. It is the best part of the book.

Matteesie’s dogsled trip also recalls great stories of my youth when RCMP officers routinely undertook long dogsled journeys to accomplish their duties.

There was always danger. In 1911 a  RCMP patrol of four officers became lost. Unable to find their way they perished before a relief patrol could find them.

What makes Matteesie’s journey unique are the trio on the trip. Matteesie is an Inuk as well as a police officer. George “No Legs” Manicoche is a disabled Metis. Edie McDonald is a white woman teacher. Surprising for that era it is her sled and dog team and she is the driver. Twenty-five years ago putting a disabled man and a woman in the group heading into the bush was equally rare in real life and fiction.

There are reasons for using the dogsled rather than snowmobiles for the search but they are best left for a reader to discover in the book.

I do appreciate chases in the empty spaces of the world that do not rely on planes, cars, snowmobiles and other motor driven means of travel. They force the participants of those journeys to rely on themselves and their ability to adapt to the land and weather rather than rely on modern technologies. I admit there is also an element of romance for me in these trips becoming quests.

4 comments:

  1. Bill - A very interesting post, for which thanks. I hadn't thought of real outdoor journeys (i.e. not what one sees in films or on TV). But they can add to a novel and there's a certain mystique about a genuine dogsled trip. Thanks for making me think about this.

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  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I do not think you can but be drawn to the past when you hear of a dogsled journey.

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  3. Bill, thank you for this instructive post. I enjoy reading about perilous journeys into the unknown, the uninhabited parts of our planet. I have only seen the great "outdoor journeys," especially in the cold and barren climates of the world, in films. In the past I have read and enjoyed Nevil Shute's adventures in the Australian outback but those, I am sure, are nothing compared to journeys in the Arctic or the Himalayas. I look at the Canadian landmass in the Atlas, the hundreds of islands stretching to the north, and wonder if anyone lives there or travels to those places. It seems like a scary prospect.

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  4. Prashant: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. The vast spaces of northern Canada have few people. If we go back a hundred years on the barrens, the treeless areas, there were no fixed communities. Some areas in the Northwest Territories are now being developed because of natural gas and diamonds. Travel is now mainly by air. Canadians know they should respect the cold when traveling in winter.

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