About Me

My photo
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.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Tracking Past and Present

James Laurenson as Bony in the T.V. Series with a modern means
of tracking, the airplane, and his traditional personal observation
The art of tracking is both similar and vastly different between Death of a Swagman by Arthur Upfield in 1945 and Trackers by Deon Meyer in 2011.

The tracking is comparable when it involves the examination of human tracks in rural areas. Whether the 1940’s or the 2010’s the tracking involves a person observing and assessing the imprints.

Bony explains the basic difference between rural and urban tracking:

I leave the body to a uniformed constable, and the cause of death to the doctor and the coroner, and to the experts at headquarters I leave fingerprints if any, the weapon, if any, and objects more closely associated with the crime. In a city the scene of a crime is confined to a room, an office, a flat, and, if on a street, to a space within a few feet of the body.

Here in the bush the scene of a crime is extended far beyond the immediate locale. Someone has had to go to the scene of the crime in order to commit it, and, afterwards, to leave the scene of the crime. As the criminal does not grow wings, he needs must walk, and he does not walk about without leaving tracks of his passage for me to see. To the city detective his fingerprints: to Bony his footprints. So you will now understand how it is that I am much more interested in the ground outside a house or hut or camp than I am with the interior.

Bony uses the training of decades and the skills of his aboriginal ancestors in examining tracks.

In Trackers there is tracking in the bush by men using the same skills Bony used almost seven decades ago. I am acquainted with tracking prints left upon ground.

My father was a trapper which meant he was a tracker. In an ever more urban world there are not many today who can distinguish which animals made the tracks they see upon the ground. I am far from being a skilled tracker but I learned some basics of tracking from my Dad such as where to look for animal tracks. You need to search where you would expect animals to be based on terrain, food sources, shelter offered and the quickest safest and most efficient way to travel through an area.

The title to Trackers in Afrikaner translates to spoor in English. It is an apt word for traditional tracking which looks to the traces left behind.

What has changed significantly, even in rural tracking is the use of technology to aid trackers.

In Trackers I noted 26 different types of tracking. They were tracking of vehicles in rural areas by anticipating roads, tracking done by teams of cars following cars, tracking of vehicles by transmitters placed upon them, tracking on foot in the city by visual contact,  tracking of people by observation from nearby buildings, tracking of telephones with electronic intercepts, tracking through talking with friends and enemies, tracking through sleeping with a source and listening to pillow talk, tracking through informants within organizations, tracking through computers searching the world wide web, tracking through the satellites continually orbiting the earth, tracking through reading newspapers and magazines for information on those being tracked, tracking through searching government records, tracking through breaking into buildings, tracking through searching desks and computers, tracking through the mind with skilful questions and brutal demands for knowledge, tracking through the sharing, often reluctantly, of information between powerful organizations, tracking through careful examination of financial records, tracking through the sources of funds in bank accounts, tracking through hidden microphones, tracking through the closed circuit cameras that inhabit every city, tracking through the examination of personal public records, tracking through the study of bodies and tracking through examination of wallets, clothing and other personal items.

Modern trackers would be lost without all their electronic devices.

Yet current technology has its limits. In Murder One by Robert Dugoni the investigators deal with footprints leading up to the window of a home through which a killing shot was made. The investigators try to determine size from computer analysis of the size of the tracks and distance between steps. I expect Bony could have told them by his experience. I believe he would have gleaned more information about the killers if study of the tracks had been left to him.

The powers of observation and reflection are less prized by modern crime fiction trackers. In our instant world we want answers and analysis instantly. Good trackers need patience to find the tiny signs that let the tracker follow their quarry. Bony often takes the time to sit down, make and smoke a cigarette, and deliberate about what he has seen. Few modern trackers pause to think.


  1. Bill - This is really fascinating! I didn't know your father was a tracker; that takes real skill. And you're right that tracking has a sort of whole new meaning when you think about modern technology... You're also making me think of series like Tony Hillerman's and Adrian Hyland's whee the characters do their own kinds of tracking and can tell a lot just by the signs they see in their surrounding. Thanks for making me think about this.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am glad you mentioned Hillerman and Hyland. They have sleuths who can track with their senses as well as technology.

  3. Bill, I was wondering about your interest in, and knowledge of, tracking. Thanks for the fascinating story. I recall reading your previous posts on tracking including your review of Deon Meyer's "Trackers." I became familiar with the term "spoor" through the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and films and documentaries of Africa's Bushmen who use tracking mainly to hunt for food. In early days they probably used it to hunt other men as well.

  4. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. Wilbur Smith's book "The Burning Shore" has great examples of the tracking talents of South African Bushmen. They were remarkable trackers.

  5. Hi Bill - what a fascinating post! Especially with the link to your dad's abilities. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Debra: Thanks for the comment. I have found tracking an interesting subject through my life.