About Me

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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, September 26, 2013

Flying on the Edge of the World in Crime Fiction

A year ago after reading Murder in a Cold Climate by Scott Young, the first book featuring Canadian Arctic sleuth, Matteesie Kitologitak, I put up a post titled Traditional Outdoor Journeys in Crime Fiction. It discussed journeys by dogsled and on foot in vast barely inhabited regions of the world.

My last post was a review of the second book, The Shaman’s Knife, in which Matteesie solved an Arctic crime. In reading that book I was reminded how air travel is the current means of travel on the perimeter of the world.

In the far North it is possible to travel by snowmobile or, for a few, by dogsled but those methods of travel are limited in their range. To travel the great distances across the North an airplane is needed.

To illustrate those distances Matteesie opens the book by flying from Labrador to Ottawa (2,000 km) to Edmonton (3,400 km) to Yellowknife (1,500 km) to Cambridge Bay (850 km) to Sanirarsipaaq (about 250 km to the fictional village) on Victoria Island in the Arctic Ocean. He has covered 8,000 km (5,000 miles). Had he not stopped to visit his injured mother in hospital in Yellowknife he could have made the journey in 3-4 days.

On the flight to Cambridge Bay Matteesie travels with the Court. On the flight are the judge, court staff, Crown prosecutor and defence counsel. I once made a flight into northern Saskatchewan on such a flight. It was a unique experience to have everyone in the justice system travelling together.

Later in the book there is a burial service in Holman. The mourners, including the body, fly in for the burial. Between Cambridge Bay and Holman, both on Victoria Island is a trip of 550 km.

There are no road options. Once past Yellowknife there are effectively no roads beyond winter ice roads. Arctic residents are far more accustomed to flying than their southern Canadian counterparts.

It is the same for the residents of Chukchi (the fictional version of the real life community of Kotzebue) on Alaska’s Northwest coast in the mystery series by Stan Jones with Alaskan State trooper, Nathan Active as the sleuth.

It is a 1,600 km flight between Kotzebue and Anchorage, Alaska. Once again there are no roads on which to make the journey.

In Frozen Sun, when Active flies from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor during the investigation he flies a further 1,600 km. Within the state of Alaska he can travel 3,200 km.

Many of the flights are on smaller planes which are far more impacted by weather than big commercial jets. Matteesie describes a landing in Sanirarsipaaq:

Suddenly the flight got bumpier. O’Kennedy’s voice came on the intercom: “Seat belts! This might get worse. We’re in descent, coming in to land.” For minutes we pitched and yawed around, losing altitude. The mourners gripped their seat arms and hung on. I could see nothing. It was like flying through gray soup. Then suddenly the clouds got wispy and I saw the landing strip feet away, much too close. The engines roared us back up out of there. On the second try we came through the cloud the same way, saw the landing strip about twenty feet away, bumped down, braked like hell, and I realized that I hadn’t been breathing a lot, if at all, in the last few seconds.

Nathan Active, in Shaman Pass, jumps out of a plane onto the snow covered ground from a plane barely moving as it flies into a fierce wind.

Are you ready to go flying in the Great White North?


  1. Bill - What an interesting post! I know that there are no roads in certain areas, but knowing that is quite different to actually living it. It would certainly take some getting used to, I think.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Lifestyles change immensely when you cannot get in a car and drive away.

  3. Am I glad I live on a relatively small island, and a more temperate climate. Nice interesting post.

  4. Bill, every time I look at the world atlas I'm fascinated by the Canadian landmass and wonder whether people live in the northern regions that break off into hundreds of big and small islands. I can see why air travel would be so critical in the far north. For a perspective, the population of the city of Mumbai where I live is about 19 million, half that of Canada's total population. Just how inhabited is northern Canada? Are there enough people to manage and run things? My apologies for digressing from your post.

  5. col: Thanks for the comment. There is a much different perspective on distance in Canada from England.

  6. Prashant: There are few people in the far North. The climate is fierce.

    The populations of the huge territories of northern Canada are the Yukon (31,000), Northwest Territories (41,000) and Nunavut

    Each territory has its own administration.