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Joan Sullivan: Mysteries, real and imagined

Book cover
Book cover - Submitted

Two local writers posing questions, some based on history, some purely fiction

The Last Beothuk
by Gary Collins
Flanker Press
$19.95  216 pages

 “Inspired by true events,” this historical fiction focuses on Kop, “the last true Beothuk,” and his fateful encounters with “the Unwanted Ones.” It re-imagines what has become a core cultural mystery, the end of Newfoundland’s first Indigenous people.

Kop is introduced as having “the easy gait of one born to walk, each effortless step the full length of his reach, a distance-eating stride, light and soundless. The slightly angular, hairless face was framed with a mane of hair the colour of a raven on a rainy night, the weight of it resting on his shoulders. The moisture beaded in his oily hair before dripping onto the warm, reddish-brown skin of his exposed neck. He was a Beothuk Indian, and he didn’t know if he was one of the last of his breed on the Island of Newfoundland.”

Author Gary Collins has written several books in this genre, and here draws from the research and theories of the American anthropologist Frank Gouldsmith Speck (1881-1950), an influential academic and a pioneering fieldworker. In 1910 Speck interviewed a woman, Santu, who was then residing in Massachusetts but said she has been born in Newfoundland where her mother was Mi’kmaq and her father was Kop, a Beothuk or “Red Indian” who survived Shanawdithit. Collins’ story concentrates on Kop as a husband and father trying to survive the approaching and seemingly inevitable doom, starvation pushing him to reach out to those he perceives as an enemy:

 “‘I am a hunter without food. Small One is a young be’nam, and her belly is long empty. Though my woman is winum by your hands, I come in peace. It is the way of all hunters to share aschautch. You have killed a young edru. Its hide is worthless, but its flesh is fat and tender.’

 “The two astonished white men stood with guns pointed at the Beothuk. They had heard terrible tales of the Beothuk, of attacks followed by beheadings and constant thievery. Neither of them had actually seen a Beothuk before, but they were terrified of them. Now two of the Indians were standing before them, telling in the unintelligible language of the savages ...”

Speck’s claim was not generally accepted, and the question of who was the last Beothuk, even whether there was a last Beothuk, remains intriguing and contentious. Chief Mi’sel Joe of Conne River believes the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq intermarried and their genes are still carried in Newfoundland. Even this year an American woman claimed DNA proved her Beothuk heritage. “The Last Beothuk,” which includes some photos, a bibliography outlining his research, and a select glossary of Beothuk words, is a novel addition to the subject.

 

A Tangled Web
by Mike Martin
Baico Publishing
$22.00  294 pages

This is the sixth of Mike Martin’s crime series, featuring RCMP Sgt. Winston Windflower of the Grand Bank detachment. Windflower is an outsider but has lived in Grand Bank for long enough to be integrated into the community. In fact, his wife, Sheila Hillier, is the mayor. And she’s also pregnant.

Submitted
Submitted

Windflower’s domestic life is the backdrop to his latest case, which begins with a missing child. Sarah Quinlan, almost 6, was quietly playing and then suddenly disappeared. A search is quickly organized but no one realizes Sarah has actually been taken from the community. She wandered into an open vehicle and the unsuspecting driver left with her aboard. And he has his own troubles:

The driver of the truck had no idea what was unfolding in the back of his vehicle. Solomon Flynn had his own worries and was glad to have made it to Goobies safe and sound. He had this trucking job and fake ID, but he was still in very deep trouble. He was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant in a murder investigation. The person he was accused of killing was a well-connected gentleman. Well-connected to a family that lived in the Italian section of Hamilton in Ontario, with relatives in Montréal, New York, Philadelphia, and Sicily. Not only was he accused of murdering this person, he actually had. Even worse, the late man’s relatives knew that he had.

 “A Tangled Web” reunites readers with Windflower’s colleagues and friends, like Betsy Molloy, Eddie Tizzard, and Dr. Sanjay. Windflower walks the trails beside the hospital, holds press conferences at the Lion’s Club, and meets for lunches at The Mug-Up. Martin keeps his emphasis on descriptive local settings and amicable characters as the police procedure and criminal action unfolds.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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