From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Frances Itani and Gordon Henderson


By Lynn Willoughby

Tell ~ Frances Itani

I have read several of Itani’s novels and while they are slow paced, almost graceful, they were a good read.  This latest book is slow to the point of boredom and left many unanswered questions at the end.  As I turned the last page I couldn’t believe that was it!

Kenan returns from WWI to a small town in Ontario, where he and his wife, Tress, grew up and now make their lives together near their families.  Kenan’s left side was badly injured during the war.  He has lost his left eye, has no use of his left hand and his face is very scarred.  However, the real damage is on the inside.  He never leaves the house for over a year, then finally ventures out only at night.

Tress seeks advice from her Aunt Maggie, but Maggie has her own secrets and sorrows.

We read about the skating rink the men in town build every year on the lake.  We hear about Tress’s father’s hotel, about Maggie’s friendship with Zel, and about the mystery of Kenan’s adoption as a child.  These small stories are part of the whole but are never brought together, no questions are asked or answered.

There are a lot of good books out there, but this isn’t one of them.  To quote one critic:  “Itani’s prose is genteel almost to the point of morbidity.”  I agree.

  • Deafening
  • Requiem

……………and others, including poetry and children’s  books.

The Man in the Shadows ~ Gordon Henderson

Another Canadian author with a story to tell and the skill to do it well.  I enjoyed this Canadian historical whodunit very much.

In 1867 three British colonies became the four provinces of the new Dominion of Canada.  John A. Macdonald (he was not “Sir” yet) was the first Prime Minister.  D’arcy McGee was one of the Fathers of Confederation, and a passionate, fiery Irish nationalist.  This is a book of historical fiction (my favourite)  leading up to his assassination.

I have certainly read about Fenian raids in our early history, but had NO idea what a very real threat they were to the new country, or how easily one more raid by the Fenian Brotherhood could have led to a forcible takeover of Canada by the United States.

Henderson imagines …”a cross-border plot to assassinate key Canadian political figures with complicity at the highest levels of the US government…”

I really liked this book. Henderson’s prose brings history to life and while I knew McGee had been assassinated – this in fact, is one of the most dramatic moments in Canadian history.

We certainly get a great view not only of the political climate of the times, but also the back-story on Macdonald, McGee and others.  We see them in their everyday lives, at home with their families, discussing events with their wives, in coffee houses, in men’s clubs.  We really get pounded with the reality of what might have been, if the Fenians  (soon to be the Irish Republican Army, the IRA)  had been successful.

McGee’s is the ONLY political assassination in Canadian history.  We have been slow to bring history to life in Canada, although Jane Urquhart’s “Away” and Guy Vanderhaeghe’s  “A Good Man” are wonderful examples of what we have been through.  I for one, would love to see a lot more of this genre.

Who Knew?

Patrick James Whelan was tried, convicted and hanged for the assassination of D’arcy McGee.  Up until his death he declared he was innocent.  Even modern forensics have not been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was guilty.