Prairie Murders: Mysteries, Crimes, and Scandals
Contains Photos, Bibliography
Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
These popular histories examine selected Prairie and East Coast
homicides. The seven Prairie murder cases presented by Smith cover an
extraordinary range of material, from vicious bootleggers involved in a
“booze war” with the Alberta Provincial Police, to imprisoned Nazis
who eliminated a supposed traitor in a Medicine Hat POW camp, to a
psychotic Manitoban axe murderer in thrall to a “devilish” insect.
In spite of the constraints of the genre, the author evokes, swiftly and
astutely, the social context in which the murders took place, providing
an unusually vivid sense of the particularity of each crime and each
criminal. The cases are handled with a true storyteller’s sense of
drama, pacing, and suspense, and they make for very lively reading.
Several alluring black-and-white photographs are included.
Finnamore’s 11 intriguing murder tales span more than two centuries
of bloody East Coast history. We encounter, to cite some memorable
highlights, a prolifically lethal but decidedly incompetent band of
19th-century mutineers, a deranged revivalist with a penchant for human
sacrifice, and a mother who poisons her children with matchsticks. The
inclusion of several female murderers—who sometimes exceed the men in
brutality—adds some uncommon zing to the collection. The author can,
occasionally, become rather hokey in her attempts to generate narrative
interest—as in her contention that a police officer immediately
discerned that a suspect had “the look of a killer”—but generally
her writing is sharp and, aptly, lurid enough to maintain reader
fascination without descending into gratuitous morbidity. This book also
provides a short list of suggested further reading.