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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder: An Early Adventure of John Diefenbaker

Reviewed: December 20, 2009
By: Roderick Benns
Publisher: Fireside Publishing
243 pages, $12.95

It’s the summer of 1908 and we’re on the prairies near Borden, Saskatchewan, when we meet John and his brother, Elmer both of them on their way back to the homestead with some much needed water, which they have bargained from their nearest neighbour’s well in exchange for some of their mother’s home cooking. They aren’t far from home when the shot rang out.

Rushing to the Schneider farm they see a shadowy figure scurrying away into the trees. Hans Schneider is dead. Mrs. Schneider is weeping as she cradles her blood soaked husband.

In short order the word goes out that the perpetrator is River’s Voice, the father of John and Elmer’s good friend, Summer, a Cree girl from the nearby reserve. As the Royal Northwest Mounted Police continue their investigation it appears that Schneider had probably stolen River’s Voice’s cache of trapped furs and that the two men had had words about it.

John and his brother are convinced that there has to be another explanation, but a rash of burglaries at every homestead but the Diefenbaker’s (Oh - I didn’t mention John’s last name yet, did I? Yes, THAT John Diefenbaker.) even causes the RNWMP to look suspiciously at John and his family.

To top things of, it appears that the nephew of Gabriel Dumont, one of the leaders of the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885, has arrived in the district with the aim of continuing where his famous uncle left off . André Dumont is shown as a charismatic speaker with a message about local grievances that appeals to Indians, Métis and White settlers alike. He also seems to be quite willing to go out of his way to help others, and rescues John from the swift currents of the North Sask. River one afternoon.

Meanwhile, there is another killer on the loose, one known only to the local Mounties, but one whose intervention will prove critical to solving the Schneider murder.

John is, it seems, the only person actively looking for alternative explanations for Hans Schneider’s death and it is he who figures out enough to create much more than reasonable doubt of River’s Voice’s guilt. He manages to convince both the local people and the authorities in a stirring speech at a community meeting organized by Dumont for other purposes.

It is here that much more is learned about Dumont, his past, and how he might be connected to both the murder and the escaped convict who is out for his blood.

This is an engaging young adult level novel with a lot of history built into it. It’s part of a Leaders and Legacies series which will place actual figures in Canadian history within fictional stories. Notes at the back of the book explain just how much of the material about John George Diefenbaker is real and how much was invented for the sake of the story.

I queried the author about the practice of fictionalizing real people, and he replied:

“My belief is that it creates an interesting bridge to non-fiction for kids. The hope is that some kids who would never dream of picking up a book about back the Chief might actually do so if they were inspired by the qualities he shows in the book. Those same qualities were there in real life and he went on to make a meaningful contribution to society.

“As well, historical fiction promotes diverse perspectives very well and can help critical thinking skills in kids. Historical fiction recreates actual history in terms of the institutions which existed at the time (RCMP, etc) and in this format it also helps illustrate complex social problems in an entertaining way.”

That may be the case, and certainly lots of mystery and thriller writers use real people in their stories. Still I hope I won’t see the following titles in years to come: Fixing Bill Bennet's Buggy; Willie King Talks to Dead People; Lester B and the Peacemakers; Pierre and the Nahanni Headhunters.

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