Tuesday, July 5, 2011

“Tragedy on Jackass Mountain: More Stories from a Small-Town Mountie”

By Charles Scheideman
ISBN No. 978-1-55017-550-9

It sure didn’t sound promising: a former RCMP Sergeant corners you and proceeds to tell you all about his “adventures” in tiny town B.C. But given the RCMP’s recent headlines (taser deaths, unnecessary roughness, shoplifting; yes, shoplifting!), hearing about the time he helped a big moose get across a quiet street constitutes first-degree boredom. But darned if – metaphor alert! - TOJM doesn’t pull you over and arrest you with tales that sound more “Twin Peaks” than “Northern Exposure.” The book is divided into 30+ chapters, each one detailing a specific case investigated by the author. It should sound dry and clinical – and it does (the book’s few black-and-white pictures are of valley vistas; how “crime-scene”). But then you slowly realize you’re being invited into solving a mystery too and what you thought was the author’s direct approach is actually something you haven’t seen enough of in literature lately: being talked to as if you’re a thinking human being. No werewolves. No vampires. No pyrotechnic prose. Here, story is all – and it’s a wonder to behold. The writing is so elegant, ominous and measured – with nary a trace of pretension - that an open-and-shut case about the on-the-job deaths of two lumberjacks (years apart but under oddly similar circumstances) becomes the most involving mystery ever. As the tales pile up there’s something cumulatively, eerily, satisfyingly “epic” about this book. Herman Melville said “Moby-Dick” was about man’s inability to govern nature. James Dickey said “Deliverance” was about man raping the environment. And in the hard, rustic climates and locations, the cases recounted in “Tragedy on Jackass Mountain” are a compelling catalogue of nature exacting some awful revenge on the men and industries that dare to clear cut the woods – and the men hired to keep some semblance of law in them.