The year: 1950; the place: Starville, a tiny hamlet in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, where tranquility reigns … until evil walks in.
This happens because a rather good man, VINCE GREENRAY, who ran away from home when he was fifteen, returns to the hamlet in an attempt to find refuge from the law. He’s wanted for a California murder he didn’t commit. Close on his heels comes the real killer, HUMPHREY BALZAK, whose agenda is straightforward–he needs to eliminate the suspect before he can prove his innocence and the true killer’s guilt.
Much of the story is told as seen through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old resident of Starville, ROY GREENRAY, the nephew of Vince. Like most boys, he dreams of being involved in high adventure and derring-do, one of his screen heroes of the time being Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, private investigator. But when the daydreaming becomes reality, can Roy handle it?
Although a fourteen-year-old boy is featured, this story is by no means intended for young readers. It is a hard-edged adventure thriller with a unique and little-explored setting: an authentic 1950’s hamlet in Saskatchewan–very much like the one in which the author grew up.
AUTHOR’S OPENING NOTE
This book is a work of fiction, a thriller, and I think it’s one that has a particularly authentic, interesting, and unusual background. The story is basically set in a small hamlet in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in the year 1950.
These kinds of hamlets, along with their surrounding farmlands, and with their fascinating culture of the times, present a unique piece of historical reality. If we cut a particular slice out of it–say from 1935 to 1955–we have not only the Second World War covered, but also the last part of the changeover from the “horse days” to gas-powered farm machinery and motor vehicles.
Looking at this through the eyes of a boy growing up in this time and place (as you will be part of the time while reading the book) you’ll be seeing what few people in the world know anything about.
It was a time and place on the edge of civilization, for to the south were more people, more things going on, more progress, and the whole bustling United States of America; but to the north there was wilderness.
Unique? Consider this: The time and place I’m talking about is the only one in the world where people drove around, in wintertime, in horse-drawn vehicles that were closed-in cabs heated with a small wood stove. The inhabitants of the rest of the horse-days wintry world were freezing their butts off in open sleighs.
Most of my growing-up years (from the time I was seven until I was twenty) were spent in a hamlet very much like the one called Starville in this story. It was a peaceful little place, yet, ironically, full of adventure, particularly in the imaginations of myself and my boyhood buddies. Our Starville (it has a different name in real life) was to be a springboard–according to the way we looked at things–into glorious lives of romance and adventure, the kind demonstrated by our screen heroes of the time, such as cowboy-star Hopalong Cassidy, jungle-man Tarzan, and private-eye Philip Marlowe, rescuers of the innocent, crime fighters.
Now, so many years later, I thought: What if some big evil had invaded that peaceful little hamlet at that time and tested everyone’s mettle, including that of us adventure-hungry boys? Would we have been up to it? Once the concept had come into my mind, it wouldn’t leave me alone.
Although its background is authentic, this story is fiction, and all its characters and their names are fictitious.
With that settled, you can ease back in your morris chair (that’s a 1940s type of easy chair), or maybe you’d like to recline on your chesterfield (that’s 1940s and early 1950s lingo for sofa) and read–and see what happens when extremely rotten eggs from Sin City invade our pastoral little hamlet, Starville.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample below:
1 – THE BLIZZARD
Central Saskatchewan, Canada, 1950: The blizzard was intense. In mid March the days were still short and the darkness of night had arrived hours ago; but even if it had been noon, the heavily overcast sky and the howling, windblown snow would have cut visibility to near zero. In this darkness of late evening it was distinctly a zero, if you didn’t count the fact that you could more or less see the horses’ butts directly in front of you through the caboose windshield, a flat piece of sturdy plate glass. Even this familiar double rear-end portrait would not have been visible if it hadn’t been for the big battery powered headlamp mounted on top of the caboose at the front.
This latter feature was a somewhat recent innovation in the development of the wonderful invention called a caboose sleigh. Only a narrow swath of Saskatchewan was blessed with the good fortune of having the use of these conveyances–and possibly some of Manitoba to the east and some of Alberta to the west as well.
But to fourteen-year-old Roy Greenray, sitting on the left side of the caboose’s blanket-covered, wooden front seat, this technological phenomenon was just the way things were. And yet even at his young age, he had seen progress in the development of this type of conveyance. Before moving to the hamlet of Starville, the winter rig of Roy’s family had been a small wooden caboose with no headlight; now he was riding the storm in his dad’s state-of-the art caboose that had a wooden box-shaped frame with sturdy beige canvas stretched over it, which type of construction made the whole thing lighter and easier for the horses to pull. It had an extra big headlight as well, and a boxy little wood stove at the front right under the plate glass windshield. A small stovepipe, about four inches in diameter, led straight up through the roof where the canvas was protected from its heat by a square of heavy tin.
Jack Greenray, Roy’s dad, had built the caboose himself (there were no factories turning them out), and the stove had been manufactured by Starville’s blacksmith, John Manchester. The big headlamp had been salvaged from someone’s junked tractor, for these had been made with lights for as far back as Roy could remember. Most farmers were using tractors now, but they still kept horses for driving on the otherwise impassible winter roads.
“Are we still on the road?” worried Roy.
“Oh, yeah,” said his dad confidently. He sat on the right side of the front seat, as was the custom in horse-drawn rigs, holding the reins (or lines as they were usually called) that passed through a narrow horizontal slot just below the windshield and out to the horses’ bridles. “Old Bing and Billy don’t lose the road.”
It was not the first time Jack Greenray had been out in a blizzard with this sorrel team (sorrel being a reddish tan color of horse); but Roy himself couldn’t remember ever having been out in anything quite this ferocious. He wouldn’t have been here now if his dad had anticipated the storm. But he hadn’t, and when Roy had asked if he could take a day off from school to go along on the mail route, just this one time, his parents had allowed it, no doubt thinking that there was something worthwhile in a father and son sharing another work experience. Roy had done many other things together with his dad, whose employment covered a lot of bases in and around Starville.
Now, if only the horses would not give up–if they’d just keep on stepping along through the deep snow. And if only the beasts really knew where they were going. Roy felt confident that this was the case, for his dad was an experienced horseman, and he said the horses were still on the road and could find their way. Yet the howling of the wind and the near blindness caused by the careening sheets of snow put a bit of a knot in a nerve center in Roy’s chest.
And then the both horses simultaneously came to an abrupt stop.
Roy’s dad did not at once try to urge them forward, and Roy knew why. Confirming this, Jack said, softly, “What the hell? There must be something on the road ahead of us.”
“If we are on the road.” Roy still didn’t quite have his dad’s confidence about that.
“Sure we’re on the road,” said Jack. “We would have felt–” He cut himself off and after a second said, “There’s someone at the head of the team. I caught a glimpse of him through the snow.”
“A man? Someone we know?”
“I couldn’t tell–too much snow.”
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