MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The perils of do-it-yourself bookmanship

Rule No. 1 for the amateur storyteller: get yourself a good ghost

JOHN CLARE December 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

The perils of do-it-yourself bookmanship

Rule No. 1 for the amateur storyteller: get yourself a good ghost

JOHN CLARE December 1 1967

The perils of do-it-yourself bookmanship

Books

Rule No. 1 for the amateur storyteller: get yourself a good ghost

ACCORDING TO ONE of the sturdier myths about writing, everyone’s life contains a story just waiting to be told. Assuming a particular person’s life encapsulates a story worth telling — and this is a fairly large assumption — the prospective tellers of the tale faces the task of getting it on paper in dramatic, or at least interesting, form. Two books newly in print clearly illustrate how well a story can turn out when its teller acquires the right professional help — and how dull a tale can be if he decides to go it alone.

Stung by fiction masquerading as fact about the Force and chafing under the routine of retirement, C. W. Harvison, former commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has undertaken in The Horsemen (McClelland and Stewart, $7.50) to tell his story and the story of the Mounties in his own words. He could have used some professional help. Not that there isn’t some good material here. The title is inspired; it is underworld slang, of course, for the Mounties. But the writer draws too heavily on the official record, some of it familiar to anyone who has read about the Red Coats, and does not refer often enough to his best source, a policeman known as Slim Harvison.

The former commissioner’s remarkable career began when the force was the Royal Northwest Mounted Police and ended only four years ago. The first third of the book trudges with the slowness of promotion itself, then picks up interest when he tells of his encounters with dope pushers and rum runners.

Granted Harvison is still inhibited by some security considerations but surely the Igor Gouzenko case could have been dealt with in sharper detail and even with some drama. There must be some revealing anecdotes about the Russian who went over the wall in Ottawa, and the chain of events he set in motion, that can now be told without danger to the nation

and with profit to the expectant reader.

As one might expect, this book bathes the RCMP in a fairly kindly light. Harvison recalls that when the Japanese Canadians were kicked out of British Columbia and their possessions seized during the last war, the government, and the Mounties, too, came in for criticism. He makes the valid point that the Force was obeying orders, but he might have spared us the fatuous observation that the expulsion has worked for the good of Canada by dispersing talented people across the country. Which is like saying the Nuremberg Decrees weren’t all that bad because they resulted in some countries being enriched by Jews from Germany.

In his summing up, Harvison sounds like all those annual resolutions passed by the police chiefs’ association when he says, “Let the police police.” Among other things this apparently means to him that existing regulations against wire-tapping and opening letters should be revised in favor of the police engaged in fighting organized crime. He also comes out for the abolition of the law against selfincrimination. And he’s worried because some citizens are so quick to believe the worst of the police.

Slim Harvison is clearly a good cop. Too bad he so often writes like a constable making out a traffic report.

In contrast, when Greville Wynne, a British businessman, set out to tell

what happened when U.K. Intelligence persuaded him to spy on the Russians and work with Oleg Penkovsky, a Red Army colonel and an agent for the West, he sought the assistance of John Gilbert, a professional writer. In The Man from Moscow (Hutchinson, $6.75) the collaborators have written a dramatic story that qualifies as an exciting salvo in the counter-barrage of secretagent books being fired from both sides in the propaganda war.

“There was a pale light and a great stillness. As I came down the pavilion steps with Ambrus, I felt a stab of danger.” With this promising beginning, reminiscent of the chilling fables of Len Deighton and John Le Carré, the authors proceed to tell a story of intrigue and suspense. Penkovsky is a well-realized character, a man who likes drinking and girls and who is mourned in a poignant scene by at

least one of his ladies after he is picked up by Soviet counter-agents.

The writers experienced a little trouble in handling flashbacks but for the most part the account moves with pace and drama through Wynne’s abduction, his life in the sour cells of I.ubyanka, his numbing interrogations, his trial, imprisonment and finally his release in exchange for a Soviet spy.

Wynne was wise to get a pro to help him tell a good story.

JOHN CLARE