YES, THE SIMON of Charles Lynch's Fishing with Simon (Prentice-Hall, 229 pages, $26.95 cloth) is the same one (Reisman) who rassled with the Yanks over the free trade deal. But this book, though written by one of our most experienced political journalists, is not about free trade or anything else political. This book is about fishing with Simon and a lot of other people.
If you regard the alleged sport of fishing with the same holy awe with which Lynch treats it, you will devour this tome and savour every bite. Here is a collection of stories that will keep any angler reading, page after page. The really good news, though, is that even if you don't know a spinner from a worm, you'll stilt find this a wildly entertaining read. That's because Lynch is one of those old-time journalists who has a flair for telling a story; in fact, he writes a story as well as he tells one in person, and that is very well indeed. Whether he's experiencing the transcendental phenomenon of the Horwood Boil, or relating the hilarious tale of his dispute with the fishing "experts" of Nova Scotia, Lynch makes LIS feel like we're sitting around a warm fire with a mellow drink in hand, I listening to a master story-spinner weave his magic.
Along the way, we meet a host of fascinating fishing companions, and we get a colourful tour of our country. But what makes it magic is the incomparable voice of the narrator, who holds it all together, with lots of laughs and more than a few canny insights into the people and the land. You couldn't find a better gift for a book-loving friend.
HERE WE GO again! The Americans have Eliot Ness, whose Depression-era crimebusting heroics made him a legend worthy of many books, a popular TV series, and a hit movie. Canadians have Frank Zaneth, who lies in characteristic obscurity in a small Quebec graveyard.
Frank Who? James Dubro, and Robin Rowland, the authors of Undercover: Cases of the RCMP's Most Secret Operative (Octopus, 300 pages, $28.95 cloth), have made it worth our while to answer this question. What we find lives up to the book's claim of telling "the other side" of the story of the Mounties, a national police force too often known for colourful ceremonial duties or caricatures like Sgt. Preston and Dudley Do-Right. The names might not be quite as well known as their U.S. counterparts, but crime wars were waged north of the border, too, and with an equally fascinating cast of characters.
Dubro and Rowland made that clear with their compelling book on the Canadian crime lord Rocco Perri, King of the Mob (1987). While researching that book they kept stumbling across the name of Zaneth; and the story of how they wrestled with Canada's bureaucrats and secrecy rules is nearly as interesting as the material they uncovered.
And what they uncovered was a gold mine. Zaneth is an extraordinary figure, a master investigator and daring (some would say daredevil) undercover agent who spoke three languages fluently and rose from the ranks to assistant commissioner of the RCMP Ironically, some of his most fascinating undercover work failed to land his foes (like Perri and the Bronfmans) in jail; and other cases, such as the ones against various Communist and tabour movements, seem a little trivial to today's reader. But Zaneth himself is never less than compelling, with his dogged, at times obsessive, pursuit of his prey.
If the book has a weakness, it is that the style sometimes goes flat and reads more like an emotionless police report than a real-life crime thriller. That could be because the authors often had little to go on other than official documents. There is precious little left in Canada of Frank Zaneth, and we have Undercover to thank for setting that right. Canadian history bland? Sez who?