Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Whodunit Book Club January 25, 2011

Another new year has begun. How nice to share it with Whodunit! This month marks the 13th anniversary of Whodunit so that is something to celebrate!
Seventeen members turned up for our first meeting of 2011.
Pam's magical question this evening was in three parts: "What brings you back to Whodunit? What do you enjoy most about it? What would you like to see in future meetings?"
The prevalent response was that members came for the social aspect of it. They enjoy spending time with like-minded people who understand book 'addiction' and are enthusiastic about reading. They find coming to club encourages more variety in their reading choices and they like sharing opinions with other members. Some mentioned that they would enjoy having more authors visit Whodunit meetings.
The book discussed this evening was "The case against Owen Williams" by New Brunswick author Allan Donaldson.
Born in Taber, Alberta, Donaldson grew up in Woodstock, New Brunswick and now resides in Fredericton. Not much information is available about Donaldson other than that his first novel, "Maclean", was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
The publisher's description of "The case agaqinst Owen Williams": "Donaldson’s new novel is a literary mystery set in the fictional town of Wakefield, New Brunswick, against the backdrop of the Second World War. Following a night at The Silver Dollar dance hall, a teenage girl turns up dead in a gravel pit. The last person reported to have seen her is Owen Williams, an introverted soldier stationed with the local garrison of “Zombies”-conscripted men unwilling to serve overseas. When Lieutenant Bernard Dorkin, a young lawyer from Saint John, volunteers to defend Williams, whom he believes is innocent, he finds himself up against a theatrical local favourite leading the prosecution and a public mostly hell-bent on a foregone conclusion. The Case Against Owen Williams explores the potential for wrongful conviction and the gaps in the justice system that allow it to flourish."
Whodunit members found this novel very realistic. So much so that it didn't 'feel like' fiction. It lacked the psychological background explanations that we tend to prefer in novels. Members found it curious that Owen Williams' parents seemed to have no heart-felt reaction to his predicament.
The protagonist was Bernard Dorkin, the lawyer. The case made him examine his duties and responsibilities to his client and he firmly believed his client was innocent of the crime. The club questioned "Would Dorkin have defended Owen Williams as well if he had NOT believed in his innocence?" It was unfortunate that Williams stuck to his false story which totally discredited his testimony. Whodunit members thought Owen Williams to be naive, pitiful and even pathetic. Not a particularly likable fellow, he didn't even say thank-you to his lawyer for all his hard work in defending him. Also he called the victim names after his exoneration. We wondered how the case would have proceeded if it were tried today. Blood tests and DNA evidence might have cleared it up quickly as all the evidence presented in the novel was completely circumstantial.
Whodunit members enjoyed the descriptions and 'feel' of the New Brunswick setting. It was also commented upon that Donaldson had a good grasp on the use of similes and metaphors.
Per chance, one Whodunit member happened to see a television program called "Ghost cases". The episode was about a local ghost story in St. Andrew's, New Brunswick and featured a haunting in the old jail built in 1832. The last person to be hanged in St. Andrew's was Tom Hutchings, an RAF sergeant convicted of murdering a 19 yearl-old local girl, Bernice Connors following a dance in the local community centre while he was stationed in the area. According to witnesses, Hutchings has never left the jail and continues to haunt his old cell.
Links to newspaper reports of the case can be found here. Also "The case of the haunted cell" website provides information on this topic.
Whodunit members then speculated that Allan Donaldson may have used this case as the basis upon which he wrote his novel. Surely there are too many similarities for there to be no connection. It was also surmised that if Tom Hutchings had indeed been innocent he had all the more reason to haunt the jail.

The lucky book winners this evening were: Nancy, Heather, Lynne and Jean.

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