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Vintage stories of bank robberies and fraud, murder and piracy and even deathly disasters caused by human error, fill the pages of Dean Jobb’s latest book, Daring, Devious and Deadly: True Tales of Crime and Justice from Nova Scotia’s Past (Pottersfield Press).
Jobb scanned old newspaper articles at the provincial archives and the Nova Scotia Supreme Court’s official case reports to find 15 stories of crime and justice that span more than 150 years of the province’s history.
“True crime stories by their very nature have drama,” said Jobb in a recent interview from his home in Wolfville. “Terrible things happen. Efforts are made to make amends ... but there is always a storyline: Will the crime be solved? Will the police do their job properly? Will the accused be convicted or acquitted? Was the accused fairly tried?”
The true stories offer all the elements of the most gripping fiction: Shocking acts, desperate manhunts and mysteries to be solved, he said. But they also offer something more.
“Each of these cases is really a window on the past,” he said.
One of Jobb’s favourite tales in the book, Three-ring Robbery, tells the story of when P.T. Barnum’s circus came to Halifax for the first time in 1876, and how a couple of brazen bank robbers ended up stealing the show.
On Aug.1, while circus performers staged a massive parade along Hollis Street, all the employees at the Bank of Nova Scotia left their desks and wickets to join the crowds of spectators on the street. They were out of the building for no more than 15 minutes but when they returned, they found that the till had been cleaned out of more than $20,000. No one was ever convicted in the robbery and the bank never recovered the money.
“Stealing $22,000 from a bank in broad daylight when the surrounding streets were crammed with people? It was a feat of daring that would have impressed P.T. Barnum himself,” writes Jobb.
Jobb also tells the stories of Joseph Howe’s 1835 libel trial, after he exposed corrupt practices of officials governing Halifax; piracy and murders on board the ship Saladin before it arrived on Nova Scotia’s coast in 1844; the criminal prosecutions that followed the Halifax Explosion and the compelling case of Nicholas Martin. Martin, a well-known and once well-respected man in Sydney, brazenly shot and killed a judge’s son in 1853. The killing prompted questions including was it cold-blooded murder, an act of revenge, or the act of a madman?
“Revisiting a trial that’s decades or centuries old is like prying off a lid to expose a hidden world of vice and poverty, greed and prejudice,” Jobb writes in the book’s introduction. “Laws reveal how people aspired to deal with one another; crimes reveal how they really behaved, and how society controlled the worst impulses of its worst citizens. Attitudes change. The law evolves. But human nature, the past assures us, remains the same.”
In Daring, Devious and Deadly, Jobb brings together the best stories collected from two books, Crime Wave and Bluenose Justice, that he published almost 30 years ago.
Jobb has long been fascinated by crime and justice in Nova Scotia. He started out covering the courts as a reporter for Halifax’s Daily News and The Chronicle Herald in the 1980s and has been collecting historical crime stories ever since.
When he’s not researching or writing about vintage crime, Jobb teaches journalism and creative nonfiction at the University of King’s College. Next year, his book The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer will be published by Algonquin Books and HarperCollins Canada.
Boy with a Problem
In Chris Benjamin’s new collection of 12 short stories, Boy With A Problem (Pottersfield Press), readers meet the daughter of an alcoholic desperate for love, a gay pastor in exile, a struggling immigrant, and a teenage boy struggling to find a way to please his dead father.
Stay the Blazes Home
Photographer Len Wagg collected stories highlighting Nova Scotians’ resilience during the pandemic for his new book, Stay the Blazes Home: Dispatches from Nova Scotia During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Nimbus Publishing).
Stay the Blazes Home (which refers to Premier Stephen McNeil’s warning) captures how people in the province have adapted to life during the pandemic. The book features photographs by Wagg, in addition to submitted images from across the province. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to local mental health initiatives.
The Painted Province
Joy Snihur Wyatt Laking’s beautiful book, The Painted Province: Nova Scotia Through an Artist’s Eyes (Pottersfield Press) is filled with more than 200 colourful paintings.
The book opens with images of the marsh near her home in Portapique and takes readers to small communities across the province, including Economy, Ingonish and Barrington Passage.
The paintings are paired with bits of text and funny stories. Some of them list the GPS coordinates so readers can find the actual spot.
The Second Movement
Author Vernon Oickle has written a book, filled with snappy facts and trivia he believes should be at every Nova Scotian camp. Flipping through The Second Movement: Nova Scotia Outstanding Outhouse Reader #2 (MacIntyre Purcell Publishing), readers are certain to learn new tidbits about the place they call home.
Did you know Canada’s oldest general store is in Nova Scotia? Or that the last British soldier killed in the First World War was born here? The world’s smallest operating drawbridge is in Yarmouth County? Or that Minard’s Liniment was created here in the 1860s to relieve muscle pain and stiffness?