Created by Allan Levine
“Tolerance and equality were only words social gospellers … spoke about. Such acceptance, Klein and every other Jew in Winnipeg knew, was often cheap talk. Neighbourhoods, clubs and summer resorts were all restricted. And yet, in the chaos and turmoil of the strike, something had changed.”
–The Bolshevik’s Revenge
It’s 1911 in the “wickedest city in the Dominion,” and Sam, in his first recorded appearance, The Blood Libel (1997), is just another tough guy for hire, rented muscle working as a bouncer in a local brothel. Then he’s “persuaded” to look into the death of a Polish working girl–a murder that’s being blamed on a North End rabbi. Suffice it to say that Winnipeg at the time wasn’t exactly known for its friendly attitude towards Jews.
But Sam must have persevered and ultimately done okay, because he showed up in a sequel, Sins of the Suffragette (2002) which takes place a few years later. He’s chucked the brothel gig, and is a more-or-less bona fide private investigator(the local cops consider him a “Nebrew troublemaker”), hired to look into the mysterious death of a local suffragette, and encounters real-life feminist activist Nellie McClung, while The Bolshevik’s Revenge (2002) found Sam caught up in the maelstrom of the bloody Winnipeg General Strike. More novels were promised in this series, although it took years before the next one, The Bootlegger’s Congession (2016), showed up.
But this series is so goddamn fascinating–especially for history nerds like me–and Sam’s character and life so compelling, that I’ll keep reading them as long as the author keeps putting them out.
There’s some pretty vivid and often nuanced local and historical colour here, and Levine has a sharp eye for the telling detail.
Like, even as the General Strike rages, and revolution fills the air, Sam and his wife Sarah, both sympathetic to the cause, nonetheless find themselves worrying about far more down to earth issues…
Like other Winnipeggers, he and Sarah had stocked up on milk and bread, but their few bottles of milk could not last much past the next day or two, especially if there were no ice delivery. Did the strike leaders bother to think what would happen? If there was no milk delivery, how were the workers’ own children supposed to manage? They had shut down the city and did not really comprehend the consequences of their actions. So narrowly focussed were they on winning the battle with their employers that they did not stop to think about how they themselves would be affected by the shutdown.
Levine really seems to capture the feel of the turn-of-the-century wind-blown Prairie town, where the immigrants from all over the world that inhabit the city’s rough-and-tumble North End struggle to find an identity in a world dominated and controlled by the white middle-class WASPs downtown, and their would-be pretensions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
But really, Allan Levine should know his stuff. He’s primarily known as a Canadian historian and educator, and as an internationally bestselling and award-winning author, known for both his historical non-fiction, including Toronto: Biography of a City (2014), King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny (2011), Seeking the Fabled City: The Canadian Jewish Experience (2018) and Fugitives of the Forest: The Heroic Story Of Jewish Resistance And Survival During The Second World War (2010), and his Sam Klein mysteries. His first mystery novel, The Blood Libel, was short-listed for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Allan, you may be shocked to learn, lives in Winnipeg.
- “Historians seldom extend their talents to murder mysteries, but Allan Levine has done just that, and The Blood Libel turns out to be chilling and believable. It is a tale that portrays North End Winnipeg of 1911 when it was raw and ribald, and carries the reader along to an astonishing climax.”
— Peter C. Newman
- “This novel (The Blood Libel) has a lot going for it. First, there’s the setting, lovingly evoked by Levine, a historian. Then there’s the premise, the dreadful blood libel accusation against the Jews, used by successive regimes as an excuse for murder, massacre and violence. Finally, there’s a clever character named Sam Klein, who makes his living guarding a whorehouse and who makes a fine detective… ”
— The Globe and Mail
- The Blood Libel (1997) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Sins of the Suffragette (2000) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Bolshevik’s Revenge (2002) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Bootlegger’s Confession (2016) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Gangs of, uh, Winnipeg?
My 2002 review of The Bolshevik’s Revenge for January Magazine.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.