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Reviews: The Province, Vancouver Sun and Amazon.com

Historical Holes Plugged

Deadman's Ticket by Peter Trower, is trumpeted by its publisher as "half logger's story, half noir thriller, all page-turner." And, indeed, it is a pulpy romp through the seamy underbelly of Vancouver in the 1950s.

It features Terry Belshaw, the protagonist of Trower's first novel, Grogan's Cafe, but this time Belshaw is rubbing shoulders with junkies and zoot-suited hoods whose hip talk and shady deals fascinate him.

When his best friend Frankie drops dead, Belshaw decides to find out exactly why but first he has to put in time at a logging camp in Frankie's place—on an unlucky "dead man's ticket."

That's the setup and Trower—a professional logger for more than 20 years—handles the rest of the tale beautifully. His recreation of Vancouver's skid row is especially deft and the dialogue of his down-and-outers is utterly convincing.

Will Wigle, The Province


Hallowing The Eastside Past

The BC coast, 1952. Out past East Hastings and the San Francisco Pawn Shop, out in a bunkhouse at Brennan Bay at yet another gyppo logging camp, "a young rounder obsessed with sharp, zooty clothes" is talking:

"Ordered myself a new front at Modernize Tailors before I left town. Steel grey gabardine, 32-15 strides, one-button Windsor roll—the works! I can hardly wait to pick the damn thing up."

Frankie's a smackhead. But that doesn't interfere with his sense of what’s sharp. It doesn't make him stand out, either. A lot of the rounders working in the logging camps use heroin.

His buddy Terry Belshaw—the narrator, of Peter Trower's evocative new novel—wishes Frankie would take it easy. But Terry's cool about it, too. Both he and Frankie are East End boys, and gangs and junkies and Gene Krupa and insulin needles and spring shivs are just a part of life for them, along with the dirty sidewalks at Hastings and Main and the in-the-pocket feeling of four or five glasses of beer at the Traveller's.

The great achievement of Dead Man's Ticket is that it gives the Downtown Eastside a past. Fascinating stuff you've never heard of appears in the pages of this book.

The long jackets and strides the rounders wore, the language they spoke, the Frankie Lane songs they listened to—and more subtly, their style of thinking: intense yet escapist, accepting of events to the point of fatalism—all this is presented with flair and precision.

Again and again Trower impresses the reader with the exactitude of his vision of ‘50s Vancouver. Because he gets things right, the continuity of past and present is everywhere evoked. Reading this book you see not so much why the Downtown Eastside is the way it is; more, you see how it is—in particular, you see how here, more than anywhere else in Vancouver, the past lives on in the present.

Trower writes about drinking in the Palace Hotel after months away in camp:

"Glasses clinked. Tobacco smoke drifted bluely through the air. . . There was no music—none was permitted. There was only the rough rhythm of booze-blurred, unschooled voices rising and falling like waves on the shore of some landlocked, beery sea. It had a sense of rightness about it. We were back on the old main stem."

It had a sense of rightness about it. This is the key. Trower understands that drinking beer in a beer parlor was, for the people who lived downtown, the central social event, the event that at best could bring joy, lyricism, peace, and even an exalted sense of being in truly the right place. It was so in 1952, and it's so now.

But it wasn't ever like this on the west side of town. West of Main, after all, the pubs weren't (and aren't) living rooms, emergency wards, arenas, chambers of the past, spaces through which the seconds, minutes and years moved like the water in a river.

What's haunting about Dead Man's Ticket is its evocation of the exact texture of the life of Vancouver's poor. What's deeply thoughtful about it is its understanding of the conservatism—the importance of the past—in the East End milieu.

Anyone who has ever felt the heat-tearing atmosphere of the Downtown Eastside will want to read it.

Bruce Serafin, Vancouver Sun,


...a very good book about an odd-slice-of-life that is interesting to see recorded.

I picked this book up on the Vancouver ferry as something to read by a local author. It turned out to be a very enjoyable read. Trower writes in an almost autobiographical style that makes you feel that the characters are real people doing real things. The topics covered in the book seem to be very downbeat—the endless cycle of loggers' lives between Skid Road, the logging camps, booze and heroin, but the book is far from downbeat. The characters are well developed and believable; they are treated with respect and each plays an interesting role in the story. The story-line weaves about through themes that let the author illustrate the life and times very well, and in the end conclude with an ending that fits the story yet is creative enough to make the reader happy. All in all, a very good book about an odd-slice-of-life that is interesting to see recorded.

Kent Rasmussen from Saint Helena, CA USA on Amazon.com


I also found this book on the Vancouver ferry, last summer, on board to Victoria. What a pleasure it has been to read this book! I love the prose style. It must be Trower's poetry skills that make his word choice so good. Trower always uses the perfect word. He uses the 1950s slang of the Vancouver sub-culture, but the expressions always fit, and he never gets repetitious with words. They seem fresh all the time. The prose is always neat and clean, precise, and never wordy. The pace of the action is perfect. The characters are alive, and there is lively action. There is a main plot and an important sub-plot, both of which tie up just right at the end. I have read passages to students in my college English classes to illustrate the easy and clean style of writing. I cannot say enough good things about the book. If you are looking for highly intellectual stuff, no, this book is not for you. But if you want a lively, exciting book about a distant place and time, this is the book for you. I have ordered Trower's two other novels.

-Reviewer: A customer from Dallas, TX USA on Amazon.com