River­head au­thor spins mur­der mys­tery

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

A bru­tal dou­ble-mur­der was ex­e­cuted on the South­side of Har­bour Grace in 1871.

Patrick J. Collins, a na­tive of River­head, Har­bour Grace, ex­plores this tragic story in his lat­est book, “Be­long­ing.” A work of fic­tion, it is based on real life facts.

He ex­plains: “I work to keep the ba­sis of the story as true to my pri­mary and sec­ondary sources as pos­si­ble.”

Collins is no novice when it comes to writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. Ap­pear­ing on the lit­er­ary field rel­a­tively late in life, he has es­tab­lished his rep­u­ta­tion as a writer of some renown, start­ing with his bi­og­ra­phy of “a doc­tor for all time, a man who cured our hearts,” Charles Cron, pub­lished in 2010. In 2011, he tack­led the Har­bour Grace Af fray, which oc­curred on St. Stephen’s Day, 1883. In 2012, he cel­e­brated 100 years of ma­rine majesty by chron­i­cling the story of the trusty and beloved “Kyle.” Last year, he wrote about an­other mur­der, this one oc­cur­ring at Mos­quito Cove (now Bris­tol’s Hope) in 1870.

“The fic­tion,” he says, “is writ­ten around the story to add in­trigue.” He strives to main­tain what he calls “his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity.”

It has been said that, in “Be­long­ing,” Collins “leads read­ers through an un­ex­pected turn of events with all the dex­ter­ity of a skilled sur­geon.” His is a clas­sic story of love, lust and greed, in­gre­di­ents bound to whet the ap­petite of the con­nois­seur of mur­der mys­ter­ies.

The ac­tion em­bod­ied in the 32 chap­ters takes place in such di­verse venues as, first, the South­side of Har­bour Grace, fol­lowed by the Angli­can Cathe­dral of St. John’s the Bap­tist, St. John’s; Nowlan’s Har­bour, Labrador; Her Majesty’s Pen­i­ten­tiary, also in the cap­i­tal city; New­found­land Supreme Court; St. John’s Rail­way Ter­mi­nus; Sis­ters of Mercy Con­vent, Dublin, Ire­land; and Mas­nieres, France. The time­frame ex­tends from 1867 to 1917.

Collins is a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor who, he ad­mits, “writes more in re­tire­ment. The re­search is as en­joy­able as the writ­ing. Cre­at­ing a par­al­lel plot is where the great­est fun comes in.”

He has a unique spin on the ti­tle he chose for his most re­cent work.

“We, as New­found­lan­ders, are fa­mous for ask­ing, ‘ Where do you be­long?’” he says. “I took a more metaphor­i­cal ap­proach to that mean­ing.”

One of the char­ac­ters, Fr. John Coombs, spends his en­tire life feel­ing as if he does not be­long. As a re­sult, he seeks his role, des­per­ately try­ing to find real value.

“It was the prover­bial de­sire to fit in,” Collins sug­gests. “So many people ... spend their lives try­ing to find them­selves. Re­ally, they are try­ing to find true mean­ing.”

Fr. John thinks his life is bet­ter served by be­ing one of God’s ser­vants. An­other char­ac­ter, Joanna Hamil­ton, spends her life in search of self-value. Ini­tially, she thinks her quest ends with one Patrick Geehan. How­ever, he takes ad­van­tage of her de­sire “to be some­body.”

Collins ex­plains that, “while the book is about the mur­ders, it is equally about John and Jo­hanna want­ing to be­long to some­body or some­thing.”

With­out spoil­ing the de­noue­ment for the reader, suf­fice it to say that Fr. John even­tu­ally dis­cov­ers that he does, in fact, be­long to some­body.

“There are,” Collins adds, “many adopted chil­dren still try­ing to find out to whom and where they be­long.”

He says that, at the end of his book, he at­tempts to “ex­plain a lit­tle by sep­a­rat­ing the chaff from the wheat.”

The ap­peal of “Be­long­ing” is in­creased by the in­clu­sion of sev­eral pho­to­graphs and il­lus­tra­tions, in­clud­ing the Har­bour Grace court­house and Spa­niard’s Bay Road, along with orig­i­nal draw­ings and floor plan of Her Majesty’s Pen­i­ten­tiary. There is also a list of pris­on­ers from HMP, on the day of Geehan and Hamil­ton’s in­car­cer­a­tion. Con­tem­po­rary news­pa­per ac­counts, in­clud­ing Geehan’s con­fes­sion and Hamil­ton’s state­ment, lend his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity to the tale Collins spins.

“Be­long­ing: The Mur­ders of Jane Sears Geehan and Gar­rett Sears on the South­side of Har­bour Grace, 1871” is pub­lished by DRC Pub­lish­ing, St. John’s.

Read­ers will hear of Patrick Collins again. His next book is an­other mys­tery, again based on a true story and, again, set in Har­bour Grace, this time in 1833. As a ver­i­ta­ble “En­er­gizer Bunny” of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, he should have that book in the book­stores next year!

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