Writer tackles murder in new novel
Ties in with true tale in Harbour Grace of triple homicide from 1833
When you’re in somebody’s presence and somebody is killing somebody and you don’t stop them, well you’re as guilty (as they are). Patrick Collins
A man, his son, and a servant girl. All dead. The murderer executed by hanging before he’s hung in chains for all to see.
So it goes with the latest book from Patrick Collins, a Riverhead, Harbour Grace writer with a penchant for historical fiction. “Gibbet Hill: Unfinished Justice” is built around true events in Harbour Grace dating back to 1833.
Peter Downing was the man hung for the murders of Robert Crocker Bray, his son Samuel Comer Bray and Ellen Coombs. A second man form Ireland, Patrick Malone, was pardoned.
“This time, if I were to break down in terms of percentages to truth and history to fiction, it would be way more historical fact than it would’ve been fictionalized,” Colins said of his new book, his sixth novel and seventh book overall.
The story of Peter Downing is one Collins has been familiar with since he was a child growing up in Riverhead.
“It drove me to try and do some research as to what was the actual real story,” said the author.
The story tells the tale of the events leading up to the murder itself and the court trial in St. John’s. Those aspects of the story largely fall in line with the information available in historical documents. Newspaper reports from The Newfoundlander were especially helpful with the trial.
To help flesh out the story, Collins introduces a bit of romance and also puts into play some deceptive elements entangling key characters in a compromising fashion.
Of all the characters in the story, the author is perhaps most intrigued by the person who was not punished by the law. Collins believes Malone was just as much at fault as Downing, based on what historical records show.
“When you’re in somebody’s presence and somebody is killing somebody and you don’t stop them, well you’re as guilty (as they are),” he said. “The thing was, one guy got off and the other one didn’t.”
Gibbet’s Hill, for those curious, is indeed a landmark in Harbour Grace. A number of properties just off from Lady Lake Road (known as Stephenson’s Village) can be seen in front of a hill while travelling on Veterans Memorial Highway towards Carbonear. According to Collins, part of the hill was cut through to accommodate the highway.
“Gibbet Hill: Unfinished Business” is published by DRC Publishing.
Patrick Collins’ latest book is “Gibbet Hill: Unfinished Business.”