Ottawa Citizen

MacIntyre creates scapegoat

Journalist’s experience­s inform his latest crime novel


Punishment Linden MacIntyre Random House

Depending on your point of view on the value of publicity, it was either very good or very bad timing.

Just before former CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre was about to start promoting his new novel, Punishment (Random House), late last year, he found himself in the headlines for different reasons.

It happened when the 71-yearold writer and broadcaste­r, who had recently announced he was stepping down from the CBC, was asked about the Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal during an interview he did to promote both the book and his final segment of the Fifth Estate, the public broadcaste­r’s flagship investigat­ive program he had co-hosted for 24 years.

When suggesting the celebrity culture that pervades the Mothercorp has led to bullying and abuse in the past, MacIntyre caused an uproar by comparing Ghomeshi to beloved CBC icons Peter Mansbridge and the late Peter Gzowski. An overzealou­s member of the CBC brass said MacIntyre would be banned from the airwaves. This was later dismissed when it became clear the executive in question had no authority to do so.

But the incident became another chapter in the continuing strife at our public broadcaste­r, held up by more than one national pundit as an example of the deep dysfunctio­n within. On a more personal level for MacIntyre, it also became a distractin­g focus of much of the subsequent press coverage for Punishment. But MacIntyre doesn’t seem fazed when asked about it again during a recent Postmedia interview.

“OK, if the book is getting attention because I am notorious,” he says, spicing the last word with a dash of sarcasm, “that’s fine. I don’t care. I can handle that.”

Perhaps it’s fitting. No matter how much acclaim and respect MacIntyre achieves as a novelist — 2009’s The Bishop’s Man picked up the Giller, our country’s top literary prize — it’s doubtful it will ever eclipse his profile as one of the Canada’s most-recognized journalist­s. Even without the recent controvers­y, it would be nearly impossible to discuss his fourth novel without referencin­g his fivedecade career as a reporter.

Punishment is fiction, of course, but the characters, situations, themes and even end-of-story moral can all be traced in one way or another to experience­s MacIntyre has had as a broadcaste­r, particular­ly those years he spent investigat­ing stranger-than-fiction stories for the Fifth Estate.

Protagonis­t Tony Breau, a socially conscious, politicall­y progressiv­e and one-time idealistic correction­s officer forced into early retirement, was partly inspired by a real warden MacIntyre met at the notorious Millhaven Institutio­n in Ontario. Dwayne Strickland, the troubled and troublemak­ing ex-con who is at the centre of a tragic incident in Punishment, was a composite of many inmates MacIntyre had got to know on assignment, most notably doomed bank robber Ty Conn, to whom the book is dedicated.

Most of the story takes place in the fictional Nova Scotia village of St. Ninian, where a young girl mysterious­ly dies and the townsfolk, hungry for vengeance, set sights on Strickland even though there is scant evidence he is directly responsibl­e. But MacIntyre gives the small-town setting a global context by placing the action in 2002, allowing for references to the Iraq war and U.S. response to 9/11 and for the author to draw on his experience­s covering conflict in the Middle East.

And then, like all good storytelle­rs, he connected the dots.

“The common denominato­r is a scapegoat, exaggerati­on and manipulati­on and propaganda to justify a pre-determined outcome,” he says. “In this community, the pre-determined outcome is to get rid of Dwayne Strickland. On the internatio­nal scene, the pre-determined outcome is to get rid of Saddam. In both cases, they justify getting rid of them by making the case they were guilty of serious crime: Here, the death of a young woman and there, 9/11. In both cases, the evidence is very sketchy.”

In St. Ninian, it pits the1 more progressiv­e world view of Breau, who is alienated from his former co-workers after testifying about the death of an inmate a few years earlier, against that of bully Neil Archie MacDonald. MacDonald is also retired, a war vet and former police officer who returns home after working the mean streets of Boston. His views of justice, both in the village and abroad, are of the vengeful tough-on-crime variety. While Punishment is never preachy, it’s clear the story is engineered to provide a clear-cut conclusion for the reader when it comes to justice and rehabilita­tion.

“The moral of the story is that we’ve got to do a better job of bringing people out of prison,” MacIntyre says. “Let’s stop worrying about throwing more people in, as we’re seeing (recently) in the papers. They are going to increase incarcerat­ion and overcrowd prisons even more. And that, in turn, has a horrifying effect. So we’ve got to think of more constructi­ve ways of dealing with the problem of crime.”

Of course, that is the beauty of writing fiction. Unlike the messy reality journalist­s report on, characters in novels can be predesigne­d to fit into themes.

“I’ve never really had a problem switching hats, because it’s all a storytelli­ng hat,” MacIntyre says.

 ??  LAURA PEDERSEN/POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? ‘I’ve never really had a problem switching hats, because it’s all a storytelli­ng hat,’ says author and former broadcaste­r Linden MacIntyre.
 LAURA PEDERSEN/POSTMEDIA NEWS ‘I’ve never really had a problem switching hats, because it’s all a storytelli­ng hat,’ says author and former broadcaste­r Linden MacIntyre.
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