The Mad Trapper of Rat River by Dick North

The Mad Trapper of Rat River: A True Story of Canada's Biggest Manhunt
Dick North
with photographs and illustrations
(Lyons Press, Guilford (CT): 2003)

Sections of Parts One and Two originally published in 1972 under the title The Mad Trapper of Rat River. Sections of Parts Three and Four originally published in 1989 under the title Trackdown.

READ: May 2006

I was sent this as a Christmas/birthday present from my brother and sister-in-law in Vancouver. They'd picked it up (assumedly) on their northern travels to Yukon that they'd done earlier in 2005. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first, but after the first few pages, I was hooked.

No one was sure where the mad trapper came from. He'd shown up in a town in the Northwest Territories in 1931 or so, and most knew him as one Albert Johnson. But they didn't know where he came from, and he wasn't fond of making friends. After a run-in with the RCMP which left one member dead, Johnson led the police on a 5-week chase through the backwoods and snow of the NWT and the Yukon.

The author, Dick North, is a northern journalist who has had a lifelong interest in the mystery of Albert Johnson. He details the manhunt as if he were there, and then he proceeds on a long exploration of who Johnson was. He goes through many possible suspects, and details why each one does or does not match up with what was known about Johnson. It ought to be boring, it ought to be tedious, but it is not. It is quite a remarkable story, and I recommend it to all you Canadiana junkies out there.

The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan by Alan Booth

The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan
Alan Booth
(Viking; Penguin, Toronto: 1986)

READ: March-May 2006

Alan Booth's two books (the other is Looking for the Lost, which I have not read yet but is on my shelf awaiting) are largely heralded as the two best travel books about Japan. I had heard this a few times, and then after Will Ferguson went on and on about him, I figured I had to find his books. One Chapters order later, they arrived.

I took my time reading this book, mainly because it was so delicious. Booth moved to Japan in 1970, and in 1977, he set out from the northern tip of Hokkaido and walked all the way across Japan, all the way south to the southernmost tip of "mainland" Japan, Cape Sata on the south shore of Kyushu Island. It was over 2,000 miles (as the title suggests). He tells poignant and often funny stories of the people he meets, of people who follow him slowly in their cars in the rain because they can't understand why he refused their offer of a lift, of people he chats with about life, death, and WWII in little pubs in small towns. It is a touching portrait of Japan.

It was also interesting to compare Booth's Japan to Ferguson's, since Booth took his cross-Japan trek in the late 1970s while Ferguson was there, post-crash, in the mid-90s.

A wonderful, well-written book that I'd recommend to anyone with an interest either in Japan itself, or just in armchair travel in general.