Thursday, 30 June 2011

Summer Reading - Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman

And now for something completely different: a book review !

A number of years back I wrote a post about Manitoba's Ken Leishman, also known as the Flying Bandit or the Gentleman Bandit. It is one of my most read posts and I still get comments and emails from those who knew the man. He obviously touched many people.

This year is the 45th anniversary of Leishman's crowning criminal achievement: the largest gold heist in Canadian history. Winnipeg author Wayne Tefs has bought Leishman back in a novel called Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman (Turnstone Press, 296 pages, $19.00).

Tefs' novel begins at a quick pace. It's winter 1966, just days before the airport caper. A pacing, antsy Leishman is in a warehouse near the Winnipeg International Airport selling his painstakingly planned out scheme to a small ensemble of accomplices.

The novel is set during that whirlwind period of
theft, capture, prison breaks and an international manhunt. That alone would have made for a great story and Tefs could have treated Leishman in a one dimensional way. Instead, the author uses a series of flashbacks to Leishman's early life to help explain what made him such a complicated character. A broken, dysfunctional childhood in Depression-era rural Manitoba. A teenager relying on Hollywood gangster films as a means of escape. A budding inventor who never got a break. A man who loved his wife and family.

Tefs writes that In Winnipeg, a blue collar city, sticking it to the Man goes over big even when what's been done is illegal. So long as nobody gets hurt.

That is what initially brought Leishman his folk hero status. Behind the good looks and the ballsy crimes, though, bad luck followed Leishman throughout his life. Every time he stuck it to the Man the Man stuck back but he tried again. That allowed Leishman's status to endure long after his life of crime was over.

You saw a movie once. A man approached a glass door, his hand out and the door swung open. Another man approached the door. He was dressed differently, no briefcase. But he had seen the first man go through, he was expecting it to. His face smacked against the glass. He looked puzzled and hurt, he kept rubbing his nose. That was the story of your life. More bad luck than good. For other men the glass door swung open, but for you there was only the smack on the nose, the look of bewilderment. You think you saw that in a movie. maybe it was a dream.

You had a dream. All you ever wanted to be was a businessman.

Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman is a great read about a nearly forgotten local legend. Definitely worth a spot on your summer reading list !


Wayne Tefs on "Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman" CBC
Turnstone Press

No comments: