Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review: 'Killing Ground: The Canadian Civil War' by Bruce Powe

4 / 5 Stars

My sisters live in Buffalo, and whenever I go to visit them and we drive around the city, it’s not at all unusual to see many cars with Ontario license plates in the parking lots of the shopping centers and malls and stadiums. The cross-border visits of the Canadians, who make day or weekend trips into the city to shop and sight-see, helps keep Buffalo from sliding into even greater economic decline.

The Canadians can be distinguished from the locals by their habit of pronouncing some words in a slightly different way; ‘about’, for example, becomes ‘aboot’. The visitors from Ontario are almost always relatively affluent, polite, and well-behaved. 

And they hate the French-Canadians.

Most Americans are only vaguely aware that during the late 60s and throughout the 70s there was a very real possibility that the Francophone province of Quebec would secede from Canada and form an independent nation. The vacillating Canadian government adopted a policy of appeasement, in the hope that by catering as much as possible to the political desires of the Quebec political bloc, the province could be coaxed into staying. 

The moment of truth came in 1980 when Quebec held a referendum on sovereignty (i.e., independence). The referendum was defeated by 60 % of the voters, a resounding margin that sent the independence bloc into a decline from which it has never really recovered. By that time, however, the majority of English-speaking Canadians had come to despise the decades-long policies of pandering to the French contingent, and their resentment smolders to this day.

‘Killing Ground: The Canadian Civil War’ was published in 1968; this paperback edition (349 pp., cover artist unknown) was released in 1977. The novel is set in the future, i.e., in the early 70s, when the main character, Lt. Colonel Alex Hlynka, returns to Canada after serving on a UN Peacekeeping mission in South Africa. He is bemused to find Montreal in the grip of terror bombings carried out by militant separatists of ‘The Quebec Legion’ or PDQ. As the Canadian government dithers over how to respond to the attacks, the Army – with all of its best units on duty overseas – ponders how it will summon up the manpower to police the province of Quebec, should the need arise. 

In short order, the separatist party declares independence for Quebec; riots and mob violence break out in Montreal, and government institutions are under siege. Forces of paramilitary units – ‘whiteshirts’ – take control of the government and initiate a campaign to expel English-speaking residents from Quebec. With the crisis mounting, Alex Hlynka is given command of a Royal Canadian Regiment and ordered into action to liberate Dorval Airport in Montreal, where thousands of desperate refugees await transport out of the province. It soon becomes clear that violence between the French Canadians and the Anglo Canadians is inevitable….and Alex Hlynka won’t be in the mood to hold back….

‘Killing Ground’ starts out slowly; the narrative doesn’t pick up speed until after the first 100 pages, but from then on until the book’s last page, the pace moves along at a good clip. Author Powe is skilled at writing blood-drenched battle scenes, and while he does tend to invest a bit too much text on extended descriptions of military matters or internal monologues on the part of Alex Hlynka, these are minor digressions and rarely sap momentum from the plot. The author consciously avoids providing a happy ending, preferring to end things on an ambiguous note with a plot device sure to make all Canadians uneasy. 

‘Killing Ground’ is a good 70s action novel and an interesting examination of the psyche of our neighbors in the Great White North. Keep a map of eastern Canada handy – it helps to know where the various locales are – and be prepared to look up some obscure idioms and cultural references (e.g., ‘Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry’ ??!!).


sciencefictionruminations said...

You have a great blog here!!!

This book looks, well, like a lot of fun.... I mean, Canadians fighting....

I'll definitely investigate your other posts!

Sarla said...

Great review! Just curious, where did you buy this book? It was a favourite of my dad's in university and I can't find it anywhere and the price is crazy expensive on amazon!
Any help is appreciated, again great review!