What do a thief, wizards, a platypus, ghosts, soft drink salesmen, God, the devil, and a spaceman all have in common? Together they will make you laugh, think, sleep better, open your mind, spark your imagination, and quite possibly improve your complexion* as Joe Mahoney brings them all vividly to life in this humorous and thoughtful collection of seven tales of the fantastic.
Matthew Hughes‘ What the Wind Brings is a compelling tale of slaves shipwrecked on the coast of Ecuador attempting to secure their freedom by establishing their own nation (it’s based on a true story). It’s also a captivating tale of outsiders trying to find their place in a frequently hostile world. And it’s historical fiction with engaging dashes of magical realism.
This is the work of an experienced, accomplished writer working at the top of his game. Hughes believes it’s his best work; I will not argue the point. Hughes clearly put a lot of thought, effort and research into What the Wind Brings and it shows in the best possible way. The detail is entirely convincing and not overbearing; Hughes knows how to evoke a place and time while getting on with the interesting bits.
But the story, while fascinating and expertly told, is not the best part. The best part is the characters. Alonso, desperate to make himself useful. Anton, an escaped slave turned war chief and possibly his own worst enemy. Alejandro, a young Trinitarian monk seeking captives to shepherd, entirely without guile. And most compelling of all, Expectation, a Nigua hermaphrodite and healer, and our guide to the spirit world, tolerated (if not hated) by those who benefit from her unique skill set. Along with a host of other characters no less expertly drawn despite less page time.
What the Wind Brings was published by Pulp Literature Press, a small Canadian Small Press (one of the few left). They only started releasing novels in 2017. The quality of the physical copy I read (the trade paperback edition) is on par with that of any publisher, large or small. The book is lovingly put together, from its Willem van de Velde cover art (I do love a nice matte cover) to its professionally copy edited interior, always a joy (and relief) to see.
What the Wind Brings is a superb book by a skilled storyteller that I strongly suggest you move to the top of your Want To Read list.
It was just supposed to be a short trip to pick up some Thai take-out.
I headed south on Brock toward the FreshCo in my 2019 Hyundai Elantra. The one that I’d purchased for its safety features and drive-ability, mindful that my two daughters would be learning to drive in it.
The light turned red at Dundas. A Durham Transit bus pulled up beside me on my right. On my left, a guy crossing the street waved at me. I waved back, until I realized he was waving at the bus driver to wait for him. I smiled at my foolishness. The light turned red. The intersection was clear. I pulled out in front of the bus.
Safely through the intersection, I headed down Brock for another block. Bowman & Gibson Insurance Brokers sits on the northeast corner of Colborne and Brock. It’s a single story brick building that obscures much of what might be westbound on Colborne. It shouldn’t matter; there’s a stop sign there. You should be able to proceed north or south on Brock without worrying about anyone on the side streets.
I don’t know what I was thinking about in those few seconds between Dundas and Colborne. Whatever it was, BAAMM!!! it was violently knocked outta my head (and possibly into the next province) when a thunderous crash and an enormous impact assaulted my reality and rattled my brain. In that same instant I found myself in a sea of white, my vision completely obscured as (I realized later) multiple air bags deployed around me.
“HOLY F***!!!” I shouted.
It seemed an apt response.
My past didn’t flash before me. My future did. Was I about to die? Was I badly injured, crippled maybe?
I felt no pain. I knew that pain might come, once the shock of whatever had just happened wore off.
My vision in front of me and to the left was almost completely obscured by the white air bags. I don’t remember bringing the car to a halt but I found myself stopped, the car still in gear. After a few seconds I had the presence of mind to take the car out of gear, but I didn’t think to turn it off.
I didn’t appear to be physically injured but I was pretty emotionally shaken up. I thought about getting out of the car. There was an air bag in my way. It was enough to deter me from getting out. I thought, I’ll just sit here a bit and collect myself. I wanted to get to the point where I could talk without my voice sounding all shaky. I knew it would be a while.
A guy showed up in the driver’s side window. “Hey buddy, how you doing?”
I thought he might be part of the emergency response team, even though it had only been about a minute since the crash. It was his manner, pretty calm and collected. Turned out his name was Brett and he worked at the Brock Street Brewing Company just down the street a bit further. I will be going there for a drink someday where I hope to buy Brett a drink.
“Blew through the stop sign,” Brett said.
I started to panic. “I blew through the stop sign?”
“No, no, the other guy!” Brett clarified. “He blew through the stop sign right into you. Now he’s buying some smokes in the corner store.”
I was relieved that I wasn’t at fault. There was definitely something amiss with the other guy, though… blasts through a stop sign onto a major road in downtown Whitby, crashes into another vehicle, and then before doing anything else goes into a convenience store to buy a pack of smokes.
“I’m gonna go make sure he doesn’t get away,” Brett said, after making sure that I was more or less okay.
I did seem to be okay physically. I tried to think how I could get the Thai food I’d ordered, then realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. I still wasn’t quite up to getting out of the car. I remembered a friend telling me about a similar accident and how he’d made the mistake of deciding he was okay, and telling the paramedics he was okay, only to have them all leave him alone while he gradually went into shock. I thought I would just sit tight and then get myself checked out.
Brett came back, said they’d got the guy. He suggested I turn off the car’s engine. Sheepishly, I turned it off. I told Brett I’d better call my wife and let her know that I wouldn’t be coming back with the Thai food.
“I’m okay,” I told her when she picked up. “But I’ve been in an accident. It’s pretty bad but like I said I’m okay.” I was sounding pretty shaky but there was nothing I could do about that. “Can you call Thai Delicious and tell them I won’t be coming?”
She told me she would and that she loved me. I told her I loved her too.
We resolved to give Thai Delicious plenty of business later to make up for it.
Brett gave me a note from a witness with a name and number. “She wanted you to have this in case you need a witness,” he said. I tucked it in my wallet.
A paramedic by the name of Tristan (I think) showed up and checked me out. Turned out I had a nasty cut on my right leg and some scrapes on my right arm. There was what looked like a bad carpet burn on my left elbow. Looking at the pictures of the airbags that were deployed, it’s obvious that all my injuries are a direct result of the airbag deployment. The airbag beneath the dashboard cut my right shin . The one from the steering wheel cut my right forearm. The one from the driver’s side door burned the skin off my left elbow. Presumably they all prevented more serious injury.
Later I would find other scrapes and the distinct impression of a seat belt running up my side. The paramedics took me to Oshawa hospital where I was also checked out and given a relatively clean bill of health and released back into the wild, though I was warned that some whiplash could develop over time.
I was kinda surprised that the hospital did nothing for my cuts and scrapes. When I asked about them, the doctor’s assistant just said, “Clean them and they’ll heal up nicely.”
The following day I had an opportunity to speak to the investigating officer when he kindly came to my home to return my driver’s license and insurance papers. He explained to me that no police are required for minor fender benders, but police are required when there are injuries involved. In this case the injuries turned out to be pretty minor (I don’t think the other guy was hurt at all), but at the time of the accident it looked to witnesses like the injuries would be far more serious.
All the witnesses the officer questioned thought I’d been killed, such was the violence of the collision. I had been struck on the driver’s side, toward the front of the car but the impact had included part of the car door. It had probably looked pretty darned dramatic. (Sure wish I could get my hands on some security footage, if any exists!) Our Hyundai Elantra’s safety features performed as advertised and I sure am happy about that.
Although the other guy claimed he’d been waved onto Brock by another driver, all three witnesses said he blew through the stop sign and right into my car. The police officer told me that if he hadn’t hit me he could well have struck and killed pedestrians crossing the street. It turned out the fellow was driving with a suspended license and had taken the family car without permission. He’s facing three charges, including careless driving. The other two charges are personal in nature and the officer wouldn’t tell me what they were (I didn’t pry).
Despite what happened to me and my car, it appears there were other factors at play that make me feel some sympathy for the guy, and his family… I think he has a rough road ahead of him.
Whereas I’m back on the road, a little worse for wear, but still intact, mobile, and enormously grateful to be alive.
I stumbled across the following recently which had appeared on an early version of this blog (July 14th, 2009, to be precise), before the blog self-destructed shortly afterward (one of a handful of blog implosions over the years). I like to recapture this sort of thing for the modern incarnation of Assorted Nonsense so that it doesn't get lost to time and also because it keeps alive the memory of some important, interesting people in my life.
aka “Inspector Nickles”(Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival.)
I was fortunate enough to work with Neil off and on over the course of two or three years. Although they don’t mention it in the notice at CBC.ca, one of Neil’s many accomplishments was starring as Inspector Quentin Nickles in The Investigations of Quentin Nickles , for CBC Radio’s Mystery Project.
Working on these plays I had the opportunity to observe Neil’s craft up close.
You had to be a skilled actor working on these shows. Producer/Director Barry Morgan was a one take wonder. Rarely did we ever make it up to take two. So the actors had to get it right the first time, and they almost always did. If we had to do a second take it was usually because one of us technical types had screwed something up, or one of the sound effects engineers was caught on tape snoring during a brief siesta (that actually happened once).
Neil also wrote/adapted several radio plays; I remember recording and mixing two or three wild and crazy examples of his work. The names escape me now, but I recall them as full of mirth and inventiveness.
I remember Neil Munro as not only a consummate professional but as a genuinely warm and friendly man. He deserved better than to have died at 62, it seems to me. As Truman Capote said, life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
In Neil’s case, I’m afraid someone eliminated the third act altogether.
So long, Inspector Nickles.
My friend and colleague Barry Morgan, whom I referenced in the post, responded with a comment which I thought was gently chiding in nature. I realized that I may have irked him slightly with my remark about doing everything in one take. I hope not, because Barry was a great guy and I hate the thought that I might have annoyed him.
Anyway, here's what he wrote in response:
Writer, Producer, Director, All Round Nice Guy
Joe, a really nice appreciation of Neil.
Perhaps I can clarify the “one take” reference.
It was because Neil brought his incredible energy and focus to the rehearsal session before we ever got to the studio floor. The work was already done. And beyond that his electricity energized his fellow cast members to the point that the performance bar was raised far above the level of `excellent`.
We have enjoyed a long history of fine radio actors from the days of John Drainie, Jane Mallet, Frank Perry and a great many others. Neil Munro was certainly among the front rank of those incredible talents.
It was a great privilege to have him around to make all of us look better.