The Last Act: Pierre Trudeau, the Gang of Eight, and the Fight for Canada, by Ron Graham

Nine stars

Having recently read the tome associated with Canadian Confederation in the History of Canada series, I wanted to complement it with Ron Graham’s book about the eventual Canadian patriation of the British North America Act, 1867—its own constitution—and the battles that ensued to do so. While likely not of great interest to those readers who are not Canadian political geeks such as myself, the detail Graham uses to present his arguments are both convincing and easy to comprehend. That Canada failed to create an amending formula for its constitution was lost on few, even as far back as 1867. As some historians mentioned, the Fathers of Confederation knew this, but thought it a trivial aspect that could be ironed out later on. A gaffe that had not been rectified over the 115 or so years up to this point, though many had tried. Many contentious issues arose to create clashes amongst the players, which Graham explores in depth. However, it was one day at the 1981 First Ministers’ Conference on the Constitution—Wednesday, November 4, 1981—that saw things go from disaster to a shaky agreement that many of the premiers could accept. Graham discusses the events in detail, including the many characters who served as political hurdles for Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to bring home Canada’s beloved constitutional document. From linguistic arguments by a separatist premier to refusal to cede control of knowing what its people wanted best when the Gang of Eight sought to torpedo the amending formula and even trying to ram a Charter of Rights and Freedoms past these wily men, Graham delved into the drama of this single day that tipped the scales and brought home the Constitution, once and for all. Riveting in its detail and discussion of many political issues of the day, Ron Graham turns Canadian history into something that many can comprehend with his flowing style. Recommended to those who enjoy all things Canadian politics, especially the reader (geek or not) who loves constitutional discussions.

When I noticed that this book was part of the History of Canada series, I knew I would have to get my hands on it as soon as possible. The topic has long been something that has interested me and while I am somewhat well-versed on the topic, this insider look hooked me from the opening pages. Graham does set the historical narrative on a single day, though he weaves in much of the political and social backstory that brought things to this point. There is a discussion of many of the key players: Trudeau, the premiers, federal and provincial ministers, and even some advisors. All these men (yes, like 1867, it was men making the decisions) clashes and fought as best they could, each feeling they knew what was best. Graham offers powerful backstories and some of the behind-the-scenes discussions that took place on that fateful November day, including some of the late-night moments that broke open the logjam and led to an agreement that most could agree upon, even if it was still contentious. There was much to learn from this and historians (and Canadians alike) can still learn from the arguments made at this conference. But, when the dust settled, however bloodied the actors were, Canada had what it needed. True, this opened up a new can of worms, but that is for another review. Full of well paced chapters that clearly explore central political and social events, the reader is able to better understand the nuances of the political infighting and the cleavages that separated some of the central players. Graham is fair in his depiction, though he surely could have written something three times as long and still held the attention of many.

Kudos, Mr. Graham, for such a great primer on the topic of Canadian constitutional reform/patriation. I will have to keep my eyes open to see what else you’ve published on the subject.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Last Act (Last Act #1), by Brad Parks

Eight stars

After thoroughly enjoying my first venture into the world of Brad Parks—a prequel short story—I thought I would take a dive into the complementing full-length novel. For fans who remember how The Whistleblower ended, this is a wonderful means of continuing to discover more about the life and choices of Mitch Dupree. With Dupree locked away, the Mexican cartel he sought to uncover wants his head, but he was smart enough to hide away some key documents in an undisclosed location. The Feds want access and will use this to bring down the largest distributor of crystal meth in the United States. To do so, they turn to Tommy Jump, a musical theatre actor who has been down on his luck. Asking him to perform in his most daring role yet, Jump will have to go undercover and befriend Mitch Dupree, learning where the documents are being stored. However, this is easier said than done, even for a man who prides himself on being able to handle any role. Life in prison, even minimum security, is nothing like he expected. The large payout will help his pregnant fiancée, but will it be enough. Using a pseudonym, Jump enters the prison system and tries to nonchalantly get closer to Dupree. The Feds are on the outside, willing to help, but so is the cartel. They have approached Dupree’s wife and made their own threats, making the cache of documents all the more important. With Jump wanting to get this acting job complete, he will do most anything to learn Dupree’s secret, but will it come at a price that costs him a curtain call? Parks does a masterful job of taking the reader inside the world of prisons, cartels, and continues the action surrounding a massive money laundering scheme. Recommended to those who love thrillers with a twist and the reader who may enjoy prison-based novels. While not essential, it helps to have read the prequel short story for the nuanced details.

I always enjoy finding new authors and Brad Parks is one that will remain on my radar. Both the short story and this novel are full of great detail and intriguing storytelling, keeping me hooked from the opening pages through to the impactful ending of this piece. Parks uses another soft-hearted character as a protagonist, this time with Tommy Jump. A struggling actor who is trying to make it in the cutthroat world, his fiancée pregnant with their first child, Jump will do most anything to advance himself. With a massive payout and the chance to help the Feds, Jump leaps at the chance to help. He must know his target, Mitch Dupree, but also pretend not to know anything about him. As the novel progresses, Jump learns the ins and outs of prison life, as well as the place Mitch Dupree has made for himself in short order. The reader is also able to learn a little more about Dupree, who is trying to get through this sentence for a crime he did not commit. He knows the truth and yet cannot prove anything. Wanting to blow the whistle, he does not yet have enough to ensure his family’s safety once and for all. This novel gives the reader more time to connect with him, even while he is not the main focus. The secondary characters do serve a great purpose and entertain as well as educate. Working the angles of prison life, the looming cartel, and trying to decipher the details of the financial crimes, the reader can use the strong collection of characters to weave their way through the story. The story was strong and left me feeling fully invested in the piece. I can only hope that there is more to come, both in this story, and with more Parks that I can enjoy. I see major awards and at least one full series into which I can sink my teeth. I hope others will follow my lead or fans of the author will look into this series.

Kudos, Mr. Parks, for a great continuation of this series. I am eager to get my hands on more of your writing!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: