Robert Parsons Writes About Murder on the Rock

Murder on the RockMy late mother was a Burton–you can now guess the origin of my given name–from Beaumont (once known as Ward’s Harbour), on Long Island in western Notre Dame Bay.

On 22 August 1883, another Burton, Lemuel, undoubtedly a relative of mine, made an enigmatic discovery near the beach at Ward’s Harbour…the skeletal remains of a male.

As Burton lifted the skull, a bullet, blood-red in colour, dropped out. The macabre object quickly posed several key questions in the community and surrounding area.

No one at either Ward’s Harbour or on Long Island had gone missing within recent memory.

“The only satisfactory conclusion the people could arrive at,” writes Robert C. Parsons in his most recent book, “was that of an Indian, a Beothuk.”

This “death at Beaumont,” as Parsons entitles this chapter, is but one of 59 shades of life’s unusual events. In Murder on the Rock: True Crime in Newfoundland and Labrador, a sequel of sorts to his Courting Disaster (2009), he offers takes of people who, he suggests, “thought they would not be caught.”

All of the stories on tap here relate to the sea, which is not surprising, considering Parsons’ considerable experience in chronicling Atlantic Canada’s ships and ship disasters. To date, he has written more than 25 nonfiction books.

“The sea,” he explains, “governed our ancestors’ travel, economy, livelihood, social life, food, and supplies. It determined where towns and villages were situated and where our people settled.” Most of the stories in Murder on the Rock “are of, near, or by the ocean surrounding Newfoundland.”

Some of the venues are well known; others, not so much. Whether it’s the trouble a concertina brings in Old Perlican and on the Labrador coast, the subject of the first chapter, or the untimely death of John Yetman in Cape Broyle and several other Newfoundland villages, the subject of the final chapter, readers will remain glued to their chairs as they read what the publisher, Flanker Press, dubs “some of the most horrific and puzzling crimes and shenanigans that have happened in this province.”

Prepare to be entertained and, perhaps, shocked, by this riveting collection of murderous accounts.

As a published author, I often wonder about the specific steps fellow writers follow when putting their own books together. An added feature of Murder on the Rock is Parsons’ postscript, detailing this very process, “from the time of concept to the day of acceptance.”

“Early in the process,” he explains, “if an idea enters into a writer’s head, something has to happen to shake it loose–it sort of commands you to write it down.”

Been there, done that.

The climactic moment arrives when a publisher contacts a writer with a note, “Your new manuscript has been read and it is fine.”

Murder on the Rock is a fine read, destined to satisfy readers’ interest until the next Parsons book sees the light of publication.

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