Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don Reddick's "Killing Frank McGee"

An avid reader my entire life, when I find a new author that I enjoy, I eagerly read all of their creations as quickly as possible. Fortunately, in the case of award-winning author Don Reddick, he found me...

Through my work at The Hockey, I was asked to review Reddick’s latest release, The Trail Less Traveled; a thoroughly compelling book chronicling the re-enactment of the Dawson City Nuggets/Ottawa Silver Seven Stanley Cup challenge. The Trail Less Traveled, has found a permanent home amongst my favourite books and so has one of his earlier releases, which I just completed, Killing Frank McGee.

Released in 2001 as a work of fictional history, Killing Frank McGee is a masterful combination of hockey history, Ottawa history, and Canada’s involvement in World War 1. The novel is an account of Frank McGee’s hockey career and often overlooked death serving his country in World War 1. Besides being a wonderfully written story that captures the reader’s imagination on every page, a tremendous amount of research went into its creation, making the novel extremely valuable due to its historical details and a true learning experience. In fact, Killing Frank McGee could easily become an educational tool in our schools.

Written from the point of view of Alf Smith, a Hall of Fame member of the Silver Seven, and William Kinnear, a Private in the Canadian Armed Forces, Killing Frank McGee is informative, humorous, and haunting all at once. Dynamic in its storytelling, the perspective shifts between Smith and Kinnear as they discuss their lives and connection to McGee. The novel leaves the reader speechless on more then one occasion - especially the ending.

From Smith we learn about the early days of hockey in Ottawa and our country, and the challenges and politics involved with creating a winning hockey team in the early 1900’s. We also learn from Smith how the legend of Frank McGee grew, as he became one of the greatest “hockeyists” in the history of the sport. The novel’s opening chapter begins with the McGee family learning of Frank’s death. As a former coach and teammate, Smith is present and Reddick captures the scene brilliantly. A scenario that repeated itself time and again across Canada throughout WWI and unfortunately, continues to this day, the reader is immediately gripped by the pain and turmoil that arrives on the family’s doorstep. Through Alf Smith, Reddick takes us on the journey through the Silver Seven years and Frank McGee’s Hall of Fame exploits on the ice.

From Kinnear, we learn of the absolute and unimaginable horrors of trench warfare. The devastating impact on a man’s mind and soul living amidst so much death and destruction, and the equally inspiring friendships made during one of humanity’s darkest moments in history. One of the many haunting moments in the book comes when Kinnear and his fellow soldiers are receiving instructions while waiting to move forward to the trenches. “You needn’t bother ducking at the sound of a gunshot,” their instructor tells them, “Because you will never, never hear the one that gets you.”

Kinnear’s narrative eventually leads to the battlefields of France, where he and his companions “go over the top” to engage the enemy. Reddick vividly describes the devastation and confusion of trench warfare with stunning accuracy; a young man from Sackville, New Brunswick must kill or be killed in the name of his country. The fear experienced by these young men leaps off the pages and into the reader’s imagination. In the heat of battle, Kinnear meets the famous Frank McGee.

While it is a work of fiction, the realities contained in Reddick’s creation make for a very moving experience for the reader. He takes a moment in history and brings it to life with his remarkable attention to detail and eloquent writing style. Whether you are a casual or fanatical sports fan, Killing Frank McGee must be added to your collection!

For more information on Don Reddick, The Trail Less Traveled, and Killing Frank McGee, visit his website:

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