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What Readers Say About the Book

A selection from some early reviews of the book.

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In his debut novel, Toronto-based lawyer James Arnett tells a compelling story set in rural Saskatchewan during the Prohibition era.

It takes place in the town of Bienfait, located along the U.S. border near Estevan and known colloquially as “Bean Fate.” While it is a work of fiction, the story concerns the investigation of a real murder — that of Paul Matoff, brother-in-law of notorious Winnipeg- and Regina-based bootlegger Harry Bronfman. Matoff was shot through the window of a CPR station in 1922, but the murder was never solved.

Based on Saskatchewan lore that Al Capone and fellow U.S. mobster Dutch Schultz were in the area around that time, Arnett weaves the famous gangsters into the tale.

The fictional protagonist, Jack Ross, is a small-town cop who is unaware of the corruption in his local government that has allowed the town to become a major stop in the illegal export of booze to the United States.

At first the character seems a bit clichéd, as the lone honest official in town, but his flaws — insecurity and a possible addiction to marijuana — soon make him more believable.

There is also a love triangle between Jack and two other fictional characters, a schoolteacher named Kate and a cowboy known as “Stud,” that turns dark and eventually pushes Jack over the edge, along with the local officials interfering with his murder investigation.

At just over 200 pages, it is a brisk read and feels a bit like a Canadian counterpart to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

For Winnipeggers who like a bit of local history, there’s quite a bit to enjoy here, with the notable Bronfman family and former Winnipeg mayor A.J. Andrews among its characters. The Winnipeg Tribune also plays a role, and part of the action takes place at the Royal Alexandria Hotel, which stood at Higgins Avenue and Main Street until the early 1970s.

It’s worth noting that Arnett tries to present a realistic vision of the era, but that, of course, includes some racial slurs and cultural attitudes that might be hard for readers to take. He also addresses this in the book’s foreword.

Arnett was born in Winnipeg (he’s the father of actor Will Arnett) and has degrees from the University of Manitoba and Harvard Law School. He’s previously written articles for newspapers, magazines and law journals, but this is his first work of historical fiction.Apart from a few overly long stretches of dialogue that might be better suited to a screenplay, Bean Fate doesn’t feel like a first-time effort. Overall, it is well-written, well-researched and quite absorbing — especially if you’re interested in Prohibition or little-known pieces of Canadian history.

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– Alan MacKenzie
In the Winnipeg Free Press

Bean Fate is a period piece set in Saskatchewan in the 1920’s. It is about the famous Bronfmans who were engaged in rum running during prohibition in the United States, and the notorious murder of a member of their family in the town of Bienfait (pronounced locally as Bean Fate) in 1922. James Arnett has accurately captured the times and vividly described real people and their relationships. I say this with some authority as my father and some uncles lived in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in the 1920’s and they knew Harry Bronfman. They told me some of the facts that are now authentically recounted in “Bean Fate”. “Bean Fate” reminded me of reading W.O. Mitchell’s “Who Has Seen the Wind”, a story of a young boy growing up in Saskatchewan in the 1930’s. Arnett’s novel paints a picture of the times of Saskatchewan and the high risk adventures of the Bronfmans and their interaction with the Chicago mafia. It is a story well worth telling and one that is well told.

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– Hon. Marshall Rothstein
Former Judge, Supreme Court of Canada

1920s Saskatchewan is anything but boring in Bean Fate, a rollicking good read based on a real-life prohibition-era incident. James Arnett deftly captures the period and its characters, set against the background of a porous Canadian-American border and the flow of illegal booze.

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– Bill Waiser
Historian and Author

There is an old adage that every year brings a new surprise. For me, this year's gem came in the form of a delightful piece of historical fiction from a very unlikely source -  a topnotch lawyer whom I’ve known for years as a big player in corporate Canada.You would not expect someone with that kind of CV to launch a bright new career as a novelist. But Winnipeg native Jim Arnett has done just that. Bean fate is a classic crime page turner in which Arnett the lawyer crafts a brilliant portrait of dark doings in the newly created Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

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– Gregory Sorbara
Chancellor, York University

I commend James Arnett for taking a little-known incident from Canadian history and bringing it alive in the pages of “Bean Fate”. I enjoyed reading it!

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– Dr. Gordon Goldsborough
President & Head Researcher , Manitoba Historical Society

A compelling mystery... Arnett gives us a vivid picture about the life of early settlers on the Prairies.

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– Nalini Stewart
Arts Advocate

Booze, bullets and famous names wrapped up in a page turner of a book. I could not put it down.

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– Don Newman
Broadcaster and Journalist

Fast-paced and entertaining...the historical research is detailed and compelling. Bean Fate is an engaging window into a vanished world. Kudos to Arnett.

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– Philip Slayton
Lawyer and Author

Arnett has delivered a riveting account of a true crime. Based on real historical events and characters, he has vividly captured a sense of the time and place.

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– Harold Redekopp
Broadcast Executive