“It’s not about stealing lobster. It’s about a problem that continues and doesn’t stop. People said ‘murder for lobster.’ I said, Look, if that guy had of come in my shed and took a screwdriver, okay, would you have said ‘murder for screwdrivers’? Because it’s not about the value of what he stole, it’s about having someone that constantly is disrupting people’s lives.”
I had been browsing through CBC Books’ Fall Nonfiction Guide a few weeks ago when Silver Donald Cameron’s Blood in the Water jumped out at me. Does anyone remember the “murder for lobster” case that brought international eyes to the small island of Isle Madame? Well, it all happened in June of 2013 when three men – James Landry, Craig Landry and Dwayne Samson, aboard the Twin Maggie’s fishing ship, brutally killed Phillip Boudreau after Boudreau had been caught cutting and poaching their lobster traps.
While the “murder for lobster” tagline certainly helped attract widespread interest in the case, it’s unfair to distill what happened on that day down to simply someone dying over lobster. A life-long resident of Isle Madame, Cameron explores just who Phillip Boudreau was and why his complicated relationship with his fellow island inhabitants led to a boiling point that morning.
Much of the book is spent analyzing Boudreau’s adverse effect on the community. For years, he would steal from the community, cut lobster traps and generally cause chaos in the small town. There were even claims of violent sexual crimes made against him. One problem lay in the fact that the RCMP were often helpless to stop him as rarely could anyone prove that Phillip had committed some or any of these crimes. Even when they did get him into custody, it was only for extremely short stints in jail where he would come out having learned little. There’s a funny story where Boudreau was being transported to Sydney for a hearing and asked to stop on the side of the road to relieve himself. When he went into the ditch to urinate, he ran into the woods and escaped. Another problem, and the bigger one, was that Phillip would constantly threaten those who followed through with a complaint against him to the RCMP with arson or violence. People felt helpless against his reign of terror.
It seemed surreal to be reading a true crime book set in Cape Breton, the island where I grew up. Cameron printed direct, unedited anonymous quotes from Isle Madame’s inhabitants that contain slang and dialects I’m more than familiar with. Is it weird that it made me homesick? I don’t think that’s the goal of a true crime story. With Cameron being permitted to attend the trials of the men accused, he had firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of the courtroom and recounted each day blow-by-blow. Some people may find this dull, but I loved it. Maybe it stems from my enjoyment of the old Perry Mason series.
There did seem to be a bit of filler in here. I don’t believe a history of the Acadian people in the Maritimes really added anything to the book or was at all necessary. Cameron also included the Catholic Priest Scandal of the latter part of the last century, seemingly out of nowhere, with no connection to the main crime. There are a few moments like that that left me scratching my head. Unfortunately, Cameron had passed away in June of this year, shortly after delivering his manuscript, so it’s possible he wasn’t quite finished nor settled with the final product.
Tangents aside, Blood in the Water does a more than adequate job bringing to light the true factors that led to Phillip Boudreau’s death. While Maritimers can certainly hold a grudge, we have a fuse a mile long and are willing to put up with just about anything. Boudreau finally pushed someone too far on that day and ultimately, it led to tragedy.