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Kinsella’s latest book, a ‘punk rock mystery’ called Recipe for Hate

Set in Portland, Maine’s punk rock scene, Warren Kinsella says he hope readers find some ‘ideas about how to have hope’ from his murder mystery.

Warren Kinsella, pictured recently in Ottawa with his new book, Recipe for Hate, published by Dundurn and released in November. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

PUBLISHED :Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 12:00 AM

Having already explored the timely issue of discrimination and hate in society in multiple works of non-fiction, former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella has tackled the topic yet again, this time using fiction, with his latest “punk rock mystery novel,” Recipe for Hate.

“We do live in a dangerous time, we live in a dark time, all of us, and Recipe for Hate is about a previous dark time, but hopefully it provides some ideas about how to have hope,” said Mr. Kinsella, a lawyer and president of Daisy Consulting Group, and a former Liberal strategist to Jean Chrétien.

Recipe for Hate by Warren Kinsella. Dundurn Press. 304 pp. $14.99. Photograph courtesy of Warren Kinsella

Recipe for Hate is Mr. Kinsella’s eighth book and second foray into fiction. Published by Dundurn Press in November, the roughly 300-page book is the result of three years of work, and was intended for a young adult audience—a first for Mr. Kinsella, though a broader readership has since picked it up, said the author.

Set in Portland, Maine, in the late 1970s, the book centres on the X Gang, a punk group, and their friends, who grapple with, and investigate, the murder of two of their own at the hands of neo-Nazis. The book’s title, with permission, came from the 1993 Bad Religion song.

  

In Recipe for Hate, Mr. Kinsella ties together his own experiences in the punk rock scene and his past exploration of extremism and Canada’s far right, using both real events and people, albeit largely with names changed—a real-life-inspired run in with The Clash’s Joe Strummer aside.

While multiple characters in the book are based on real people, Mr. Kinsella declined to reveal the inspiration for all but one: Sharon Martin, who is first introduced in Chapter 35 as an assistant district attorney and was inspired by Alberta-based judge Sheilah Martin. Ms. Martin was last month nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.). She previously taught Mr. Kinsella when he was a young law student at the University of Calgary.

“She had an impact on my life, so I made her one of kind of the heroes of the book,” he said.

The following Q&A has been edited for style and length.

  

What prompted you to write this book?

“I’ve written books about terrorism, extremism on the left and the right, punk rock, lots of books about politics and I just didn’t want to write another book about politics, and I wanted to challenge myself. Back when I was in law school at the University of Calgary I worked nights and weekends at the Calgary Herald and came across a story [which inspired the book’s main antagonist] that—probably because I was like 23, 22—I didn’t get an opportunity to write, and I always felt like it was unfinished business. So, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but when the book says on the back that there’s a lot of incidents based on real events, it’s true. There’s quite a few things there, and that [main] character, if you get to the end, you’ll see that person existed.

“It was hard. Like I thought, ‘Oh you know, I’ve written seven books this is going to be easy.’ It was really hard, and the people at Dundurn, they were really great with me, they were patient with me, and they taught me a lot about how to do this kind of book right and how to do it better.”

What did you find so hard about writing this book?

  

“It was getting the voice of young people. So [Catcher in the Rye author] Salinger, what he did—not that I’m in any way comparing myself to J.D. Salinger—is that he would just go in diners and sit there and listen to teenagers. And so I kind of did some of the same stuff—and mainly, our kids, Lisa and I have six kids, and most of them are teenagers, so it was partly just listening in the way they express themselves, the way that they think, because I wanted it to be authentic.”

Your book is based on real events. Can you tell me what those events were and why you wanted to write about them?

“Sure, there’s some of them I can tell you without being a spoiler. The assassination of a talk show host actually took place—that was the killing of Alan Berg in Colorado. The attack of the former broadcaster was a wonderful old man named Keith Rutherford from Winnipeg, and he was attacked on his front lawn by some neo-Nazi skinheads in Edmonton, and they blinded him. The leafleting, kind of the explosion in the hate groups—all of that stuff happened. When I was in the punk scene, when we were confronted with the presence of the neo-Nazis it led to a lot of violence, and partly that was one of the reasons why my friends and I packed it in because the scene was had gotten so violent. So there’s all kinds of events in there that are based upon things that actually took place.”

Christopher X is one of your protagonists. His chosen moniker is something of a mystery that is left unanswered. Why did you give him the last name X?

“I knew guys like him, and I knew girls like him in the scene who were kind of mysterious and distant, but people you looked up to. And so I decided I wanted him to be—and I’ve also always loved all the different manifestations of X.

“From Malcolm X to you name it, and it just seemed to fit him that little parts of him should be unknowable, and so the kids who read it could see bits of people they know or maybe bits of themselves.”

StatsCan recently reported there were 1,409 police-reported hate crimes in Canada in 2016, an increase for the third year in a row. Why do you think we’ve seen an increase yet again?

“The StatsCan data truly is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, because if you were to go coast to coast and enquire with all the different police agencies you would find that most of them don’t even have a biased crimes unit or office, and very few of them have the resources to track—truly track—hate crime in the way that is done in the United States. So you know I think the problem is significantly worse, and also there’s kind of mischaracterization of some crime or so on. Like you’ll have, in some jurisdictions, a kid will spray paint something on the side of a wall and they get charged with vandalism. But then an officer will come along and say, ‘well, it wasn’t just spray paint on the side of a wall, it was a swastika on the front door of a synagogue,’ and that takes it into a different orbit. You need police officers who can look at—that’s why I saw the StatsCan data, I think, even though it showed a rise, I think it’s even worse.

“To answer your question why, if that’s happened, why has it happened: It’s Trump. A white supremacist is the president of the United States, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to these guys, they can’t believe their good fortune.”

What lessons does your book hold for dealing with hate and racism?

“Fighting back, confronting it. I know there’s many people who will say—and I’ve had many editors over the years and neighbours who have said, ‘You know, let it go,’ as Lisa and I are in the middle of, with some others, fighting a neo-Nazi newspaper in Toronto, we were in court with them again on Monday, but it doesn’t work, right. You know they just—they flourish. Good journalism: factual, tough, probing journalism really hurts these guys. Governments properly funding the police, and having educated police forces, hurts these people. But the thing that hurts them the most is when communities reject it, instead of adopting the ostrich strategy and just sticking their heads in the sand. When they say, ‘No, you don’t speak for us, you’re not welcome here,’ it drives these people away. And they never fully go away, admittedly, but they’re back now in a very dramatic way—you know, six Muslims being murdered at prayer in Québec City—the problem is here and we need to deal with it. Not talking about it is not going to work.”

A House of Commons committee is studying religious discrimination in Canada—the study sparked by private member’s motion M-103. What did you make of the vitriolic reaction to M-103?

“What was most noteworthy for me was the reaction. It was a resolution—it wasn’t even law—it was just a resolution, and how well organized, and how vehement and vituperative the opposition was to it, up to and including candidates to be leader of the Conservative Party of Canada adopting that and hanging out with Rebel Media and all that. That told me again that the beast was awake, that it was back and they were bold, and they were feeling bold and strong again because of Trump. It became safe for them to be openly hateful in the way that they were.”

 

lryckewaert@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times