November 16, 2022
  • November 16, 2022

StarPhoenix Book Reviews: Ernie Loutit and Mark Abley

By on July 27, 2019 0

StarPhoenix literary critic Bill Robertson takes a look at two non-fiction books – Ernie Louttit and Mark Abley.

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Ernie Louttit's Unexpected Cop
Ernie Louttit’s Unexpected Cop Photo provided

The Unexpected Cop: Indian Ernie on a Life of Leadership (U of Regina Press, 21.95) is retired Saskatoon police officer Ernie Louttit’s third foray into writing his life as a man of the First Nations who grew up, was in the military and patrolled the streets. So what’s the “unexpected” part about being a cop? Well, it doesn’t answer that question directly, but its leadership subtitle does give a hint.


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It can be inferred from Louttit’s story that growing up in a small northern Ontario community and entering the military at a young age was not so much a passion for service as it was decent work and training. Then came the decision to go to police college and serve in Saskatoon. But in both the army and the city police, he found himself in uniform with a serious expectation not to desecrate in any way that uniform and what it stands for. In this way, he may have found himself immersed in a leadership role he hadn’t expected.

In many ways, throughout The Unexpected Cop, Louttit turns his police memories into lessons on how to be a leader and make a positive difference in a community.

Of course, there are extreme and dramatic examples. In one such case, Loutit let his fatigue and PTSD reach breaking point, and then he was involved in a high-speed chase that saw two innocent people killed in downtown Saskatoon. None of it was his fault, but he knew he was past the point of being able to handle the trauma on an equal footing. He hadn’t taken the initiative and shown the others that he was ready to take a break first. He thought that to be a leader was to cover him up and move on.

On a more mundane level, but one that I particularly relate to, Louttit talks about dealing with a bike theft and removing all the annoying details that go into a heist as common as this. With murders and prosecutions in his life, a crime of this nature is Dullsville. Then this child’s bike, a bike the family had to budget and save for, was stolen. He gained a whole new perspective on thefts like this and it turned him into a more efficient agent to deal with a crime which is a big problem for the victim involved.


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Louttit’s humility here is always welcome, as he repeatedly asks himself: “Am I doing it right every time?” Surely not! I can use all the help I can get. Louttit takes this approach in community policing, the question of controls, the value of women on the front lines, racism in the community and in the police force, her own new writing path and her many speaking events in public. Life has pushed Ernie Louttit into a leadership role once again, and in The Unexpected Cop he steps up to it with lessons in leadership and life.

Mark Abley's organist
Mark Abley’s organist Photo provided

Montreal writer Mark Abley was once a prodigy here in Saskatoon. He illuminated the English department at the University of Saskatchewan with his prodigious intelligence, he wrote for The Sheaf and he went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. While many of a certain generation are well aware of who he was, there were others who knew his father, Harry Abley just as well: organist and choirmaster at St. James’s Anglican Cathedral, composer of countless sheet music. musicians, teacher of a multitude of students, and a concert performer sought after across Canada and Europe.

In The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind, (U of R Press, $ 24.95), son Mark struggles mightily to understand the sources of conflict he felt with his father that continue to this day. , long after the man died in 1994. Mark was an only child, and the way his father and mother got along, how his father behaved with his son and around the house, and the public figure that his father was planning to create turbulence which still disturbs the son.


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Through the course of The Organist, Mark takes us through his father’s childhood in Wales – which he knows about it anyway, because his father wouldn’t talk about it. The man did not receive a good education, but he learned to play the organ so well that in April 1939 he was performing in London theaters in front of 3000 people and was described in the newspapers as “a most moving spectacle ”. He had gone further than anyone else to his hometown and then war broke out and he drove trucks across England for the duration. Mark found out much later that his father had done heroic things during the London Blitz, but he didn’t talk about it. It was boasting.

What young Mark wanted growing up in England, Lethbridge and Saskatoon was a father who could be a hero to his son, a lesson in manhood. What he got was a man whose artistic sensibilities were so delicately balanced that he was only as good as the last praise he received – and who rarely recognized its true worth. “He felt deceived by fate; he lashed out for no other reason. . . . My father not only had problems with anger, prejudice and inappropriate social behavior: he was mentally ill. This mental illness was a deep depression. He had moods that “could darken like a storm cloud.”

What makes The Organist truly remarkable is that Mark includes testimonials from alumni and parents who loved Harry dearly. They praise her kindness, patience and dedication. Was Mark wrong? He quotes the writer Kazuo Ishiguro who claims that writers “heal the wound”. Because Mark had a tumultuous relationship with his father, does he need to make the man a cranky diva than he really is? It is on this question that Abley’s well and tortured book turns. One thing is clear: it is not easy to be the child of a much loved artist.



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