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Characters in Crime

Unhanged Arthur: Sins Revisited by Coleen Steele

This week, we are publishing excerpts from the manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel 

In this excerpt of Sins Revisited, Coleen Steele tells the story of an Emergency Task Force officer who finds himself in 1939. 
(photo credit: iStock photo)

Galbraith clamped his pipe between his lips and enjoyed a couple of puffs. “You a detective, Mr. Dunn?”

The man shook his head. “Told you—Emergency Task Force. A sniper.”

One eyebrow shot up as Galbraith speculated on Dunn’s claim, wondering about his use of a military term. Police forces didn’t have any use for snipers, and the War had been over for twenty years, so why would the man call himself one?

Galbraith would easily have written it off as just one more thing the younger man was mixed up about, but recalling the wound to Dunn’s arm gave him pause. He’d seen wounds like that before. 

He hesitated, but his curiosity won out and made him ask, “What exactly do you think happened to the boy?”

Dunn looked just as reluctant to reply. He exhaled noisily. “He’s got bruising on him, doesn’t he? Like he was in a fight?” 

Galbraith felt his stomach clench. The skinned knuckles and slight bruising to the boy’s face could be from fighting.

“He fell from there,” Dunn said, flicking his hand in the direction of the overpass.

“Fell?”

“Or was pushed, or tossed over. There’ll be traces of blood on the tracks below or in the gravel.” 

After reflecting for a moment Galbraith called out to Eddie and waved him over. He met the constable half-way and told him what to search for, then returned to Dunn.

“You seem to know an awful lot about this, Mr. Dunn, yet you claim not to know that boy.”

“That’s right.” 

Galbraith took another draw on his pipe but found it spent. He gently knocked out the remnants and ground them into the dirt with his heel before tucking the pipe into his jacket pocket., “You know, you gave Evie—the nurse—quite a start earlier. She said you were raving about some sort of bad joke being played on you.”

Dunn grunted.

“There seemed to be some confusion about your wallet.”

Getting no response, Galbraith tried another tack. “Mr. Dunn, do you remember what year it is?”

“1939.”

“And do you know where you are?”

“Elgin Station.”

Galbraith found it unnerving the way the man answered, as if by rote, with no conviction. “You know, I haven’t seen too many cases of it myself, but amnesia isn’t unheard of with the kind of bump to the head you took. It can cause all sorts of confusion in a patient’s mind. They can forget things, even their own name, or they can just get things mixed up; think they’re something or someone they’re not. But given time and...” Galbraith trailed off as Eddie cried out and both men turned to see the constable waving, indicating something at his feet.

“Looks like Eddie found your blood.” He noted Dunn appeared curiously disheartened by the finding.

“I guess I’m going to have to recommend a full investigation,” said Galbraith after a pause. 

“Problem is neither Eddie nor Collier know how to run one.”

“Then get someone else.”

“There isn’t anyone else. Not counting Alf Napier, the night man, but his job’s mostly 
checking doors and chasing truant kids.”

Dunn didn’t look like he was buying it.

“Dan Gordon—the Chief Constable—died last month, so we’ve got a vacancy. He’s the only one we had with real experience. That’s what’s needed here.”

It took a second or two for it to hit Dunn why Galbraith was staring at him the way he was. When it did, it struck with the force of a two-by-four upside his head. “No way. Absolutely not. You got the wrong guy.”


Coleen Steele’s short stories have won the Bony Pete, the Phil Harper Award (best radio script) and twice been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis. In her Unhanged Arthur-nominated manuscript, Sins Revisited, a contemporary Toronto Emergency Task Force officer suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder wakes up in a small-town hospital in the year 1939 and is quickly pulled into investigating a case eerily similar to one from his past. Sins Revisited is the first in a planned home front detective series based on Coleen’s adoptive town of Bowmanville, Ontario during WWII.

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