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The Unexpected Cop author Ernie Louttit recommends two of his favourite true crime books

The retired Saskatchewan police officer reviews two true crime books, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe by Joe Friesen and The Whisky King by Trevor Cole.
The Unexpected Cop is a book by Ernie Louttit. (University of Regina Press, Bill Hamilton)

This interview originally aired on March 21, 2020.

Ernie Louttit is a bestselling author, public speaker and retired police officer from Saskatchewan. He has previously written about his experiences within the force in the books Indian Ernie and More Indian Ernie.

His latest book, The Unexpected Cop, takes on leadership — how being a leader means sticking to your convictions and sometimes standing up to the powers that be. 

Louttit spoke with Shelagh Rogers about two of his favourite true crime books — and as a retired police officer, he has an insightful and technically aware perspective on the genre. 

The Ballad of Danny Wolfe by Joe Friesen

Joe Friesen's book investigates the life of Danny Wolfe, founder of Regina's Indian Posse street gang. (Joe Friesen, Signal)

"It was 2016 when this book was released. I was initially very apprehensive: I thought they better not try to make a folk hero out of Danny Wolfe, based off the word 'ballad' in the title. 

This book gives you an insight into everything, including the gang culture, the poverty and the root causes.

"I had some knowledge of the people in the book, including the Indian Posse [in Regina] and street gangs. I knew the carnage they put Western Canada in particular through during their rise and they still exist now.

"I started reading it and Friesen did a good job of outlining their early lives — and how tragic their circumstances were. At the same time I didn't sympathize that much with them once they started the gang life. It just seemed like they were bound and determined to live fast and die hard, which ultimately they did.

"But it gave an interesting insight; this book is good for all Canadians to read because a lot of times, other parts of this country each have their own gangs and own problems —  but not to the same degree and extent where it's Indigenous and regional as it is in Western Canada.

"This book gives you an insight into everything, including the gang culture, the poverty and the root causes."

The Whiskey King by Trevor Cole 

Trevor Cole tells the story of Canada’s first celebrity mobster, Rocco Perri, and the undercover Mountie who pursued him. (Fehn Foss/HarperCollins Canada)

"I really like this book because it's set in the prohibition period. It's about a bootlegger in Hamilton, Ont. But what was so interesting about the book was that it revealed the template for all the organized crime in Canada for every generation following this one.

"It is a uniquely Canadian story. Rocco Perri was a bootlegger. He was an Italian-born man who came from a small community that had deep organized crime roots. It was called the Black Hand; we call it the Mafia nowadays. Cole, at the same time, tells the story of another Italian immigrant who became one of the first undercover RCMP officers. The author puts those two stories parallel to each other.

It is a uniquely Canadian story. Rocco Perri was a bootlegger; he was an Italian man who came from a small community that had deep organized crime roots.

"There's so many things in this book. At one point, 44 people died within a space of a week from tainted alcohol. They tried to charge Rocco with manslaughter, but it went south. The book has so many parallels to what's happening nowadays: when they actually prohibited alcohol in Canada, doctors prescribed it, which is very familiar to what we went through with marijuana today.

"It looks at what happens to marginalized communities when class prejudice occurs, where we allow people to be marginalized. That's what I thought happened with Rocco Perri."

Ernie Louttit's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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