The Convict Lover

The Convict Lover

Merilyn Simonds
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<![CDATA[Named one of the year`s best books by the Globe and Mail, Maclean`s, and Elm Street magazine

“A letter,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “always seemed to me like immortality.” Letters – personal, revealing, unguarded – sometimes survive their authors and their recipients, preserving lives, inviting discovery, daring interpretation.

In 1987, writer Merilyn Simonds found a cache of letters, albums, clippings and other memorabilia in the attic of her Kingston, Ontario, home, the bits and pieces of an unknown woman’s life. Among the overflowing boxes and stuffed sugar sacks was a tin box that held one complete, brief collection of letters from the months immediately after the First World War in 1919, a one-way correspondence written in pencil on flimsy paper, undated and without postmarks. From this careless jumble of pages, remarkable individuals and events emerged: a convict, a penitentiary, a village girl, a life in small town Canada at the end of the Great War.

Merilyn Simonds was drawn irresistibly to the lives of Joe “Daddy Long Legs”, a thief and con artist incarcerated inside the stone fortress that was the country’s most notorious prison, and of Phyllis Halliday, a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl whose family home bordered the prison quarry and who fell under the spell of a man she could never meet or touch, except through their clandestine correspondence.

Around them swirled a cast of equally compelling characters, chief among them William St. Pierre Hughes, superintendent of the nations’ prisons, whose fate, like those of Joe and Phyllis, was bound to the conspiracies and intrigues inside Kingston Penitentiary. All three are caught in prisons of their own devising; only one truly escapes.

In the year after its publication, families of all the major characters in the book contacted author Merilyn Sinonds to share their stories and find out more about these little known relations. As a result, she learned that Joseph Cleroux had been part of the Cleroux gang that burgled Ottawa Valley businesses in the first decades of the 1900s.

The story of Josie Cleroux’s early years and what is now known about where he ended up is told in the epilogue of the paperback edition of The Convict Lover

From the Hardcover edition.]]>