Perhaps you remember the case: "Murder for Lobster," read headlines around the world, detailing the bizarre and tragic tale of a locally renowned ne'er-do-well who in 2013 was killed by three Nova Scotian lobstermen, sick of the man stealing their lobster traps.
It wasn't so much that the people of Isle Madame were terrified of Phillip Boudreau. Even though the picturesque island of Acadian fishing villages off the coast of Cape Breton Island had been terrorized by Boudreau's antics for decades, he was usually relatively harmless: Threats and thievery, vandalism and vagrancy. Locals had grown to accept it. Boudreau had such a deep knowledge of the legal system, and how to evade its punishments, that locals figured it best to accept a few stolen lobster traps as the price of doing business. It was far cheaper than incurring Boudreau's wrath.
"He doesn't come off as a grown man jousting with the law," the late Canadian author Silver Donald Cameron writes in "Blood in the Water: A True Story of Small-Town Revenge."
"He's more like a child playing mischievous games, and most people don't seem unduly alarmed by his hijinks."
Except that lobstering is a livelihood here, and one June morning in 2013, three local lobstermen finally hit their limit. Suspecting Boudreau was again poaching lobster from their traps, the three lobstermen shot at Boudreau four times, then ran over Boudreau's speedboat with their larger lobster boat. Boudreau's body was never found.
Cameron, who lived in Isle Madame for decades, exhaustively follows Isle Madame's first murder trial in 36 years. At times, his courtroom account is too exhaustive for a case that, despite haggling over specific details, seems pretty cut and dried.
What makes Cameron's account stand out is his loving, intimate look at Acadian culture in this corner of eastern Canada. Acadian culture is to Canada what Louisiana Cajun culture is to America: a uniquely foreign, French-descended culture to the rest of the country.
But Cameron's courtroom drama asks big questions beyond simply "Who done it?"
Boudreau was a man who, when he wasn't in jail, constantly disrupted people's lives. It is easy to say Boudreau had it coming — be a burr in a community's side long enough and someone will lash out. But Boudreau came from a troubled childhood. His mischievousness was almost a charming aspect of local life. When a church hosted a remembrance for him months after his disappearance, the crowd was overflowing. He was a ne'er-do-well, but he was their ne'er-do-well.
Isle Madame is a place where neighbors are like family. When a home burns down, the whole community throws a fundraiser. For decades, the community accepted his indecencies. Better to live relatively peacefully, albeit with some big annoyances, than incur Boudreau's wrath.
Boudreau was a neighbor. He was also a pest. In Cameron's telling, his murder poses some big questions about society: Where do we as society draw the line? And at what point is empathy for a troubled neighbor overcome by the personal responsibility that neighbor ought to take for wreaking constant havoc?
Reid Forgrave is a Star Tribune reporter and the author of "Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy."
Blood in the Water
By: Silver Donald Cameron.
Publisher: Steerforth Press, 244 pages, $17.