Paul McKendrick’s The Bushman’s Lair is the thrilling true crime account of John Bjornstrom, a reclusive thief who lived in a beach cave off of British Columbia’s Shuswap Lake. It also functions as a speculative biography of the legendary fugitive.
With a pastiche of visceral details about Bjornstrom’s life, from the patina on his worn camp stove to a mildewed newspaper found in the cave, featuring Osama Bin Laden’s photograph on the front page, the book is a compelling account of a mysterious life. It also uses court documents, records saved by Bjornstrom’s friends and partners, posts from online forums, and selections from woodcraft and backcountry survival guides to do its work.
A devoted individualist for whom the wild seemed to be the last welcoming place on Earth, Bjornstrom proves to be a somewhat elusive subject. Born to Roma parents and raised by nature-loving Norwegians, Bjornstrom’s path was crooked, captivating, and adventure-filled. It took a metaphysical turn when he began working with the military as part of a psychic energy experiment. Later, he was involved with the Bre-X mining scandal.
The choices leading up to Bjornstrom’s lair years are detailed in a way that makes his retreat from society seem both necessary and inevitable. While remembered as a fugitive, he considered his crimes imperative for his survival: he trespassed, forged checks, engaged petty theft, and lived off of the land and other people’s trash. McKendrick is humane in detailing these escapades, however unglamorous; his text includes adequate context for understanding all of Bjornstrom’s actions.
The Bushman’s Lair is a sometimes sensational true crime account of the adventures of an extraordinary cipher.
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