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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > JUNE 2016 > Shades of grey

Shades of grey

Joe Friesen refuses to impose artificial morality on his biography’s subject


The Ballad of Danny Wolfe: Life of a Modern Outlaw

Joe Friesen

Signal/McClelland & Stewart

IF A ballad begins with the birth of its central figure – think Davey Crockett on a mountaintop in Tennessee – where does that leave this account of Danny Wolfe, born in Regina, three months premature? Wolfe’s mother, Susan, had already finished a bottle of whisky by the time she arrived at the hospital. His brother Richard was a year older. Neither was destined to become a king of the wild frontier, though they sure wreaked havoc on the city streets.

It’s possible you’ve never heard their names, though if you’re from the prairies, you’ve likely heard mention of the Wolfe brothers’ gang, the Indian Posse. Young, ambitious, and shaped by a survival instinct those of us in a position of privilege will never fully understand, Danny Wolfe played a key role in the Indian Posse until his death in 2010 at the age of 33.

Through the meticulous compilation of personal interviews, letters, legal records, and psychological reports, writer and journalist Joe Friesen builds a fascinating portrait of Wolfe, whose influence was felt both in the jails and on the streets. And while the life and death of an underdog criminal may be enough to entertain true-crime fans, The Ballad of Danny Wolfe also holds wider appeal, addressing timely themes of poverty, multi-generational trauma, and the legacy of residential schools. In a social climate that embraces the facile good vs. evil archetypes that mangle conversations about class and race, Friesen’s book allows for a vision of how the past shapes the future.

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