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Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman

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ISBN: 9780888013774
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Twelve Bricks of Gold.
A blizzard in Winnipeg.
No one is going anywhere … But jail.

In the spring of 1966 Ken Leishman stepped onto the tarmac of the Winnipeg Airport and into the pages of Canadian history. By then, the mastermind behind the country’s largest gold heist had already gained Dillingeresque notoriety as a gentlemanly bank robber. Toronto headlines had spread the news about the brazen and polite ‘Flying Bandit’. This time, he almost got away. Almost.

In Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman, Wayne Tefs imagines what happened behind the headlines, intertwining the full-on action of Leishman’s exploits with the story of a smart but troubled kid growing up in a small and stifling prairie town. As a married man and father of seven, Leishman dreams of greatness, and a good life for his family. Even as he plots the greatest caper in Canadian history, he is ridden with guilt over his failed promises to go straight. In this fictionalized version of a tremendous true story, readers will be hard-pressed to judge the life of this Canadian folk hero who dared to fly far out of bounds.

Last modified onFriday, 06 December 2013 16:47

Additional Info

  • Shortlisted for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
  • Shortlisted for the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
  • Shortlisted for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award
  • Shortlisted for the Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year Award
  • Shortlisted for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher at the Manitoba Book Award
  • Shortlisted for the Margaret McWilliams Award for Popular History
  • ...Bandit is a masterful portrait of a complex human being and of his time. It's also a powerful reminder that no place is beyond the reach of myth, and that any place, no matter how self-doubting, can and will mirror myth in its own way." - Lesley Hughes, Winnipeg Free Press
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  • "Reading Bandit does more than revive a lot of large headlines and any personal memories readers might have: Tefs’ compelling portrait of Leishman (a faithful married man and father of seven) raises awkward questions about the misjudgments anyone can make in pursuit of the Canadian Dream, but few do with such spectacular results, including dying in much odder circumstances than you’d expect from such a life. -The Globe and Mail

Suggested Book Club Questions for Bandit

  1. Leishman was called “the gentleman bandit” but was he really? He also easily could be called a socio-path with an eye to the main chance. Which seems more accurate?
  2. When he’s in prison Leishman speculates that he is not X or Y (good or bad) but X, Y, A, B, and C also. In short, that “character” is plastic, that people are rather like chameleons, changing and shifting about depending on circumstances. How accurate is this view of character?
  3. The novel switches between journalistic style reportage on events and first-person stream-of-consciousness thoughts of the main character. Does this counterpoint technique work? Is one preferable to the other?
  4. The prose sections are broken up by shots of newspaper clippings from the time. Do they add anything?
  5. The Globe and Mail reviewer called Ken Leishman “Canada’s Rock-Star Criminal.” What did he mean? Do you agree?
  6. One reader commented that Ken Leishman’s story is “the Mythic story of this place”? What did he mean? Is that a fair assessment?
  7. What do you think about Leishman’s fellow escapees? Is there company of benefit or a hindrance to Ken? Would he have gotten further, or even away without them?
  8. What do you think about Elva? She’s never given a voice in the novel, but is a significant figure for Ken. Is she an inspiration for his escapades?
  9. Leishman claims to be a family man. What do you think? Are his actions selfless or selfish? Do you think he would have tried such an elaborate heist if he didn’t have a family to try to “provide” for?
  10. What do you think about the dream sequences that Leishman has in jail? What do they say about him?
  11. Consulting the chronology, Ken Leishman was quite the career criminal: several robberies and even 2 jail breaks. All things considered he seems to have gotten off pretty easy. How do you think he would fare in the present criminal system?
  12. If you were part of Leishman’s crew, what would you have done with 12 gold bars?
  13. Bandit is akin to some of the great heist movies in cinema such as Oceans Franchise, The Bank Job, The Italian Job, The Score, among countless others. How do Danny Ocean and Ken Leishman compare as masterminds? What about Ken and some other caper “heros”?
  14. If you were a casting a Hollywood version of Bandit: A Portrait of Ken Leishman who would you cast as Ken Leishman? What about the others? The Grenkow Brothers and John Berry? Harry Backlin? The undercover cop Ken confesses to?

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Wayne Tefs

Wayne Tefs was born in Winnipeg and grew up in northwestern Ontario. He edited a number of anthologies and published nine novels and a work of non-fiction. His novel Moon Lake received the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction in 2000 and his novel Be Wolf won the 2007 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. Wayne Tefs died in 2014.

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Winnipeg, MB   R3B 1H3
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Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.

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