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New novel inspired by Estevan Riot

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Local author Scott Gregory Miller holds a copy of Black Thursday, which is the second novel in his Myles Sterling historical fiction/mystery series. The book is loosely based on the Estevan Riot of 1931.

Local author Scott Gregory Miller has known for a long time that he was going to release a second novel involving fictitious character Myles Sterling.

After all, his first novel, Silence Invites the Dead, was released in 2005, and it proved to be a commercial success that received a lot of positive reviews.

The second Sterling novel, Black Thursday, has just been released, and it draws upon arguably the most infamous and tragic day in Estevan's history.

Black Thursday is a historical fiction/mystery novel that starts with the Estevan Riot of 1931 that left three coal miners dead. They were killed in a confrontation between the striking miners and the RCMP.

"I wanted to do something set in Estevan, and the riot, of course, was a fairly significant historical event in the city's history," Miller told Lifestyles. "So I had to figure out a way of making a story out of it."

Miller cautions that while Black Thursday is inspired by the riot, it doesn't depict the incident. In his book, the riot takes place on a Thursday, and two coal miners are killed. The actual riot happened on a Tuesday, and three miners died.

"There are all sorts of differences in the facts that I have in my book," said Miller. "All the characters are my own, and the storyline is my own."

But he imagines how the riot could have transpired.

Most of the Black Thursday story transpires decades after the riot. Myles Sterling's grandfather, Dr. George Sterling, is found strangled to death in Prince Albert more than 60 years later, on his 100th birthday, with "murderer" written across his forehead in coal dust using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Myles Sterling, who is a reporter out of Prince Albert, is a suspect due to some recent comments about his grandfather. The younger Sterling travels to the coalfields in the Estevan area to investigate his grandfather's death.

In the story, the Sterling family owned the coalfields in the 1930s.

Miller said Black Thursday offers glimpses into the lives and the working conditions of the miners in the 1920s and 1930s. It also delves into the union leaders, the people living in a mining village, and the challenges of working in underground mines in the days before strip mining.

Miller is hopeful that his novel will draw a lot of local interest, thanks to the themes and the connection with a major historical event in the city.

"It's a story about what happened long ago," said Miller.

One factual item that is included in the book is that Estevan City Council banned all parades from the city the same day as the riot, in a hastily-called meeting to quell the possibility of a protest parade. Council and other officials were concerned because they believed that unions were a front for communism.

Miller said he started working on Black Thursday about 10 years ago, shortly before Silence Invites the Dead was released. He finished the first draft for Black Thursday, solicited comments, and then completed two more draft versions of the book, before shelving it so that he could work on two more Myles Sterling novels, which are slated to be released in the next few years.

He then applied the finished touches to Black Thursday.

A lot of research went into the novel. He was given a tour of the mines in the Estevan and Bienfait areas, and he visited museums in the two communities to learn more about life in the mines and mining communities.

"I tried to make a genuine vision about how the miners and their families lived at the time," said Miller. "That's my imagination, but I put a lot of research into what it would be like as a miner.

"A good number of them were Eastern European immigrants, mostly from Ukraine … and they were all fleeing (Joseph) Stalin's starvation policies."
They came to Saskatchewan thinking they could farm, as most of them were from agricultural backgrounds, but there wasn't money in the province, especially after the Great Depression hit.

So they had to work underground in the mines.

"They always wanted to be farmers, and they tried to go underground and become miners to save money, but there just wasn't any money in mining, with starvation wages and that sort of thing," said Miller.

A book launch for Black Thursday will happen on May 15 at the Estevan Public Library.

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