"Even the most diehard Kennedy assassination conspiracist has nothing on Latta."

A review from the National Post July 7, 2001.

Copyright by John Geiger

Jeffrey Blair Latta states ominously in his prologue to The Franklin Conspiracy: Cover-up, Betrayal and the Astonishing Secret Behind the Lost Arctic Expedition: "Over the years, this story has been presented in many different guises -- tragedy, disaster, black comedy, mystery, morality tale. Here I propose to enter into a far stranger...realm."

In that, he has succeeded. The Franklin Conspiracy is undoubtedly the strangest contribution yet to the Franklin genre -- which is saying something.

The destruction of the expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin -- the loss of two ships and 129 men after they embarked in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage -- has in recent years stimulated the kind of interest, at least among an obsessive clique, normally associated with the killing of JFK or the whereabouts of Elvis.

There are benefits from all this: Sir John tourism now makes an impressive contribution to the territorial economies. There are also drawbacks: When not trooping across the tundra snatching up every artifact in their path, with little regard to context or (in the case of bone) species, Franklinphiles while away their hours conjuring up new theories to explain the expedition's fate. None has gone farther down that path than Latta.

Even the most diehard Kennedy assassination conspiracist has nothing on Latta. With The Franklin Conspiracy, he has produced an account of a conspiracy of virtually unprecedented scale, spanning generations and involving dozens, if not hundreds, of co-conspirators and accomplices. In other words, Latta has produced a work of fiction, which is fine, were it not being marketed as non-fiction.

There have been other fictional accounts of Franklin, of course -- Mordecai Richler's inspired take in Solomon Gursky Was Here and Sten Nadolney's haunting depiction of Franklin as a man living out of sync with his own time, The Discovery of Slowness, being among the finest -- but The Franklin Conspiracy is in another class altogether: namely cartage. It is the first book on Franklin written with an eye to capturing the readership of supermarket tabloids and pulp fiction.

Latta is well suited to the assignment. A Google search reveals him to be the proprietor of the Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine and a King Kong fan site called Jeffrey Blair Latta's Kingdom Kong. That is not to say he is without scientific background. As the book's biography on the author states, Latta has "been published in the prestigious science journal Nature" -- apparently a letter to the editor on aphids.

King Kong makes no appearance in The Franklin Conspiracy, nor do aphids, but the book has everything from fanged giants to a suggestion that the Franklin expedition was afflicted by radiation sickness. The expedition was not seeking, we are assured, the Northwest Passage, which was a ruse, but "the shaman light". Such surprises are liberally sprinkled through the by now familiar tale of Arctic suffering. At least no one can fault Latta for a lack of imagination.

John Geiger is Review Editor of the National Post and co-author of Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition.

The Franklin Conspiracy can be purchased online at Amazon.com, Chapters.ca!

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