“Standing at the foot of the scantling . . . was a thick, freckle-faced man whose prison cap could not hide his flaming head. It was ‘Red’ Ryan.” —Ernest Hemingway
“A malicious little bastard.” —Ryan’s childhood friend
“Norman Ryan is a vicious, dangerous and resourceful thief.” —Toronto police chief S. J. Dickson
“Ryan is well liked in Kingston prison. A fine, handsome, clean-cut man, he stands out as a giant among the inmates.” —Athol Gow, Toronto Star
“We narrowly escaped meeting him. If we had, we fear we might, like nearly everybody else, have succumbed to his fatal charm.” —J. V. MCAREE, The Globe and Mail
“I’m glad he is dead.” —Senator H. A. Mullins
Dubbed “the Jesse James of Canada,” Norman “Red” Ryan was infamous in the 1920s and ’30s until he was gunned down in an attempted robbery in Sarnia, Ontario. Ernest Hemingway wrote about Ryan’s escape from Kingston Penitentiary for the Toronto Star, Morley Callaghan based a novel on him, and stories of Ryan and his daring crimes filled newspapers and airwaves. One of the first Canadians to be granted parole, he was held up by Prime Minister R. B. Bennett as a model of rehabilitation and became a regular guest at Toronto police picnics. All the while, however, Ryan continued a crime spree on the side.
With skepticism, humour and an often scathing examination of his own profession, journalist Jim Brown tells the incredible story of “Red” Ryan, a larger-than-life criminal whose fame and legend were much encouraged by the media, leading to deadly results.