Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There's no mystery about who inspired the sleuthing reporter Jinnah

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 17, 2010


Hakeem Jinnah is back, my friend.

The crime-solving reporter for the Vancouver Tribune returns in a mystery novel featuring a decapitated body, a drug cartel, and a crazed religious sect.

Mr. Jinnah is a great character — a headline-grabbing Ismaili Muslim with a taste for strong perfume and weak coffee, whose every oleaginous statement is punctuated by the words “my friend.” The reportorial Poirot is a flirtatious, pill-popping hypochondriac who opens his silk shirts wide to reveal the “African rug” on his chest, possessor of good instincts but a weak stomach

He is the creation of Don Hauka, a New Westminster author who recalls an early Jinnah project being rejected because the character lacked verisimilitude. The judgment sent him scrambling for a dictionary. How could they say Jinnah wasn’t a true-to-life character? He was based on a real person.

Mr. Hauka got the newspapering bug as a high school student in his birthplace of Gibsons, where he helped produce a weekly paper at Elphinstone Secondary. He also covered sports and school-board meetings for the Coast News, an independent newspaper still produced with hot lead.

A short stint at the Williams Lake Tribune was followed by a time at a university student newspaper before he dropped out to take a job at a journal in a Vancouver suburb. It folded, and he got hired by the rival, only to quit when told the three telephones in the office were for the exclusive use of the advertising sales people. Reporters were expected to use the payphone down the street.

Being hired as even a temporary reporter at The Province, the No. 2 newspaper in a two-newspaper town, seemed an entree into the big-time world of a big-city newspaper. He was understandably eager to make an impression.

“I walk into the newsroom and there’s this guy who’s got his feet up on the desk, leaning back in his chair, almost horizontal,” he said. “He’s drinking a coffee and you can smell the sugar from here. He’s got this low, deep voice and he’s saying, ‘My friend, my friend, I can’t believe it, it can’t be true, no, no, no.’

“He comes over to me and says, ‘What’s your name?’ I say, ‘Don Hauka.’ ”

He asks if Mr. Hauka is any relation to Helmut Rauca, a Nazi war criminal who hid in Canada after the war.

“No, no relation. I’m Hauka, not Rauca.”

The big news that day was the discovery in South America of the remains of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death of a Nazi concentration camp.

“Donald, Donald, come here,” the man said, pointing to an open telephone book. “Do you see that name there? What is that name?”

“That’s a Mr. Joseph Mengay who lives on West 41st,” Mr. Hauka replied.

“I want you to phone him. You phone him, my friend, and you say, ‘Are you not in fact Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz butcher, the Angel of Death?’ ”

Mr. Hauka answered, “But he’ll say no and probably not politely.”

“Ah, but then you have a story,” he said, beginning to dictate. “Vancouver man denies he’s Joseph Mengele, whose remains have purported to be found. But The Province has learned ...”

That was Mr. Hauka’s introduction to Salim Jiwa, a Tanzanian-born reporter with whom he would soon after co-author a book on the Air-India bombing. An updated edition was released four years ago.

Like his alter ego, Mr. Jiwa is a headline-grabbing Ismaili Muslim with a taste for strong perfume and weak coffee, whose every oleaginous statement is punctuated by the words “my friend.”

Both the author and his inspiration have since left the newspaper. Mr. Hauka is a communications consultant, while Mr. Jiwa edits and publishes the Vancouverite online news website.

Mr. Jiwa’s reporting methods were not universally admired, as his own newspaper once described the Jinnah character as being “based loosely on real life — like many of Salim’s stories.”

The resourceful reporter debuted in Mr. Jinnah: Securities, a novel about the mysterious death of a shady stock promoter. A made-for-TV movie — Jinnah on Crime: Pizza 101 — aired on the CBC eight years ago.

The fictional reporter returns this week with the launch of She Demons (Dundern, $11.99), a rollicking adventure with peppy dialogue and plenty of inside jokes for the careful reader. (An aside about Scotch and cornflakes will revive memories of a scandal regarding the breakfast libations of certain British Columbia politicians.)

Set in such familiar landscapes as the downtown eastside, the Punjab Market on Main Street, and the confusing sameness of suburban Surrey, the mystery is tackled in exciting fashion by a character whom many might at first find off-putting, or offensive.

As the protagonist says, “They always end up loving Jinnah in the end, my friend.”

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