Unlucky to the End

Unlucky to the End: The Story of Janise Marie Gamble

By Joan Eyolfson Cadham

A review of Unlucky To The End: The Story Of Janise Marie Gamble by Richard W. Pound

Published on October 11, 2007

Unlucky To The End: The Story Of Janise Marie Gamble
Richard W. Pound

McGill-Queen's University Press
$34.95
paper
240pp
978-0-7735-3300-4

Although Dick Pound is best known as chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency and IOC vice-president, Janise Gamble’s story has nothing to do with sports. And yet, to read about the life of this average kid from Peterborough is akin to being caught in a safe spot on the side of a mountain, helpless, watching an avalanche roar down on an unsuspecting group of skiers. In both cases the end is inevitable.

Pound chooses to use a gentler metaphor. “A few small events or a couple of wrong choices – the sort of thing that could happen to anyone – may be enough to steer someone off the path of a normal, happy existence. In the same way, a butterfly stirring the air in Southeast Asia may affect whole storm systems a month later in North America.”

Janise Gamble was caught in a storm of her own making. A happy kid from a small town in Ontario, Janise was fatally attracted to a charmer, John Gamble, whose darker side included alcoholism, drug addiction, spousal abuse, and a life of petty crime. During their brief and tragic marriage, the mesmerized Janice continued to forgive her husband. Even after the most violent beatings she always took him back when he wept and cried that she was all he had to live for.

He didn’t live long. He and a buddy decided to rob a Credit Union in Calgary. The buddy shot a police officer, the pair took hostages, and the duo decided to commit suicide via a drug overdose rather than face arrest and prison. Gamble died, the friend didn’t, and he and Janise were tried and convicted for murder – a crime Janise didn’t commit. She was sentenced to 25 years in Kingston’s women’s prison where lifers were given no training for re-entry to the real world. Six years later, following a piece on CBC’s The Fifth Estate, a Montreal lawyer made Janise his cause, working towards her early release. The rest of the story is the final thundering roar of the avalanche.

This is neither an easy read nor a pleasant story. But Pound, who became interested in Janice’s story when he met the Montreal lawyer, has created a compelling tale with very real characters. It’s a bleak picture of an abusive relationship and a striking exposure of a Canadian miscarriage of justice that is as powerful as the stories of Steven Truscott, Donald Marshall, and David Milgaard.

Pound is a skilful craftsman who uses photos and phone and trial transcripts which add to the drama. But the main reason that Unlucky to the End rises far above cheap sensationalism or detective fiction-type action is that Pound, once he heard the story from Colin Irving, was a man on a mission “to see what had happened and, to some extent, how and why.”

For Canadians the “how and the why” of this tragic miscarriage of justice is undoubtedly as important as the “what,” the grim unfolding of events which began when an uncomplicated small town girl fell in love with a sociopath. mRb

Joan Eyolfson Cadham is a freelance writer from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan who has spent many hours on the pleasure side of the counter of Montreal pastry shops.

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