An awfully tough book for me to read. While the time period in question only merited a few paragraphs at the beginning of the story, I was actually witness to the events that started this tale of tragedy. I covered the young Mike Jefferson in his very youngest years as a sports reporter for a small town weekly. By the time Jefferson was a junior A hockey player, I was working with the club that he and the rest of David Frost's ... what is the right word? ... cult? ... gang? ... acolytes? left (the Bramalea Blues) to move east to the outlaw league Quinte Hawks. So, I know, or at least I thought I knew, the major actors in this sordid tale. I knew the Jeffersons, mostly by reputation. Typical, if maybe more aggressive than some hockey parents. I thought Mike was a decent kid, but most little kids are. And I knew David Frost to be somebody most other people told unsavory tales about. Bluntly, he was not well-liked. I avoided him both professionally and personally. When he and his, let's settle on acolytes, skulked off one night to Deseronto, I remembered campaigning for some legal action. Some of the Blues' officials thought equipment had disappeared at the time. The team owner just was happy to get rid of a bad bunch. Talented, but players the club could do without. And ending Frost's involvement with the team was worth chalking up any losses.
And with that, went the small chance of stopping the events relayed in the book.
There are plenty of victims in the book. Simmons does a good job of identifying Tom Jefferson as possibly the only one who survives inspection, dignity intact. And he's a self-confessed angry man who plays the game of "What If?" and "Might'a Been," wondering how his idol, his older brother Mike, could give up the family name, participate in a hazing/torture of him and eventually get arrested in a murder for hire plot that ended his NHL career ... and still be taped on phone calls from prison telling the man he wanted killed, Frost, that he loved him.
The elder Jeffersons admit to all of their failings, which they share with many, many parents of talented young athletes. They, Steve more than Sue, could have been any of hundreds of parents I encountered in a decade and a half of sports writing. Was there too much drinking? Yes. It happens. Was there too much willingness to turn over their first-born to a coach with the plan to make their boy a professional star? Yes. To their eternal damnation. Because the man they chose was a champion of the separate and divide philosophy of reaching his goals. He turned Mike and several others into a group that moved from team to team and played by his rules. Even when the group was drafted into the Major Junior A hockey ranks, it took almost no time for the players to act up and get traded away, to their communally agreed-on team. And even from there, to yet another team. Again as a group. For Frost, rules meant nothing. Laws meant nothing.
Frost has survived being banned in multiple leagues. Has beat legal action. Had destroyed families where ever he has gone. He is, by my definition, one of the worst things that could happen to any family. And one of his own tried TWICE to have him killed. If evil walks the earth, I have a tough time believing it doesn't act like Frost.
Having all of this baggage reading a book doesn't make for the most joyous of reads. I kept worrying that eventually Simmons would blame the loathsome Frost for everything and declare all members of the Jefferson family victims, even Mike. I was wrong. Simmons wraps up the story with his personal assessment of the cruelties that Mike Danton has visited on his parents. He might very well be a non-dangerous member of society, having done his prison time and gotten a university degree in psychology. But he never will be able to explain away the vile name-calling and cruel communications he had with his mother. Or lack of communications with his much put-upon brother. He cannot escape what he has done to them. He's contemptible.
Frost still lurks out there. This book should be mandatory reading for any hockey parent with a boy (or girl) starting out on their way. That's why this book is worth five stars. It is a public service announcement, a warning about what abdicating your parenting responsibilities can result in. That the boogeyman sometimes look like normal men with melton jackets.
If you have a child you have dreams for, whatever the activity, please read this book.