by Stephen Dafoe
Loot for the Taking is a new crime fiction novel by Sturgeon County resident Don Levers. Based on the 1977 Vancouver Safety Deposit Vault robberies, the novel uses the real events which Levers has researched for years to tell the story of four regular guys trying to do what master criminals around the world had failed to do.
“In 1977 there was a robbery in Vancouver of the Vancouver Safety Deposit Vaults,” Levers recalls of the source material for his story. “At least four men from Montreal and one from the Lower Mainland drilled through 34-inches of concrete and four-inches of plated steel and ransacked at least 1200 safety deposit boxes. Great plan, successful robbery, and then they made their getaway. The problem is they flew out of Vancouver. One of the luggage handlers at the Vancouver International Airport was having troubles with one of the suitcases that was so full and so heavy that he couldn’t lift it.”
Levers went on to say that when that suitcase was opened 40 years ago, they discovered millions of dollars in Loot for the Taking the robbers had stolen.
“One of the suspects was arrested right on the plane in Vancouver. Two of the others were later arrested on a plane in Winnipeg, and the headline of the day said they think someone got away with at least a half a million dollars to some un-extraditable country.”
The Sturgeon County author had heard the story and read the headlines when he lived in Vancouver. Ten years later, Levers had moved away from Vancouver, written and published a children’s book called Ogopogo the Misunderstood Lake Monster, which quickly sold 5000 copies, but the story of the Vancouver robberies pulled him back to Vancouver in search of information.
A trip to the library with the anticipation of having to spend countless hours rolling through microfiche of past newspapers resulted in the librarian handing him a file box with an envelope with all the headlines on the robbery.
“Taking those headlines, I started to work on the story,” Levers said, noting he’d originally wanted to tell the story in Loot for the Taking as a screenplay. “I didn’t know anything about writing a screenplay, even less than I knew about writing a book.”
After spending some time talking to screen writers on movie sets in and around Vancouver, Levers wound up approaching the CBC about the project in 1988. Because there was a similar project being shot out of Toronto at the time, CBC passed on the idea but recommended Levers doing it as a book.
“I began to write the actual story in 1988, but life got in the way, and it sat there for [neary] 30 years,” Levers said. As the original work was done on software no longer available, it had to be typed out all over again when he revisited the project over the last year. “I had to do everything from scratch, and some things had changed in the book. I was originally doing it in a third person perspective, and I decided to change it to first person perspective.”
Levers had done some reworking of the novel back in 1993 and 1994, shifting the timeline to the 1990s. When he began the final work on the novel this past year, he shifted the timeline to 1987, a decade after the robberies on which the novel is based. That simple move created additional work for the author.
“The trouble with that is some of my references to music and things like that all changed,” Levers said. “There was no Internet in 1989 and ‘90 when I started working on it. Having that ability now to go and follow a Google map and follow the streets, and see locations was a big help.”
Levers sold his business in 2012 and moved to Sturgeon County to be close to his children. After spending two years building his new home, he commenced working full time on the novel in June of 2016.
I started writing, rewriting, editing, re-editing, and rewriting,” Levers said, noting at that time he contacted Victoria-based self-publishing company Tellwell who took him from manuscript to finished book.
Levers chose an editor out of Toronto, an ex-military, detail-oriented professional who helped Levers put the final polish in the 299-page book.
“In a couple [of] cases, he said if you were this smart, you wouldn’t do this. Or this doesn’t work. He didn’t change my work. We cut it down from 114,000 words to 90,000. There were a couple of chapters that were probably redundant.”
Inspired by real event
It is the reality of the robbery that has kept Levers at it for nearly four decades, researching, writing, rewriting, and editing.
“It’s just the fact that these guys pulled off the perfect heist and screwed up on the getaway,” Levers said. “To this day I’ve wanted to know why they decided to fly out of town.”
Levers made a tangible connection with the original case while starting to promote the novel with his website.
“I got an email from a gentleman who had been falsely named as one of the suspects in the robbery in 1977,” Levers said. “He sent me a copy of the apology letter that the Terrace newspaper had given to him. I then got another email from one of the gentlemen who had worked in the building at the time of the robbery. In his email, he said they used to sit across the road at the Niagara Hotel in Vancouver and talking to the guard that was downstairs. He always felt there was something hinky going on in that vault – that less than savoury people were keeping stuff there.”
Promoting the book
With the book completed and something Levers believes readers will enjoy, he is now ready to promote the work with a series of author talks and book signings. The first of these will take place in Kelowna Aug. 19 and 20. Levers will then move through Summerland, Kamloops, and the Lower Mainland during August and early September. He is also planning an event in Edmonton and one at the Morinville library.
The book is available in hardcover, softcover and e-book format at Chapters and Amazon’s websites. Loot for the Taking can also be purchased at the St. Albert Chapters and will be available at Audrey’s Books in Edmonton. Levers will do a book signing at Chapter’s in St. Albert Oct. 15 from 1 to 4 p.m.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The Morinville News will be closed for company summer shut down from July 31 to Aug. 7, inclusive. As such, we will have a limited number of stories online this week.