I'm an award-winning author and journalist and a professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I teach in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Journalism programs. I specialize in true crime and my monthly column on the genre, “Stranger Than Fiction,” appears online in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I am also a contributing writer for the Chicago Review of Books. During my 35-year career as a newspaper staff writer and freelance journalist I have written features and commentaries on an array of subjects – history, current events, law, business, politics, media ethics, science, travel, and the craft of nonfiction. (BTW, my surname is pronounced like robe, not robb.)
Photo by Nicola Davison
My latest book is Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation. It’s the saga of con man Leo Koretz, the Bernie Madoff of the 1920s and a fraud artist extraordinaire. The New York Times christened him “the most resourceful confidence man in the United States.” The smooth-talking Chicago lawyer enticed hundreds of people to invest as much as $30 million – some $400 million today – in his imaginary Panamanian oil fields. The New York Times Book Review praised Empire of Deception as “intoxicating and impressively researched.”
Empire was the Chicago Writers Association’s 2015 Nonfiction Book of the Year, won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award and was a finalist for one of Canada’s top awards for non-fiction – the 2015 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize. It also made the Globe and Mail and National Post Top 100 Books lists for 2015. Available from Algonquin Books in the U.S., HarperCollins Canada and HighBridge Audiobooks.
My previous book, The Cajuns: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph, published in 2005 (John Wiley & Sons), was released simultaneously in Canada as The Acadians: A People’s Story of Exile and Triumph. It tells the dramatic story of the deportation in the 1750s of most of the French-speaking inhabitants of Nova Scotia and how these refugees overcame exile and incredible hardships to establish today’s vibrant Acadian and Cajun cultures. The book was shortlisted for two prizes, the City of Dartmouth Book Award and Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Award for Non-Fiction.
Calculated Risk: Greed, Politics and the Westray Tragedy, published in 1994, remains the most comprehensive account of the May 1992 explosion that killed 26 Nova Scotia coal miners – one of the worst workplace tragedies in recent Canadian history. Calculated Risk won the City of Dartmouth Book Award, was recognized with a special prize as runner-up for the National Business Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Richardson award. The book was the basis for the critically acclaimed play Westray: The Long Way Home, which twice toured Canada, and I was a researcher and consultant for the Genie Award-winning National Film Board documentary, Westray.
As well, I have published three collections of true-crime stories. Shades of Justice: Seven Nova Scotia Murder Cases (Nimbus 1988), won the Richardson award. Crime Wave: Con-Men, Rogues and Scoundrels from Nova Scotia’s Past (Pottersfield 1991), was short-listed for the Arthur Ellis Award. And Bluenose Justice: True Tales of Mischief, Mayhem and Murder (Pottersfield 1993), shortlisted for the City of Dartmouth award.
My comprehensive reference guide, Media Law for Canadian Journalists, 3rd edition (Emond Publications 2018), has been adopted as the core text for university and college journalism programs across the country. I am a co-author of Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide, 3rd edition (Oxford University Press, 2015), the first comprehensive research guide for Canadian writers and journalists.
My articles, commentaries, and book reviews have appeared in major publications, including the Chicago Tribune, The Irish Times, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Canadian Business, Canada’s History magazine, History Ireland, The Scotsman, the Winnipeg Free Press, and the Literary Review of Canada. I have also written for the Victoria Times-Colonist, Saltscapes magazine, Canadian Home & Country, Quill & Quire, Canadian Lawyer, The Lawyers Weekly and Northern Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph. I was on the staff of the Halifax Chronicle Herald for twenty years, where my roles included legal affairs reporter, investigative reporter, copy editor, morning edition editor, and columnist on politics and current affairs. My work has been shortlisted for Canada’s National Newspaper and National Magazine awards and I have won three Atlantic Journalism Awards.
I am a professor in the School of Journalism, University of King’s College in Halifax, where I teach nonfiction writing and journalism. My interests include narrative nonfiction, investigative reporting, writing and editing, defamation and other forms of media law, journalists’ ethics, freedom of information and the history of journalism. Defendants in defamation suits and publication ban prosecutions have retained me as an expert on journalism ethics and the standards of responsible journalism, and I have conducted professional development seminars for Rogers Media, the Canadian and Ontario community newspaper associations, and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
My academic research explores the origins of Canadian journalism and I have been invited to present my findings to academic conferences in Canada, the United States, France and the United Kingdom (visit my page on Academia.edu for more information and downloads of my work). I’m a member of the American Journalism Historians Association and the AJHA’s Speaker’s Bureau. I have published articles in the Journal of International Media and Entertainment Law and the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal, and book reviews in American Journalism: A Journal of Media History and The Historian. I have a graduate degree in Atlantic Canada Studies (Saint Mary’s, 2008) and an undergraduate degree in Canadian Studies (Mount Allison, 1980). My MA thesis is titled “Creating Some Noise in the World': Press freedom and Canada’s First Newspaper, the Halifax Gazette, 1752-1761.” The Tantramar Heritage Trust published my BA thesis in 2007 under the title, The Life and Times of Josiah Wood: A Builder of Sackville.
chapters in books:
“Telling True Stories: Creative Approaches to Bringing Nonfiction to Life,” in Storytelling: Global Reflections on Narrative (Brill/Rodopi 2019)
“‘Written with Powers Truly Comick’: Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the Birth of Social and Political Satire,” in The Funniest Pages: International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism (Peter Lang 2015)
“Deny, Delay, Deter, Defeat: Promise and Reality in Canada’s Access Regime,”
in FOI: Ten Years On: Freedom Fighting or Lazy Journalism?
(Abramis UK 2015)
“Seeking Truth from Power: Strategies for Using Freedom of Information Laws,”
in Access to Information and Social Justice: Critical Research Strategies for Journalists,
Activists and Scholars
(Arbeiter Ring Publishing/ARP 2015)
“The Rediscovery of Village Thibodeau,”
in Acadia Then and Now: A People’s History
(Andrepont Publishing 2014)
“Why We Love to Hate Lawyers,”
in Why Good Lawyers Matter
(Irwin Law 2012)
“Bans on Publication and Other Media Restrictions,”
in From Crime to Punishment: An Introduction to the Criminal Law System
(Carswell, 8th ed. 2014)
“Libel, Journalists, and the Online World,”
in The New Journalist: Roles, Skills, and Critical Thinking
(Emond Publishing 2010)
“Legal Disaster: Westray and the Justice System,”
in The Westray Chronicles: A Case Study in Corporate Crime
“Sackville Promotes a Railway: The Politics of the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Railway, 1872-1886,”
in People and Place: Studies of Small Town Life in the Maritimes
(Acadiensis Press 1987)