Selections from Shurik’s Memoirs

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114. Start of the Valga-Abja Railway

While attending Tallinna Tehnikum, I joined Valgma [later Raimla] fraternity. It proved a good decision. There I met Frits Peterson and for the second time obtained a job through him, this time with the State Railway Department’s preliminary work on the Valga-Abja railway. I also obtain work for by brother. While the project drew some controversy, Peterson forged ahead.  After our technical team was assembled [1932?], we needed to hire at least 12 workers for leveling and other work and planned to do it in the town of Valga. Peterson gave two days notice for our departure from Tallinn and arranged our tickets and instruments. I received a Swiss made instrument which I had used previously while working on the Tartu-Petseri line. Upon arriving in Valga, it took us a few days to find the workers and then to train them. Peterson hired a manager whose assignments included transporting our luggage from one place to another, arranging quarters for us - about 18 to 19 men, and providing meals. The technical team needed time every evening to calculate and double check the measurements to assure accuracy. Errors in measurement, albeit occurring seldom, would be difficult and expensive to correct later.

In Valga, we stayed at the railroad house where the accommodations weren’t very comfortable. As we moved from Valga towards Tõrva, our first stop was at a large farm where we received an excellent reception. The farmer was a War of Independence veteran and told us interesting stories about his experiences. The next accommodations were average. Finally we arrived at Tõrva, our last stop, and spent about seven to eight days at the home of a young married couple. The wife might have been a relative of Peterson and the husband was unemployed. I have forgotten their names and didn’t write them down since at no time did it occur to me that I would keep a journal. I received a photo from my brother showing us at their home but unfortunately lost it. The wife prepared tasty dishes while the husband was interested in going to the bar. After all our work was completed, we went to the bar, which was empty except for us, and bought him a beer. They were paid, and we gave them a small farewell gift.

After we returned to Valga, the workers received their pay and the technical team took the train to Tallinn. I brought a delicious smoked lamb shank back from Valga. Peterson, another man, and I continued on the project. I remained with the Railway Department through 1934 and then transferred to the Highway Department.  


Q: What are the criteria for Shuriks Picks?

A: Picks of the Month are books that we read during the previous month and found them enjoyable and/or they dealt with an important or neglected topic. With occasional exceptions, the books should be in print in English. We also review e-books and ARCs (advanced reader editions) but not unpublished works. We moved in 2011 and again in 2012. If you do not have our new address and want to submit a review copy, send us first an email. Acceptance of a book will not guarantee that it will be reviewed or mentioned. Our interests include classics, true crime, mysteries, history, and the environment. No erotica, porn, or ultra-violence.

Q: Do books qualify that are controversial or present ideas with which you disagree?

A: Yes, we welcome controversial books if they are well-written and informative. They are good for the publishing industry.

Q: Will your opinion of an author or publisher influence which books are chosen?

A: Somewhat as to which books we will choose to read but not our evaluation. There are some authors we like as persons but not their books and others we don’t like but have picked their books. In the case of two publishers, we have looked at scores of their mysteries but have found every one boring and thus tend to skip their novels.

Q: Can the same author be picked more than once? More than two months in a row?

A: Yes. Picks represents books we liked the best during the previous month.

Q: Would you include a book on the basis of having read only a review?

A: Not for Shuriks Picks or other reviews. However, we do mention books in the Commentary section based on reviews or announcements.

Q: How do you choose which books to read?

A: We have a list of books we would like to read that is compiled from book reviews, recommendations, review copies, gifts, and books we purchase.

Q: Will you publish negative reviews?

A: Unlikely. Our goal is to promote books and reading. We might make occasional negative comments. 

Q: Do you recommend publishers for authors wanting their book published?

A: No. Problems can develop with the most respected publishing houses. Before we would sign with any publisher we would have a reputable literary lawyer or agent review the book contract.

Q: What does it cost to have books chosen for Shuriks Picks or otherwise mentioned?

A: Nothing. We neither charge nor pay for the blog content and have never been involved in financial dealings (other than accepting review copies). This applies also to products we mention. We like to support reading and literacy, authors (published & unpublished), bookstores, and libraries.

Q: What happened to November 2012 blog?

A: We have no clue, and Apple no longer provides tech support for iWeb. The November 2012 blog was up for at least eight months. Then it disappeared from our computer and from the Internet. Even listing it in the archives disappeared. We had a printout and added a shortened version to the October 2012 blog.


Pick of the Month, April 2018


Force of Nature by Jane Harper, Flatiron Books, $25.99

Five women from BaileyTennants, a respected boutique accounting firm in Melbourne, Australia, are pressured by their boss to go on a wilderness retreat to bond and build trust. When the women get lost, the stress of trying to survive leads them to turn on each other. Only four return. One member, Alice Russell, remains missing. The others speculate that she must have taken off by herself since she was anxious to get home.

Federal agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper are investigating BaileyTennants regarding money laundering and are under pressure to get copies of certain contracts. When they hear their inside person disappeared, they join the search for Alice. Did she leave the group and lost her way? Was her cover exposed and the firm had her killed? Had one of the other women done something to her? Or did she fall victim to the son of a deceased serial killer? He has a history of drug dealing and is familiar with the area.

The chapters alternate between the search for Alice and flashback to the women struggling to survive. The litany of things that can go wrong in a wilderness adventure might cause some readers to have second thoughts about embarking on a camping trip. It sends the messages that money laundering is a serious problem and that you should never pose for explicit photos as they can be easily hacked or released by somebody you trust and will surely cause problems in the future. This bestseller is an engrossing read.


The Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother’s Crusade to Bring Her Son’s Killers to Justice by Mara Leveritt, ebook, $9.99

Kevin Ives, 17, and Don Henry, 16, were murdered on the night of August 23, 1987 in Saline County, Arkansas, their bodies arranged on the railroad tracks to be run over by the train. The parents were stunned when the state coroner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, ruled that the manner of death was an accident, and it took them years to get the verdict changed. The lack of interest by authorities spurred Linda Ives to seek justice for her son Kevin. She discovered that information was falsified, evidence disappeared, investigators failed to follow up on clues, and several young men who allegedly knew something ended up murdered.

Ives’s quest revealed an intertwined world of illegal drugs and political corruption that reached to the highest state and national levels. She was betrayed, viciously trashed, and even President Bill Clinton’s White House lawyer Mark Fabiani reportedly tried to set her up. The resulting inquires revealed to the public the dark side of several prominent individuals. They included Dr. Fahmy Malak, an Egyptian national with medical degree from Cairo University. He was incompetent, faked results, engaged in bizarre behavior, and lied under oath. Yet he enjoyed widespread support, including from then Governor Bill Clinton. His behavior grew so outrageous that his strongest supporters dropped him, and he was transferred to a different job. Another prominent figure, Don Harmon, was a prosecuting attorney, popular anti-drug crusader, and head of the local drug task force. To the shock of many, he was unmasked as a drug user and dealer who allegedly made amphetamine and used his office to shake down those in the drug trade. In addition, he faced domestic abuse charges. The case of Barry Seal, a drug smuggler killed in 1986, drew renewed interest and raised questions about the justice system.

This important book, originally published in 1999, is well-written and extensively researched. It shows the extent of corruption caused by the illegal drug trade and how a housewife from Arkansas made a difference. Thanks to Linda Ives’s refusal to give up, the murder of the two boys is back in the headlines.


A Is for Annabelle: A Doll’s Alphabet by Tasha Tudor, Aladdin, $7.99, ages 7 and under

My daughter was two years old when I taught her the alphabet. She loved this book, a gift from family friend Donna Harlan, and had me read it to her over and over again. And I enjoyed doing it. First published in 1954, it is a delightful book with charming illustrations.


Specialty/Small Press

Christmas Press, launched in 2013 in Australia, specializes in traditional folk tales from around the world and seasonally-themed anthologies. Their titles include Two Trickster Tales from Russia, retold by Sophie Masson, illustrated by David Allan.


Author submissions: At the present time they are not open for submission but will have from time to time open submission periods to be announced on their website

Site content © 2018


Remembering March 25-29, 1949

Candlelight ceremonies in the cities of Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, and Pärnu commemorated the 22,000 Estonian men, women and children arrested by the Soviets on the nights of March 25-29, 1949. They were deported in cattle cars to Siberia, many of them dying on the way. Those who survived would endure the horrors of the Gulag labor camps. Overall, approximately 35,000 Estonians were deported to Siberia during 1940-1953.

The Boys on the Tracks: A Case that Refuses to Go Away

In the mid-1980s when teenagers Kevin Ives and Don Henry were murdered, cocaine smuggling from Central America was the biggest problem in Arkansas. While their case remains officially unsolved, they have not been forgotten largely due to the efforts of Kevin’s mother Linda Ives.

In 2016, Billy Jack Haynes, a wrestling superstar during the 1980s, contacted Ives’s PI Keith Rounsavall, who had taken her case pro bono, and confessed that he was present during the murders and gave names of those allegedly involved. He admitted that he was at that time a drug trafficker and enforcer and helped to place the bodies on the tracks. Haynes said he was compelled to come forward because of the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a Bernie Sanders supporter employed by the DNC. Sections of the taped confession have been released. In one part he states, “I come with no mask. I come with no hidden voice. I come to you straight face-to-face because this is reality, man.”

Ives filed a lawsuit against 11 federal and state agencies to obtain information about Kevin’s murder - information that she is entitled to under the Freedom of Information Act yet has continually been stonewalled. She announced that she knows who killed the boys and accused a former prosecutor and a chief of police. While the government is trying to get the case thrown out of court, she is determined that it will not go away until she has answers and is seeking help from the Internet. A website,, is dedicated to the boys, and GoFundMe page has been created. Those who have information can call Rounsavall’s tip line 501-223-3969. (Sources: on February 13, 2018 & “Pro wrestler admits to role in 1897 unsolved train track murders of two boys and claims it was linked to a cocaine smuggling ring as he implicates ‘criminal Arkansas politician’ in far-reaching cover-up” by Keith Griffith,, 18 February, 2018)

Winners and Losers


  1. Deputy Blaine Gaskill, 34, resource officer at Great Mills High School, Maryland. When student Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, opened fired, killing his ex-girlfriend and wounding another student, Gaskill rushed to engage the shooter and shot him. His quick response stopped the rampage.

  2. Jon Albert, founder of the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, Georgia. This nonprofit helps families of those battling late stage cancer by arranging trips so they can spend quality time together. For his dedication on behalf of cancer patients, he is one of the nominees for 2018 CNN Heroes.

  3. North Dakota. U.S. News & World Report ranked this state as having the best quality of life among the 50 states. The ranking included a combination of numerous criteria, among them air quality, pollution, and voter participation. California was last in quality of life.


  1. Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive lineman Michael Bennett, 32. A grand jury indicted him in March 2018 for injuring last year a 66-year-old paraplegic African-American woman.

  2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. African elephants have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1979. This year, FWS dropped the ban to bring into the U.S. elephant parts as trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

  3. Cornell University’s chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, New York. In 2017, the fraternity held a “pig roast” competition that demeaned and fat-shamed women who were unaware they were part of a cruel contest. The fraternity was placed on a two-year probation in March 2018, a punishment that many felt was too lenient.


  link to first blogEntries/2008/11/4_Selections_from_Shuriks_Memoirs.html

Grandmother’s doll Annabelle from cover of  A is for Annabelle by Tasha Tudor.

Tõrva Bar was built in 1834 and has been renovated several times. Photographer: MMetsoja, 2011,

On March 25, 2018, twenty-thousand candles were lit in Tallinn and other Estonian cities for the men, women, and children deported by the Soviets to Siberia on March 25-29, 1949. Photo:

Valga Railway Station. Photographer: Sten 153, 2015,

Speed skater Saskia Alusalu, 23, representing Estonia, placed fourth at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her hobbies are playing the violin, playing soccer, and reading. Photo:  Madis Veltman, Alusalu