***Note before we begin: This post deals with things such as terrorism and bombing attacks from a technical perspective, and analyses a scenario in which these occur in a Canadian city. I have already discussed some of my concerns regarding these issues in a post here. Further to this, please refrain from any technical discussions about bomb making or other such subjects in the comments.***
So here’s another thing that’s been bothering me from the opening paragraphs of this section:
At 0715, a small bomb in the mailbox outside the Peel Street subway exit in downtown Montreal exploded, breaking windows, setting an illegally parked car on fire, filling the windless street with a towering plume of black smoke.
Uh…so a bomb that can blow out windows and set fire to a nearby car isn’t small.
Let’s back up a bit. Let’s take a look at the setting for this moment.
The Peel St Subway station is at the corner of Peel Street & Boulevard de Maisonneuve in downtown Montreal. Here’s a Google Earth view of the intersection:
Right off the bat, we got a problem. Montreal is an old city, and both Peel St and Maisonneuve are a couple of those high traffic areas that are exclusive addresses for a lot of businesses. As such, it has some really wide sidewalks to make for a better pedestrian experience.
Here’s the Google Street View from the intersection, facing North West:
Here’s the same view looking South East:
I did some checking, and the sidewalks on Boulevard de Maisonneuve are similarly wide. I even found this shot here, on BdeM looking towards the intersection from the south west. Most important in this photo is the presence of a Canada Post Mail Box in this photo:
Aaaand…here’s our problem. I don’t know if this is the specific mail box that Bland was thinking about when he wrote this scene. But if this is what we’re talking about for mail box placement, we got a big problem here. At this distance you’re going to have a hard time setting fire to a car.
I’m starting to think that Bland doesn’t know what qualifies as a ‘small bomb.’
***I’m going to throw out the caveat right now that these are modern photos here. The winter pics are from 2018, and the summer one is from 2019. Meanwhile, the novel was written in 2007-8. In the last several years Montreal has gone through a whole urban redesign thing, which had roads getting narrowed somewhat to allow for bike lanes. This is likely the reason why Bland assumes a car can be illegally parked without blocking traffic completely. Still, we’re talking about a part of the city where the sidewalks are wide and the mail boxes are next to the building, not at the edge of the road.***
We can extend Bland some leeway here. Maybe some jerk pulled his car up onto the sidewalk and went into the building to pick someone up (giving him an excuse not be in the car). So you got a car close to the mail box. To set that car on fire is going some serious explosive power.
We’ve already seen that Bland has a serious blind spot when it comes to understanding the deployment of car bombs and other such weapon systems. Explosives are complicated things requiring a serious level of technological and industrial capacity in order to mass produce for military purposes. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are thus, by their nature, dangerous and volatile weapons. They’re not the sort of thing you can keep sitting on a shelf in an armoury, waiting for the order to deploy it.
Then there’s the explosive itself. Accurately predicting how a bomb will go off and what effects it will have is extremely hard. The blast wave will be shaped by the environment around it. Shrapnel can fly in all sorts of directions (including around corners) and can shatter nearby objects which can in turn produce injury causing debris.
What’s worse is that the average civilian doesn’t understand exactly how powerful various types of explosives can be.
Source. (Warning: Several of the photos at this link include closeups of injured bombing victims.)
This is an image from the Boston Marathon Bombing of 15 April 2013, where two American youths of Chechen descent (who self-radicalized to an al Qaeda-type ideology) detonated a pair of homemade IEDs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, over a hundred were injured, among whom were seventeen people whose injuries would result in amputations.
The explosive component of these two IEDs was black powder (literally classic gunpowder), which the attackers obtained from commercial fireworks they had purchased from the store. Now black powder is considered a low explosive, meaning that it releases its energy at a slower, more consistent rate. It was estimated that each bomb contained approximately three pounds (1.5 kg) of black powder. Nevertheless, the resulting explosions shattered nearby windows and flung debris to a considerable distance, much like the explosion Bland is describing here.
This is what you can expect form a small bomb.
Now if you get into the field of high explosives, the capacity for damage goes way up. Just to give you a sense of scale, a C13 hand grenade weighs less than half a kilogram and has an explosive filler of only 185g. The majority of the weapon is the steel casing which contains the explosive and generates the fragments upon detonation. C4 plastic explosives which you might see in movies (it looks like a foot long rectangular stick of modelling clay) come in blocks that are 0.56 kg per block. So, assuming the bomb maker had the expertise to build it, a parcel the size of a hardcover book could contain enough high explosive to generate an blast of similar size but far greater lethality than the Boston Marathon attack.
I included a content warning for the link to the bombing photo for a reason. Although they’re not the most graphic images out there, a couple of the pics in that slide show include bombing casualties lying in the wreckage, or being carried away from the scene. In one of them, fresh blood can be seen splattered across the sidewalk. Although an explosion itself may seem sterile, and at a distance it may look like little more than a puff of smoke, up close it is a nightmare. The injured. The dead. Blood and body parts. This is why I included the number of casualties who ended up losing limbs.
This is the reality of a bomb attack.
I’m not sure what exactly to make of Douglas Bland’s gleeful descriptions in this section. On one hand, he seems to delight in inflicting suffering upon the sheepish people of Montreal. On the other, he seems almost dismissive of the actual threat. Only a ‘small bomb.’ Not something that could have been a real threat to a worthy nation.
I don’t think he fully understands the implications here.
***Today’s featured image (as well as the ‘Bomb Maker’) is from the 1966 film ‘The Battle of Algiers,’ where one of the infamous ‘handbag bombs’ is readied for deployment. Image taken from the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD.***
 For that matter, I don’t know if Bland actually recce’d the ground in person or if he just made assumptions.
 This was one of the big WTF? moments on my Basic Demolitions Course: Shrapnel can turn corners. Oh yeah. It can. Think of a poorly-made paper airplane. You may try to throw it so that it will fly in a straight line, but its irregularly shaped wings will catch the air and cause it to fly off in some unpredictable arc, sometimes even looping the plane around to land back at your own feet. Shrapnel can do the same thing. It’s an irregularly-shaped piece of debris tumbling through the air. If it has a flat enough surface to act as a plane against the air it’s passing through, then it can suddenly spin, loop or twist through the air, and even execute a turn that is 90 degrees from its original path. We were shown videos.
 Part of the significance of all this is the fact that it is basically impossible to build a harmless bomb for purposes of “sending a message.” Either the bomb will be too small to have any effect at all (eg: a firecracker in a dumpster) or too big so that it could potentially kill someone. Hitting that perfect mid-point is effectively impossible. Even in cases where warnings are sent in advance, there is no guarantee that the evacuation will happen in time. There is no such thing as a non-lethal bomb attack.
 This is what made black powder an ideal propellant for bullets. A low explosive generates its blast wave slowly, meaning that the bullet would be pushed with increasing velocity down the barrel of the gun. Whereas a high explosive could shatter the bullet and split the barrel open.
 The C13 hand grenade is essentially identical to the American M67 grenade, only a little bit lighter.
 In this regard, the handbag bombs carried by the women in the film ‘The Battle of Algiers’ are actually pretty realistic. Assuming these were high explosives (like TNT, which was readily available after WW II) then the bombs would likely contain 2-3kg, which could easily generate explosions big enough to devastate the cafes and clubs that were the targets.