12 March 2012

Countdown to Left Coast Crime - 17 days

Fall From Grace by Wayne Arthurson.

Leo Desroches is a reporter for an Edmonton newspaper.  When we first meet him, at a crime scene in a field just outside the city, we are told little else, except that he has A Past.  We learn more about him slowly, as the story develops.  Since the narrative is in the first-person from Leo's viewpoint,  he controls when and what information we receive.

One of the first things he shares is that he is a descendant of the people who settled the area,  not just those who came from Europe to hunt and trap, but those who crossed the Bering Strait, the aboriginals.  We soon learn that he knows little of the native side of his heritage, his mother having only recently acquired treaty status.

The book opens as he is invited by the ranking detective (in a move atypical for most law enforcement personnel) to view a murder scene in which the victim is a young native woman named Grace Cardinal.   When his editor learns of this, he assigns Leo to write a story that shows the humanity of the victim.

Completely coincidentally, the newspaper (which is never named) appoints Leo as their Aboriginal Issues reporter, and he meets people who had known Grace before she became a prostitute.  As he delves into Grace's background, he realizes that there might be much more to the story than he'd first imagined.

At the same time as he's investigating Grace's murder, he is attempting to rebuild his own life.  Exactly why this rebuilding is necessary is also shared with us a little at a time, but it's not a spoiler to reveal that Leo once had a gambling problem, which caused his wife to divorce him and distance herself and their children from him.  One of the reasons that Leo is working so hard to succeed at the newspaper is the possibility of rebuilding a relationship with his son and daughter.

As well as being a well-constructed mystery and an extremely well-written story, Leo's story  rings true to someone who grew up in the Edmonton area.  Although Leo's editor would fire me for drifting into personal territory, I have experienced the bitterly cold winters and have seen the inner-city homeless (both native and non) huddling in the foyers of buildings to keep from freezing to death. 

It is very true that aboriginals who have visibly native features are treated very differently from others, and Arthurson handles the delicate subject matter with tact and grace.  The continuing adventures of Leo Desroches are eagerly anticipated.

Photo by Maki Blazevski.

Wayne Arthurson is an aboriginal writer from Edmonton, Alberta. He has worked for newspapers, magazines, advertising companies, and as a freelance writer and ghostwriter. His first crime novel Fall From Grace was published in 2011, and the follow-up, A Killing Winter will be published in Spring 2012.

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