Tuesday, May 13, 2014

YOU GOTTA READ: Wayne Arthurson's Fall From Grace

I reread Wayne Arthurson's excellent Edmonton crime novel Fall From Grace over the weekend. It had been on my mind a lot since the the RCMP confirmed that over 1,000 aboriginal woman had been murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012.
Fall From Grace came out in 2011, which means that Grace Cardinal--the aboriginal woman whose death sets the book in motion--would have been included in that count (if she wasn't a fictional character, of course).
I've read a lot of crime novels, but I haven't read as many Canadian crime novels as I'd like (though I'm working on it, I'm working on it!). Even still, FFG is the most Canadian crime novel I've ever read. Arthurson's hero, Leo Desroches, is the white-looking son of a Cree mother and a French-Canadian father. He's not a cop, he's a newspaper reporter. He's also one of the most likable crime novel protagonists I've come across (though Deryn Collier's Bern Fortin is a serious contender in that department, too). He's smart and funny, and most importantly, he's chatty in the way that most real newspapers I've known are. He's an explainer, maybe even a mansplainer. And he's flawed, oh Lord, is he flawed. Some of the moves he pulls over the course of the novel, you just wanna grab him by the collar and shout "Smarten up, dum-dum!" until you're blue in the face. But what makes him Canadian in a way that I've never seen done in a crime novel before is his ability, his willingness, to be objective and humane--for a moment, anyway. In the book's climax, when Leo finally confronts the killer, he pauses to consider how
Killers like [REDACTED], or any of those others like Picton, Bernardo, or Olsen, weren't necessarily monsters. They weren't agents of the devil or the result of mutated DNA. They were human, just like the rest of us, with the same fears, the same ability to rationalize their actions, and sometimes, the same hopes to do the right thing.
But I still wanted to kill him. 
Likewise, Leo can see how the system, from social services and schools to the police, has systematically failed Aboriginal women in Edmonton and across Canada, but he also makes sure to point out how many good people are honestly working within the system to do the right thing.
In one way it takes some of the edge off things to present such a balanced, fair point of view, but in another the trope of the lone serial killer lets the rest of us off the hook a little too easily. Don't let the northern climate and likeable protagonist fool you, this is deep Noir.

Wayne Arthurson tackles the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada head on, while still delivering an excellent and entertaining crime novel. It's a tricky balancing act, but he pulls it off.

Leo Desroches had another adventure in 2012's A Killing Winter, a book I gotta get off my butt and read already. Here's an excerpt at Criminal Element that really gets across how likeable Leo is and how well Arthurson writes Edmonton.

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