Cen­tury-old crime il­lus­trates class con­flict

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

be­gins in the mid­dle of Car­rie Davies’ story — the day she killed her em­ployer, Charles Al­bert (Bert) Massey, grand­son of the founder of the prom­i­nent farm equip­ment man­u­fac­turer and a cousin of fu­ture gov­er­nor gen­eral Vin­cent Massey.

The 18-year-old do­mes­tic ser­vant from Bri­tain ac­cused Bert of mak­ing im­proper sex­ual ad­vances. She con­fessed to the crime at the scene and was taken into po­lice cus­tody.

Gray had to rely on the re­port of the coro­ner’s in­quest and news­pa­per cov­er­age of the shoot­ing and trial as the ba­sis for the book. Fur­ther, in-depth re­search en­ables her to use Davies’ story to paint a pic­ture of life in Toronto in 1915.

She de­scribes build­ings and neigh­bour­hoods to set the scene, but she also touches on the tone of Toronto’s news­pa­pers, the work­ings of the court sys­tem and the so­cial strat­i­fi­ca­tions of city life.

As well, she pro­vides some na­tional and global con­text of the era. She high­lights the new fem­i­nist think­ing on ma­ter­nal is­sues, for ex­am­ple fresh milk for chil­dren and bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions for ser­vants (rather than wage par­ity and equal­ity).

Gray writes clearly, with a seem­ingly ef­fort­less flow as she moves from writ­ing about Car­rie and a de­scrip­tion of the no­to­ri­ously ter­ri­ble women’s jail, to some back­ground on Charles Massey and the on­go­ing Toronto news­pa­per war that made the crime no­to­ri­ous.

Gray also links the story to is­sues and con­cerns around im­mi­gra­tion, na­tion­al­ism and the Great War, which was then in its se­cond year.

Rather than be­com­ing con­fus­ing, each shift is done smoothly and shares in­for­ma­tion that deep­ens the reader’s un­der­stand­ing of the mur­der it­self as well as the is­sues of the day.

Gray moves through all the tech­ni­cal de­tails of the case without los­ing the reader’s in­ter­est, in­clud­ing the coro­ner’s in­quest, the hear­ing and the ar­raign­ment be­fore get­ting to the meat of the story — the trial.

The court­room was packed and the rev­e­la­tions from Davies’ tes­ti­mony elicited gasps from on­look­ers, but the ver­dict it­self caused the big­gest re­ac­tion from the cit­i­zens of Toronto.

A spe­cial touch is the chapter that fo­cuses on what hap­pened to the key play­ers in the story, bring­ing a sense of clo­sure to the tale.

In The Massey Mur­der, Gray shows real kind­ness and com­pas­sion, bring­ing a sense of hu­man­ity to a once-lurid tale from the tabloids.

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