The White Angel

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - KAREN MULVAHILL

John Ma­clach­lan Gray Dou­glas & Mcin­tyre (MARCH) Hard­cover $29.95 (296pp), 978-1-77162-146-5

A Scottish nanny is shot and dies in the home of her wealthy em­ploy­ers, ini­ti­at­ing the scan­dal that in­spired John Ma­clach­lan Gray’s novel The White Angel. It takes a sweep­ing view of life in Van­cou­ver in 1924. La­bor un­rest, enor­mous class dis­par­i­ties, and racial prej­u­dice all fig­ure into this thought­ful and en­ter­tain­ing novel.

Self-de­scribed “failed poet” and jour­nal­ist Ed Mc­curdy joins forces with a lo­cal con­sta­ble to fer­ret out the mur­derer of the nanny, Janet Stewart. In a sea of in­ep­ti­tude and cor­rup­tion, Con­sta­ble Hook smells some­thing fishy. His doubts, pub­lished by Mc­curdy, re­sult in a pub­lic out­cry for jus­tice.

The plot swings quickly from kid­nap­pings to in­ter­na­tional drug deals to vi­o­lence and romance as Mc­curdy and Hook seek the truth de­spite the ob­struc­tion of the coro­ner, the at­tor­ney gen­eral, the Van­cou­ver Po­lice, and Stewart’s em­ploy­ers.

Gray’s at­ten­tion to char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment yields fas­ci­nat­ing pro­tag­o­nists. Mc­curdy and his friend Spar­row make odd bed­fel­lows. Mc­curdy is cyn­i­cal, al­most cur­mud­geonly. Spar­row, half his face a tin replica cov­er­ing a war wound, is by con­trast com­pletely sin­cere about over­throw­ing the cap­i­tal­ists. Spar­row’s girl­friend Mil­dred, a bril­liant and un­der­em­ployed woman, dons var­i­ous cos­tumes as if try­ing on new lives. Hook, though a smart po­lice­man, is touch­ingly naïve where women are con­cerned.

Over the course of the novel, Mc­curdy comes to ap­pre­ci­ate the value of jour­nal­ism. He won­ders if be­ing a muck­raker might ac­tu­ally be bet­ter than be­ing a poet. His sum­mary of what he thinks of as bizarre times may ring dis­cour­ag­ingly fa­mil­iar:

The po­lice can no longer be trusted, the press no longer delivers facts, the le­gal sys­tem is bi­ased in favour of power and money, and the gov­ern­ing of the prov­ince is noth­ing but a cha­rade. The White Angel is a par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion.

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