The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

March 19, 2011

REVIEW: FALL FROM GRACE by Wayne Arthurson

Leo Desroches is a hardened journalist, but he's been hardened by more than just the job. Leo is a gambling addict. He's lost his wife and children, his home, and his career to his addiction. But Lady Luck sometimes pays off, though never as much as one bets overall, and Leo at last has a job on a newspaper again. He's through living on the streets and is determined to stay clear of the casinos. But he's still addicted to playing the odds against enormous risks. Given the opportunity to write an investigative piece on the murder of a young native woman, Leo begins to find evidence of a serial killer at work for many years in Edmonton. The streetwalkers know it's true. The police staunchly deny it. When Leo gets his hands on a decades-old police file that could bring down the entire police command structure, he has to decide whether the odds on living much longer are in his favor.

Leo Desroches is an original. Not giving any spoilers here, but his unusual coping mechanism to keep himself out of the casinos is not one that will have people cheering for him, but it will keep readers on their toes. By the end of chapter three, Leo had me reeling and I knew I had to know all there is to know about this character. Leo is an ethnic blend of Cree and French-Canadian, but the Cree doesn't show up in his face. He knows next to nothing about his native heritage, and is uncomfortable with any effort to alter that, although he has some curiosity about it. The author explores his conflicted character in a way that stops well short of yawning angst, yet gives a fully developed portrait of Leo, his strengths, his weaknesses, and the out-and-out flaws that would make him impossible to live with. But in the course of his investigations, Leo finds in himself two dichotomous traits he may not have previously been aware of: mercy and retribution. (He's treacherous, too, as so many reporters are, but he's known that for a while.) Whether, at story's end, Leo has done right or wrong is almost irrelevant. What he does is true to his character: he plays the odds. The greater the risk, the more of himself he invests. And Leo bets it all, every time.

The author uses Leo's job and his heritage to touch on many issues throughout the story: how native people are portrayed in the media; the discrepancy in the depth of official investigations of the murders of whites versus a more shallow approach to the murders of natives are but two. Although he shines a light on official police tolerance of their own crimes, he fairly acknowledges the presence of the many good cops. Happily,
Leo's character never stretches into Super-Reporter. What Leo gets, he gets through old-fashioned scutwork or by being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Maintaining the authentic image of the daily grind of a newsroom while writing to a story arc is difficult to achieve, but Wayne Arthurson has done an excellent job. Leo is a fascinating character and Edmonton has much to offer as a new landscape for lovers of crime fiction.

Although Leo, in first person, occasionally wanders off into some light exposition, it's never for long (unlike a certain late Swedish reporter-turned-novelist). Action and dialogue and intriguing plot turns swiftly follow. FALL FROM GRACE is the first of at least two Leo Desroches books, so the style should become even smoother as the writer gains comfort in the long-fiction form.