1261 BC blues plague reading
Five Ways to Disappear
by R.M. Greenaway
(Book 6 in the BC Blues Crime Series)
Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2021
$19.99 / 9781459741560
Reviewed by Ginny Ratsoy
As one predisposed to mysteries on the cosy end of the genre spectrum (particularly during a seemingly interminable plague) I shrunk from the first chapter of this police procedural. A senseless and brutal early morning murder in suburban North Vancouver, conveyed in a gritty, even hard-boiled, tone, and complete with identification of the culprit, did not initially endear me to this, the 6th in Greenaway’s B.C. Blues Crime Series. Factor in that I hadn’t read the previous five, and I was clearly a tough sell.
Fortunately, by the end of the second chapter, I was considerably softened, lured by the recurring cast of police folk and the infusion of comic elements. Constables Cal Dion and JD Temple, with lead investigator Corporal David Leith, have murky backstories the reader wants to become more privy to, and the over-the-top murder weapon invites speculation that appeals to the black humour in us all.
As I read on, I came to appreciate the initially jarring experience of knowing the identity of the murderer when the police do not. It adds a level of emotional detachment, freeing the reader’s mind to analyze the logic and actions of the police in a way a conventional who-dun-it cannot. How could they seriously overlook that character as a suspect? How could they conclude that motive from the nature of the weapon?
Greenaway puts her experience as an independent court reporter to good use. True to police procedural form, Five Ways to Disappear follows the cop trio — whose career ambitions, chequered pasts and deep secrets unfold gradually — as they seek out and interrogate various likely and far-fetched suspects — from the victim’s family to next-door neighbours and co-workers to circus performers. Insight into police investigation process is detailed. For example, when investigating a second death that may or may not be related to the first and occurs at the site of a makeshift circus, they interview 102 witnesses. From a process perspective, the novel is nothing if not thorough.
Police procedurals also typically focalize setting, and Greenaway does a fine job of using existing and creating new elements of the location to both personalize and universalize. My knowledge of North Vancouver is vague, but I found her evocation of residential suburbs, in all of their mundane detail, particularly effective and appreciated her juxtaposition of them with the imaginative park where the circus — and the second murder — takes place. Forays into the surrounding territory — including more coveted and familiar parts of downtown Vancouver — also satisfy. Attention to quotidian details humanizes the plot.
Greenaway parallels the flights of the protagonist and the antagonist through, among other devices, nightmares. Those fixtures of mysteries provide plot exposition and character backstory, as well as inviting psychological analysis. Five Ways to Disappear opens with the murderer’s nightmare, but more dominant is the recurring nightmare of Constable Dion, who flees residences in a vain attempt to evade the ghosts that haunt him; in true genre form, at the novel’s end he appears to fully confront and act on the consequences of his actions. In fact, the murderer comes to a similar self-realization. Greenaway sophisticatedly balances good and evil, chillingly illustrating that the apparent opposites co-exist within each of us.
The pathos around the elderly murderer comes not only as his hard, unfortunate past is unveiled, but also through a redemptive thread in the present in which he is forced into a role that shapes him into extending practical consideration to a descendent who needs it. As that relationship develops, the antagonist goes beyond necessities into caring and unselfish realizations that put the welfare of that child before his own.
Further relief from a stark worldview comes from the eccentric and at times whimsical relationship between Dion and Bianca, whom Dion meets through a chance encounter that borders on the surreal. The liaison proves transitory, but in addition to lightening the tone, it is meaningful to Dion’s sense of societal responsibility. I must add that the mystery around this sprightly woman, kept from the reader until the end, has a resonance of its own.
The gritty tone of Five Ways to Disappear is mitigated through humour, engaging subplots, and modulated characterization. R.M. Greenaway — one of multiple mystery mavens writing from Nelson, BC — evokes compassion through an occasional softness that intrudes suddenly and startlingly like a warm sun into a frigid winter day.
Ginny Ratsoy is Professor Emerita at Thompson Rivers University. Her publications (co-authored and edited and co-edited books and numerous peer-reviewed articles) have focused on Canadian novels, theatre, small cities, third-age learning, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Her recent focus has been on maintaining a growth mindset and promoting third-age learning as a corrective to societal ageism. Editor’s note: Ginny Ratsoy has recently reviewed books by Barbara Black, J.G. Toews, Iona Whishaw, Wayne Grady, Angie Abdou, Josephine Boxwell, Caroline Adderson, Melanie Jackson, and Estella Kuchta.
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