1620 Enter Sloan Donovan

To Those Who Killed Me
by J.T. Siemens

Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2022
$21.95 / 9781774390436

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

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Out for a run in West Vancouver, Sloan Donovan finds her friend Geri dead in her Audi convertible, an apparent suicide. That’s page one, and the running never stops as Sloane tries to discover the truth about Geri’s death as she simply doesn’t accept the idea that Geri killed herself. And in her quest, Sloan almost dies as her plan of action is to hurl herself into danger almost constantly.

A former police officer who left the force in disgrace (revealing severe problems within the organization), Sloane currently works as a personal trainer at a fictional posh country club called Hillside, whose model will be recognized by many people in Vancouver, especially anyone who plays tennis. One of the main characters and suspects is a tennis pro, named Dogger, whose coaching goes way beyond the tennis courts and into the beds of the wealthy female patrons of the club, especially the bored married ones.

J.T. Siemens. Photo by Tamea Burd Photography, Vancouver

The sense of local colour is strong, and it’s fun to see Vancouver presented as itself, even if the Vancouver presented is the mostly seamy underside whether the characters are rich or poor. Geri came from money, and while she lived a luxurious life with her business husband Grady, she gave back to the community by founding and running the New Ways Women’s Shelter, in the Downtown Eastside. Her adult daughter Darci also works there. J.T. (Jeremy) Siemens does a terrific job of juxtaposing the extreme wealth of the Hillside set and the utter poverty and hopelessness of the inhabitants of the Downtown Eastside.

Sloane’s fixation to the case is not her only obsession. She runs. She runs a lot, and at one point nearly destroys her body by running for hours, trying to escape the various demons of her life, mental illness a primary one. Substance abuse, especially alcohol, is another. And she suffers from crushing guilt regarding the death of her older sister, Steph. Sloane resists taking medication as it dulls her out, a not uncommon situation. On the positive side, she is smart and determined, dedicated to her friend Geri, who once helped her after a particularly difficult period in her life. Siemens weaves in the back story smoothly as he propels the current plot forward swiftly.

J.T. Siemens signing at Book Warehouse, Vancouver. July 2022

Violence marks the lives of many of the characters, especially women and girls, who are seen by some powerful figures as sex toys. Dogger is into kink of a particularly aggressive kind and has been accused of rape. And then as Sloane gets deeper into Geri’s death, she starts to uncover a drug ring. Those people do not wish to be caught, and violence ensures. But the violence isn’t gratuitous; it’s there to show the utter greed and depravity of people who victimize others.

Another aspect of this novel that is captivating, apart from the mystery itself and the local colour, is a sense of humour. For example, after being beat up and having her home trashed, Sloane tries to get a friend, a private detective, to get her a gun, saying, “C’mon, Wayne, don’t make me go to some biker bar in Surrey.” Siemens plays with familiar stereotypes, and while I have no experience of the lives he’s portraying, he creates an air of authenticity for place. Sloane is a bit too driven, and she survives attacks and her own self-destructive behaviour almost to the point of incredulity, but then that’s what some heroes do, I suppose.

To Those Who Killed Me is a wildly entertaining book, so when you pick it up, be prepared to be riveted. Get comfy, make some tea or coffee, and settle in for action-packed pages that will keep you glued to finding out what happened. And I’m hoping the ending has set readers up for more Sloane Donovan adventures.

*

Candace Fertile

Candace Fertile has a PhD in English literature from the University of Alberta. She teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria, writes book reviews for several Canadian publications, and is on the editorial board of Room MagazineEditor’s note: Candace Fertile has recently reviewed books by Pauline Holdstock, Ava BellowsBeth KopeGeoff InverarityAngélique Lalonde, and Jane Munro for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Jeremy (J.T.) Siemens at his launch, Vancouver Police Museum, June 2022
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