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FALL FROM GRACE by Wayne Arthurson: Book Review

Every once in a while I open a first novel by an author and know within a few pages that I’m going to love that book. That happened to me when I read the opening chapter of Fall From Grace.

Wayne Arthurson’s protagonist is Leo Desroches, a journalist in Edmonton, Alberta.  He’s half Cree Aboriginal and half French Canadian, a man who takes medicine for an unnamed emotional illness, a divorced father of two who hasn’t seen his children in five years, and a compulsive gambler.  There’s only one problem, or at least it’s his most troubling one–whenever he’s stressed or trying to avoid his gambling compulsion, he robs banks.  Some people do yoga, Desroches steals money.

He’s also a first-rate newspaper reporter, trying to take advantage of a lucky break to get his career back on track.  He’s gotten another chance with an Edmonton daily because years earlier he had worked with the paper’s current managing editor at a small town weekly.  Shortly before the novel opens Desroches was a scab who crossed union picket lines during a month-long strike.  When the strike was over, he was invited to stay on as a reporter on the police beat.

As the book begins, Desroches is viewing the body of a young Indian woman who was strangled. Although assured by the police detective in charge of the case that all murder victims are equal and all police efforts are expended to find the murderer, Desroches believes that when the victim is “known to the police for her high-risk life style” (p. c. talk for being a prostitute), there is the feeling that she was partly responsible for her own death.

The more Desroches finds out about Grace, the murdered young woman, the more involved he gets.  After some additional research, he believes that the city of Edmonton has been stalked over a period of years by a serial killer whose victims are prostitutes, mostly Native Americans.  The police decry this theory, mainly because the city has never had a serial killer before; the murder of Grace Cardinal seems to fall through the cracks.

Following this story is proving hazardous to Desroches’ mental and physical health. During the course of the novel he’s beaten up and Tasered; so, of course, to relieve his stress, he robs two banks.  But nothing stops him from continuing to follow the story of the dead women.

Desroches is also trying to make amends to his wife and children for his abandonment of them.  Although he respects his wife and her ability to create a warm and safe home for their two children without him, he calls her in hopes that she will allow him a brief meeting with the children.  His evening with his adolescent son is one of the most touching in the novel.

Wayne Arthurson puts the reader into a big city in the Canadian prairie.  It has some of the problems that similar-size American cities have, but there are differences too.  Arthurson makes the most of his own ethnic background of Cree and French-Canadian parents by giving Desroches the same mix.  Desroches is battling a lot of demons, not all of which we understand, but we do understand that he’s pretty much an outsider in this Western Canadian place.  That can make it easier to be an objective journalist and make it harder to simply be a man.

You can read more about Wayne Arthurson at this web site.