I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.
Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.
It was page 244 when I reached that spot—the place where I couldn’t read but I couldn’t not read. Where I would read a page or two, then close the book and try to calm myself for a few seconds before reading another page or two. That, to me, is the sign of a good mystery.
I really liked the main character, Evie. She was plucky, brave, and trusted her own instincts—not always easy when you’re 21—and although she questions herself occasionally and has the odd panic attack, she generally kept her head under pressure. It’s the non-pressure times when she has difficulties, when her imagination runs wild and gets the better of her.
What really sticks in my head about the book is the constant presence of threat in women’s lives—Charles Manson & Art Sawchuk in Evie’s mother’s life. Paul Bernardo in Evie’s work life (part of her job is to sit outside his house as the police look for evidence of murder) and an unknown stalker in her personal life; the murder of her best friend when they were little girls. That constant knowledge that as a woman you have to be careful and keep your wits about you. As Evie tells a fellow reporter in the bar one evening:
Here’s a handy rule of thumb for you. When you get attacked, it’ll be someone you know. So that’s comforting, right? I was explaining this to him since in a future lifetime he might have to be a girl, and if I didn’t tell him this stuff, how would he protect himself? Intimate partners = forty-five percent of assaults. Once you add in your pals, that guy who handed you a beer at the party, and creepy great-uncle Joseph, there’s almost no room left for strangers.
I remember the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka murder trials that Evie is covering for her newspaper. I’m sure many other younger Canadian women will remember the Pickton farm in the same way (especially since there was an episode of Criminal Minds that seemed to be based on the Pickton case). I also think of the many missing and murdered aboriginal women that white male politicians don’t seem to care about. It’s easy to say that missing women are not a problem when you’re not aboriginal and not a woman and are never going to be.
In The Gift of Fear, the author attributes a quote to Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” I don’t know if Ms. Atwood actually said this, but I think the second half of the statement holds a measure of truth. I think of how hard I have to work to avoid the creepy building super who calls me sweetheart instead of my name. And I ignore it because I may actually need that son-of-a-bitch’s help someday, when the heat goes wonky or the upstairs neighbour’s plumbing leaks yet again. And women all over the world are living this way. Evie’s father, her friend David, and the police all want her to be okay and feel safe, even when it’s obvious that she isn’t okay and definitely does not feel safe—pretty typical of the men in any woman’s life.
But I really do think that society is getting better at this stuff—police take stalking much more seriously than they used to, murdered & missing women are getting much more media coverage, and everyone is paying more attention to equality. Still, as Evie’s mother points out, women read a lot of true crime, probably as a survival manual.