by Pat Capponi (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2006)
I couldn't put down til I finished all of Capponi's nonfiction books: Upstairs in the Crazy House (1992), Dispatches from the Poverty Line (1997), The War at Home (1999), Bound by duty: walking the beat with Canada's cops (2000/2001), and Beyond the Crazy House: changing the future of madness (2003); so, it was a thrill to find her name on a paperback in the Mystery section of the Brittania branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
The themes Capponi explored so grippingly in the earlier books - realities of life among Canada's crazy, poor, and marginalized - serve her as a rich and believable source of background for genre fiction. And the safety of the genre may help her get her core message a lot further.
This mystery has many characters, and they work together to solve the case. There is also a lot of background of the community and its institutions, including the cheap Single Room Occupancy (SRO)living spaces; the local bar that serves breakfast; the local drop-in centre, its activities, and how its staff juggle the needs and eccentricities of the people who come there; and the way that different neighbourhoods of poor and richer exist side by side on the map and yet so far apart. There is also a secondary mystery in a richer venue that interlocks with the main one. The guilt (and sometimes the anger) of those who have more wealth upon looking in the faces of those who have less are touched upon. And so are the cops, who are not the enemy exactly, but they don't care for the marginal as much as the marginal care about each other. The marginalized are also very diverse, and so among them they can put together some interesting resources for their teamwork. As in Capponi's non-fiction, the writing is clear, to the point, vivid, and unsentimental, even about emotional matters. Overall, a satisfying read for fans of the mystery genre who prefer non-cozy settings and characters.
Pat's second mystery, The Corpse Will Keep, came out this year, 2008, and is previewed in the paperback of the first one. It has the same set of characters in a progression from their first escapade. Mystery publishers usually want an author to commit to a series of at least 3 novels with the same characters to get a contract, so we should be able to expect another one in the next couple of years.
Keep writing, Pat! You're a gem.