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Review: John MacLachlan Gray’s The White Angel turns deadly fact into a riveting thriller

The White Angel

By John MacLachlan Gray

Douglas & McIntyre, 296 pages, $29.95

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It takes a distinct talent to turn factual murder into fiction and playwright (Billy Bishop Goes to War) John MacLachlan Gray has it. The White Angel takes us to Vancouver in 1924 where Janet Stewart, a Scottish nanny, is dead, shot in the forehead. Who killed Janet and why? Gray tosses everything into the pot: criminal gangs, Chinese exclusionists, the KKK and a secret society. Anyone who ever thought Canadian history was boring should read this book. The real tale of Janet Stewart gets the plot moving but it's the fictional bits that really work. We open with a pair of undertakers en route to pick up the body. One is the real thing, the other, Ed McCurdy, is a failing poet who makes a living writing sensationalist journalism. This death, taking place in plush Shaughnessy Heights, is news. On hand for the police is Constable Hook, who watches as Janet's employer, doctor and another constable decide whether the death is suicide or a tragic accident. The case becomes a local scandal and then a national one, as politics enter the ring. The literary language and careful pace may put off some readers, but I found it tightly edited without a single extraneous page. One of the best novels of the year.

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