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Review: New small press books by Lori Shenher, Farzana Doctor, Jim Bartley

That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away

By Lori Shenher, Greystone, 348 pages, $32.95

A good cop comes to the sickening realization she's part of a bad system in former detective Lori Shenher's memoir, the true-crime account of her investigation into Vancouver's missing and murdered women and the police failure to stop serial killer Robert Pickton. In one sense a very specific story of individual women missing from the Downtown Eastside, their families and the botched Pickton investigation, there's no avoiding the larger context of reading this in 2015, knowing of the more than 1,100 missing or murdered indigenous women as reported by the RCMP. Shenher recalls, for instance, a chilling moment in 1998 when she learned that many Canadian police agencies did not keep records on the incidence of missing sex workers and did not consider that an issue. This is a much larger problem than one serial killer. A massively important, searing indictment of a society that allows such a human toll.

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All Inclusive

By Farzana Doctor, Dundurn, 296 pages, $22.95

All Inclusive is a double-helix of a novel: two connected strands of story intertwined. In one, 28-year-old Ameera has fled the emotional entanglements of an on-again-off-again relationship to find unexpected solace in the swinger's scene. Atlantis, the all-inclusive Mexican resort where Ameera works, seems the perfect place to cruise for like-minded couples – until someone lodges an anonymous complaint that puts Ameera's job on the line. The other strand concerns 29-year-old Azeez, a newly minted PhD who at the novel's outset surprises himself by successfully hitting on a girl. It's not giving away much to note All Inclusive involves the bombing of Air India Flight 182, an important point for placing this book in context. (Of the 329 people who died in that terrorist attack, 268 were Canadian. Why has Canlit produced so few stories on this tragedy?) An ambitious, thematically voracious novel on love and the wounds we didn't know we had.

Makarska

By Jim Bartley, Insomniac, 328 pages, $19.95

Fiction can handle atrocity; it's the internecine nature of the Bosnian War, no side innocent, that makes it daunting. Jim Bartley's success with his novel of the war's aftermath owes in part to narration that refuses to pick sides or claim objectivity. Makarska is the story of a family's return to the former Yugoslavia 13 years after fleeing to Toronto. It focuses on three men: Mirza, a young artist, Alex, his uncle, and Pero, his grandfather. Mirza has the greatest claim on protagonist, but it's Alex, the least Bosnian of them all (he's never lived there; the others survived the Siege of Sarajevo), whose narrative is first-person, while Mirza's and Pero's are in third. With that narrative choice the novel becomes a kind of reportage, its project to reserve judgment and bear witness. Makarska prods old scars but also contains moments of surprising tenderness, hinting, perhaps, at a path toward healing.

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