Review of The White Ribbon Man. by Edward Brown

Murder in the Church

A Kill, a Cop

and a Sleep Walking Priest

 

Shoehorned in behind Toronto Eaton Centre—a modern glass and steel edifice where shoppers worship en masse at the altar of consumerism—sits The Church of the Holy Trinity, AD 1847. For more than a century and a half the Anglican Church, the fictional setting for Mary Lou Dickinson’s (One Day It Happens, Ile D’or, Would I Lie to You?) murder mystery, The White Ribbon Man, has experienced more than its share of indignities.   

The old grey church in the square has never had an easy go of it. The Gothic Revival structure was originally constructed on swampy land at the forested outskirts of a fledgling city with funds bequeathed to the Toronto diocese by an English heiress who wouldn’t survive past her twenty-fifth birthday. Eventually situated in a slum neighborhood known as The Ward, Holy Trinity fast became a life raft for an impoverished community drowning in urban squalor.

Throughout its long history and up to the present, Holy Trinity has faced threats from fire, the wrecking ball, expropriation, and bankruptcy. A couple of years ago an arsonist tried, but mercifully failed, to torch the place of worship. If that weren’t bad enough, ongoing construction in the vicinity appears to have caused significant structural damage to sections of the church’s limestone walls.

For 171 years Holy Trinity has taken these abuses in stride. Then along comes Dickinson’s page turner. The novel opens pleasantly enough on a sunny, autumn Sunday morning as regular congregants and strangers alike greet one another in the welcoming, inclusive spirit that defines Holy Trinity. Pleasantries are quickly dashed when, minutes before the service is to commence, a congregant discovers the fashionably dressed corpse of Marni Atchison, an outcast from a religious organization known for sermonizing on porches and crowded sidewalks, her stylish, red heels jutting from under a bathroom stall in the basement.   

Will the indignities ever end?

To solve the crime Dickinson adeptly plugs into the veins of activism that course through the congregation. Parishioners may be alarmed by the heinous crime that has occurred in their house of worship but they refuse to cower. While some make efforts to clear their name, with the assistance of kindly homicide detective Jack Cosser and partner Steve Reid whose sexual orientation is currently in flux, sleuthing members set out to solve the murder.

The White Ribbon Man disposes of predictable mystery novel devices and unlike some authors working in the genre today who revel in scripting pages of gory violence, Dickinson’s approach falls closer to an old school Dashiell Hammett potboiler, minus the hardboiled detective and foreboding mood. Instead of plucking characters straight out of central casting like a gruff, jaded homicide detective or the benevolent and wise clergyman, Dickinson turns these types on their head.

There is no getting around the fact that Detective Cosser is, well, a swell guy. Heck, he’d rather have a soothing spot of chamomile tea over black coffee any day. Cosser’s marriage may have flat-lined, a casualty of the emotional toll his grisly occupation can have, but not once does he trash talk his ex to fellow officers or the couple’s preteen daughter who Cosser loves to bits.  

The author gives Father David, the collarless, blue jean wearing priest a similar refreshing treatment. The man leading the flock is self-absorbed, insecure and suffers from chronic somnambulism. Throughout, the sleepwalking priest struggles to fill sizable gaps in his memory, wide enough to navigate Noah’s Ark through. Is he the culprit? Not even Father David can say for certain.

Rosemary the sleuthing librarian may be the best hope for solving the homicide but admittedly, her crime fighting knowhow is limited to skills gleaned from episodes of Homicide, Life on the Street. Did Rosemary encounter the killer after responding to a personal ad in the classifieds agreeing to a luncheon date with a redheaded stranger, a white ribbon pinned to his lapel? Was she the intended victim? Is the key to tracking a killer lie with Ardith, nonverbal and confined to a wheelchair vis-à-via Jimmy Stewart’s character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window?                 

The plot of Dickinson’s thriller is not complex. She writes with intentionality leaving nothing to chance. The author’s strength lies in fleshing out diverse characters who display the best, as well as the most deplorable aspects of human nature. Although events unfold primarily in the church, in respect to the institution, The White Ribbon Man is not reverential. However, there are moments when the reader is subjected to what feels like mini sermons on Dickinson’s behalf. For example, upon arriving at the crime scene Detective Cosser observes the crowd of homeless milling about and laments, “Soon winter will come and one of these men could die of the cold out there.”

In the end, The White Ribbon Man provides a sobering parable reinforcing lessons on the destructive nature shame can wield over individuals obsessed with hiding past deeds and the blinding influence of hypocrisy.

 

Edward Brown is an author and freelance writer. His work appears in the Globe & Mail, Torstar, Spacing Magazine and other publications.  

 

 

Posted on July 9, 2018 .

Brief Book Review. Judy Rebick's "Heroes In my Head."

What a powerful book Judy Rebick’s “Heroes in my Head” is. Thanks to her for writing it. It’s dynamite. And I’m sure will have an impact. With the #MeToo movement changing the conversation so that women are heard and believed, this book has arrived at just the right time to make waves. A page turner! I kept on turning those pages as if I had nothing else to do. I admire Judy’s courage and am in awe of all that she has thus far accomplished, not least of which is/was the courage to face her childhood abuse and to deal with and integrate her alters. Bravo!

Posted on April 10, 2018 .

BLURBS for "The White Ribbon Man."

These are some of the blurbs I have received for my mystery novel that will be published imminently.  There are likely a couple more blurbs upcoming, but I wanted to get these up and visible to rouse your interest. I am delighted with the comments because they are insightful and honest and come from people whose work I admire.  .

After a woman is found dead in a downtown church basement, nearly everyone becomes a suspect. Dickinson deftly takes us into the world of a social-justice community and their struggles to cope in the aftermath of violence. When a writer and cop unintentionally team up, imagination and evidence blur. This is a page-turner with an unexpected plot-twist that will leave the reader guessing until the very end. 

Farzana DoctorAuthor of All Inclusive, Six Metres of Pavement, Stealing Nasreen

 

An insightful and contemplative literary mystery that is steeped in religion, lost loves, loneliness, and the desire for companionship and meaning in life. A beautifully written poignant and touching exploration of human hopes and frailties.

Lisa de Nikolits. Author of No Fury Like That, The Nearly Girl, Between the Cracks She Fell & four other novels.

A well imagined story of how a horrible crime not only upends lives, but the trust of a community. In The White Ribbon Man, Mary Lou Dickinson also explores the mental and emotional injuries that children suffer under the unrelenting demands of fundamentalist religion. It’s a book that will leave you thinking.\

Ken Murray. Author of Eulogy (a novel).

NOTE: You are welcome to come to the Inanna Spring Book launch on Thursday, May 3rd from 6 - 8:30 p.m. at the Women's Art Association, 23 Prince Arthur Avenue, Toronto

Posted on March 31, 2018 .

Upcoming Launch. May 3, 2018

Fast approaching is the launch of my mystery novel, The White Ribbon Man. It will be held at the Women's Art Association at 23 Prince Arthur Avenue, Toronto as part of an Inanna Publications Spring launch. So mark the date, May 3rd, and the time 6 p.m . and come out and welcome the new books of five Inanna authors. 

 

 

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Posted on March 23, 2018 .

LONELINESS

I used to think I knew all there was to know about loneliness. That was a long time ago. What i did know was that then it was like a disease. You could not mention it because the other thought they might catch it or that they were expected to solve it for you. Finally it became clear that if someone would hear the statement, the loneliness would evaporate. In other words, listen! Later I learned that to deal with feeling crappy and alone, if I had three things in a day I would be fine. Some meaningful social contact, even with a stranger on some days. Physical exercise. And for me, learning something new every day, however small. Since then I do not feel lonely most of the time even though what I do in my life is very isolating. I write. Of course, I can also converse with my characters! But real people are more important!!!

 

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Posted on March 11, 2018 .

Discover My Books!

Posted on March 2, 2018 .

New Book Coming Soon!

Mary Lou Dickinson returns soon (May, 2018) with her fourth book, a mystery, “The White Ribbon Man.” This book, set in Toronto, highlights a city that has become one of the best in the world! Win the appreciation and plaudits of your friends when you suggest, or give, this book to them.

In “The White Ribbon Man,” a woman who walks into a church to use the washroom sees a terrifying scene. On the floor, she sees legs sticking out of one of the washroom’s stalls.

The woman screams!

Others come!

Police are called!

Who is the woman?

No one knows.

There is no identification, just an empty purse.

What happened to her?

Who are the people in this church on a November Sunday morning? And how do they react?

You will soon be able to read Dickinson’s new book to find out.

 Cover image: Who is she? What happened to her?

Cover image: Who is she? What happened to her?

Posted on September 18, 2017 .

Mortality and Death.

I am going to write about death. Why? At 80, I think about it. Not a lot, Not as much as you might expect at this age because I am too busy doing what I enjoy. It is, however, an inevitable reality. No escape. I might hope to live another 10, 15, even 20 years in good health, but most would agree that might be unreasonable. And if truth be told, while I used to have goals with 5 and ten year horizons, I take each day as it comes now. I do have goals, but they do not take away from ongoing pleasure, nor are they set in stone. What I get done, or do, I am glad about. If I were to die tomorrow, I would do so without regrets. I have had a good life. I guess I would regret that I would not be here to see my young grandchildren grow up and that they would not have the fun of my presence. Yes, I regret that when I think about it. But the antidote is to love them and see them as much as is possible now when none of them live in the same city. 

This interest in death was spurred on of late after reading the review of a book by Irving D. Yalom entitled "Staring At The Sun; Overcoming The Terror Of Death." I wanted to read it because while I don't feel terror at the thought of death, the thought of dying does plague me at times. The thought of being in pain, of losing my independence, etc., does frighten me because it is a great unknown, but the thought of simply not existing any more does not. I suppose it did when I was young enough to know I would regret some things. But since I have lived my life in such a way as to fulfill my dreams, to have satisfying relationships with my family, to have good friends, to be physically active, I don't know what more I could wish for. I have three lovely grandchildren (ages 5 months to 19),I travel a bit, have books published and another about to come out. All in all, I consider myself amazingly fortunate. 

What is death? Some have the belief that there is life everlasting. Others in reincarnation. Others in total nothingness. I am not sure what it means to die. I will die. I will be gone. But I have made some kind of small impact on the people closest to me. I won't be forgotten easily for a long time. That feels like enough. Perhaps people will go on reading my books. Who knows! But I have written them and they have been published and as recently as today in a yoga class a woman came over to me to tell me she had read my novel, Ile d'Or during the summer. She gave positive feedback. A satisfied reader. 

So, I do not feel that I have to overcome the fear of my own death! I do feel that I will be devastated by losses along the way, another kind of terror of death, I suppose.. But I go on living my life, trying to be a gentle and kind person, loving family and friends, and continuing with my writing. At the moment, that writing constitutes this blog post. Will I write more about death? I don't know. I am a lot closer to the end than I have ever been. When will that happen? How? I hope the people I love know that I don't have regrets and that I love them. I do tell them, but I hope it carries them through in some way to know this. Through my death. And through their own lives as they live them. With the knowledge that while everyone may need to look at the terror of death, it is possible to live without that fear being ever present. Especially if they are living examined lives and have a sense of meaning and purpose. 

These are my words about death today. Maybe there will be more!

 

Posted on September 14, 2017 .

Life of a Writer: Writing a Memoir. Who Does This?





Apparently a lot of people write memoirs. With some, they can finally tell a story that promotes healing for them. For me, it has been a long journey, often wondering whether my story was/is sufficiently interesting for a memoir. Well, whether it is/was or not, it is now almost finished. Recently, I revised with the aim of cutting at least 30,000 words. It might benefit from more than that, but as I go through it now it has become harder to eliminate further. I have managed, however, to change the focus and to start from the beginning with that in mind. The title has also changed more than once. I like the present one and hope that it will stick.

The most recent title is "Now Or Never." My friend, Michele, in Montreal liked it better than the previous title, "Better Late Than Never," and after some thought, I made the change. Your comments on this are welcome. The title before this massive revision was "Restless." That no longer seemed to fit. So I moved the prologue well on into the manuscript and wrote a new one. I am not ready to share it yet, but probably will at some point.

Such is the life of a writer. Even though the fourth book, a mystery, will be launched next spring, there are (I still have) qualms and questions about the next. C'est la vie.

Posted on July 22, 2017 .

The Writer's Life. Revision #2.

45,000 words to cut. Score card. 22,000 done, 23,000 more to go.

Question: "Can I cut 1000 words before breakfast?"
Answer:   "Done!"

Of course, it is not quite that arbitrary or easy, but once the knife has been sharpened it starts to get easier.

"There, you were a good sentence, still are, but you don't really belong here."
Ruthlessly I draw the delete line  through the words of that sentence and it is gone.

Then : Breakfast!

More to come soon... Or go...



Posted on June 6, 2017 .

Moosemeat Writing Group Annual Chapbook Readings: June 2, 2017.


Moosemeat Writing Group annual chapbook launch, will occur on June 2d, Friday from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at The Supermarket at 268 Augusta Ave.,Toronto

This event has become a tradition for the Moosemeat Writers. The 14th year of the chapbook! Always a celebratory event and fun for attendants as well with short readings by the writers who have items in the chapbook. And prizes for those who come out and answer trivia questions!!! Chapbooks are for sale at a low and affordable price. I think it is $2.

Come on out and join us. I will be there. And I will be one of the readers.

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Posted on May 29, 2017 .

The Writers' Life. Toronto Events. Spring 2017





If you are in Toronto, please note you are invited to my appearance on May 10th at the Brockton Writers Series (BWS) along with Ayesha Chatterjee, Ian Keteku, Gregory Scofield and a special guest talk, “From Tarot to Creativity”, by Hoa Nguyen. The Brockton Writers Series event is on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.in the new home of the BWS, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, (PWYC). If you are not in the area, I thought you would be interested in this event as an update to what I am doing these days.

I did a talk about my writing for the Friendship Force Toronto Club recently as well as reading and speaking  at the Rowers Reading Series and a Toronto book club in the winter. If you have been a follower of the Moosemeat Writing Group annual chapbook launch, or if you are interested in coming out to it, that event will occur on June 2d, Friday from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m.at The Supermarket at 268 Augusta Ave.,Toronto

And...on a personal note, a new granddaughter was born to Therese and Phil in Montreal on April 23rd and joins my two grandsons, Max (Andrea & Mark) and Maurice (Phil & Therese).



Daniel Perry writes (on the BWS blog): Mary Lou shared a sample from an unpublished memoir ahead of her May 10 visit to Brockton Writers Series. Enjoy!

Excerpt from a chapter titled “Graveyard Shift”

 The mine was twenty miles from town and on the graveyard shift, the bus driver picked me up on the highway near our house and dropped me off on desolate mine property at close to midnight along with all the men who worked underground.

On the first day, I was introduced to Alice, an older woman who would train me. She spoke no English so my facility in French improved quickly. Before the end of the summer, I had started to dream in French most of the time.

On two of the shifts, I often worked with women other than Alice who spoke openly about their lives. They were not much older than me, but they were either involved with boyfriends or married and their conversation was quite lurid, replete with the kinds of jokes and descriptions that most people imagine happen only in men’s locker rooms. I soon learned that women  could also be  crude in their discourse, telling their own off colour jokes, competing over the length of their partners’ penises, using  words like ‘cock’ to  describe them.

“You ought to see it,” one woman was fond of saying in quite a loud voice. “Must be 7 or 8 inches. Never saw anything like it before.”

They exuded pride, a significant sniff with head thrown back, if they could give a measurement larger than the colleague who had just spoken.

At first I was not sure what they were talking about, but I was not going to let anyone know that. Or I did know really, but had never experienced what they were describing and did not have a clear idea of what such a cock would look or feel like, not like the little dinkies I saw in the younger boys like my brother, running to the bathroom trying to hide their private parts.

At the assay lab, I also learned some useful things about mining from testing the samples and even knew the value of what was being dug out under the surface.  In the days and evenings, I always worked with others, probably because there was more work to do then. On the graveyard shift, from midnight to eight in the morning, I was alone. And I was aware that anyone could break into the small building across from the mill on this isolated mine property and attack me. It took a while to stop jumping nervously when I heard any sound. But the only man who ever came to the door that I locked from the inside during those long nights knocked first with a sound that I soon learned to recognize. He always arrived at the same times, twice during each shift. As soon as I opened the door, he greeted me.
Bonjour,” he usually said before handing over small brown paper bags that contained the samples I was to process.
As soon as he left, I weighed out tiny quantities from each bag on an old scale with a pan on one side and the weights to be adjusted on the other and put them into separate beakers. There were precise amounts required, as well as certain acids to test for lead, zinc and copper.
Etc...
Posted on April 21, 2017 .

Life of a Writer. An Update. Point of View. POV. March 2017

As I prepare for the publication of my next book, a mystery with the title THE WHITE RIBBON MAN (2018), I have been writing short stories. These stories are primarily from the first person point of view, although they are fiction. It is a challenge for me to write from this POV, but I am having fun doing so. Usually when I try it, people in my writing groups suggest that the third person might work better. In many cases, it has done so and I have followed their suggestions. This time I am determined to leave the series I am working on in the POV I have chosen for it, so it will be interesting to see what my colleagues have to say.

One piece was critiqued a couple of weeks ago in my small writing group of women with at least two books each. They actually liked it and never suggested a different POV, but made helpful suggestions to improve it as it was presented. It will be interested to see what the other group thinks of the next story in this series. A group composed of a different demographic, but just as interesting and helpful with their critiques. I don't usually submit the same work to both groups, but I have when I think the feedback might be different and helpful for that reason.

I have been reading short stories again as a prelude to this period of writing. I particularly liked Norman Levine many years ago and went back to his work to see what I thought. Far more complex than I remembered, but still about rather ordinary people in rather ordinary circumstances, if not entirely ordinary nonetheless times and experiences of many people in the days written about. I liked the stories just as much on a later reading! Other writers as well, ones I may mention later in another post. Or not!
Posted on March 6, 2017 .

MERRY CHRISTMAS! 2016.

Happy and Healthy New Year to everyone who happens to drop by. I hope your year has been meaningful and healthy and that the challenges in 2017 you will be able to manage. I look forward to another interesting year and hope that it will include time with grandchildren (the two boys who live in different places, one in Montreal and the other in Blenheim - below), a bit of travel and completion of some more writing projects.  At the moment, a mystery is scheduled to come out in 2018 and I have just submitted a memoir.
Maurice's drawings.

Maurice.

Max and Grammaloutoo
Posted on December 22, 2016 .

LITERARY TALKS: Toronto

LIFE INSTITUTE

 
 

24 November 2016

LIFE BULLETIN:
LITERARY TALKS
A series of author readings and presentations of books, plays, and poetry

Presented as part of the year-round Programs for 50+ Lecture Series

Date: Friday, December 2, 2016
Time: 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Location: Ryerson University
Admission is free
Register now: ryerson.ca/ce/literarytalks

Join us for a special Literary Talks session as we discuss novels written by two of our very own LIFE Institute members, Kenneth Smookler and Mary Lou Dickinson.

Farr and Beyond: Lawyers for the Otherworldly*

Kenneth Smookler's first book, Farr and Beyond: Lawyers for the Otherworldly, is a wonderfully inventive comic fantasy that applies Ken's knowledge of the law to our most familiar and beloved tales with hilarious results. When Jack chopped down the beanstalk, where might it have landed and could issues of negligence be involved?  Might Captain Hook have had a legal case against Peter Pan for the loss of his hand in their duel?

Kenneth Smookler, Q.C. has practiced law at every level of court, from Magistrate's Court and Small Claims up to the Supreme Court of Canada, written for varied periodicals, and lectured for many decades.  But now Ken has moved on in an exciting new direction as a writer.


Would I Lie to You?*
Mary Lou Dickinson's latest novel Would I Lie to You, is an authentic and moving story that explores the reality of family secrets -- huge issues that are kept quiet under the veneer of polite society and that affect the individuals and families involved for generations.  The novel also raises the question of who is family and how do we create one.

Mary Lou Dickinson studied Arts at McGill University and Library Sciences at the University of Toronto.  She has participated in many workshops and residencies in creative writing and has been a member of the Moosemeat Writers Group since 2005.  Her fiction has been published in the University of Windsor Review, Descant, Waves, Grain, Northern Journey, Impulse, and Writ.

*Available for purchase at event.


Part of the year-round 50+ Lecture Series presented by Programs for 50+ at
The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education
ryerson.ca/ce/programs50plus
For more information contact:
Mena Carravetta
Tel: 416.979.5000 x3850
mena.carravetta@ryerson.ca
 
MC/rb


 
 The LIFE Institute - 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5B 2K3
telephone: 416.979.5000, ext. 6989     web: www.thelifeinstitute.ca
Ryerson Chang School logo



Posted on November 24, 2016 .

An Evening with Author Mary Lou Dickinson. Oct. 25, 2016




An Evening of Secrets and Revelations with Author Mary Lou Dickinson

Tue Oct 25, 2016
7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
60 mins
Join author Mary Lou Dickinson as she reads from her novel "Would I Lie to You?" and discusses her writing process. "Would I Lie to You?" explores the reality of family secrets hidden under the veneer of polite society that can affect families for generations. Who is a family and how do we create one?

Copies of the book will be available for sale.

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMEVT260905&R=EVT260905


Posted on September 15, 2016 .