The White Ribbon Man is a murder mystery set in Toronto. A woman’s body is found in the basement washroom of a downtown church. It is an Anglican church that welcomes homeless people for coffee and soup and it has a congregation made up largely of social activists. The discovery challenges a community that sees itself as a compassionate one. During the investigation, the reader gets to know something about the minister, an unlikely suspect, whose sleepwalking then casts suspicion on him. There is also a librarian who answered the classified ad in the G&M placed by another suspect. One of the wardens is an activist against violence against women and another parishioner was the neighbor and friend of the murdered woman.
The detective in charge of the investigation, Jack Cosser, is grappling with issues of his own that require him to question the balance between his work and his personal life. Other members of the congregation and the caretaker play minor but interesting roles as do members of the victim’s family. Her parents and brother are Jehovah’s Witnesses and the victim was defellowshipped from that church when she left her family as a teenager. It is ironic that the victim’s body is found in a church, the last place she would want to be.
Since this is a congregation made up of many activists, people of all sorts are welcomed. In addition to the issue of violence against women, the issues of racism and homophobia come up. One member is lesbian, another is gay. The member of the congregation who saw the killer with the body is a woman with cerebral palsy who has great difficulty communicating.
The mystery aspect has the right timing and complexity to keep the reader turning the pages. The murder causes people who once were comfortable with each other to become suspicious instead. Potential murderers range from the victim’s former husband to the church’s minister to a man who placed a personal ad that the victim, Marni, had answered. In addition, the handling of all these characters and their issues allows the reader to see the humanity and vulnerability of each one and the way in which as a community they support one another.