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Blue Moon

by James King

Blue Moon is the fictional memoir of a real person: the notorious Evelyn Dick. The glamorous young widow faced two criminal trials in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1946 – for the murder and dismemberment of her husband, and for the strangulation of a newborn son. She was convicted only of the latter crime. After serving a 12-year prison sentence, Evelyn Dick disappeared forever from public view.

James King, known for biographies of Margaret Laurence and Jack McClelland, here uses the relative freedom of the novel form to speculate on the lost details of Evelyn Dick’s life. His Evelyn describes a childhood destroyed by a domineering mother and abusive father, followed by a youthful career of maternally supervised prostitution. King’s Evelyn is a victim, even in her passing involvement with two murders.

But the fictive Evelyn’s life takes an astonishing turn following her incarceration. She journeys to Vancouver, where she falls into a bookselling job at Duthie’s, befriends writer Ethel Wilson, and eventually becomes a celebrated Canadian novelist under the name Elizabeth Delamere. Delamere’s psychoanalyst and literary executor, whose narration bookends the novel, reminds us that such things really can happen: the bestselling U.K. mystery writer Anne Perry was recently exposed as a teenage killer. Is the Evelyn-Elizabeth possibility, he asks, really so farfetched?

Yes. King’s writing, though fluent, is not skillful enough to make the story plausible. The characters speak in identical cadences. They eschew contractions and frequently spout tidy contextual paragraphs, variously full of historical information or trite Freudian explanations. King’s people are flat on the page: a deadly problem in a novel of nearly 400 pages.

With its film noir-ish title and timeless themes of sex and violence, Blue Moon appears to promise a juicy mystery. Instead, it made this reader feel a little tawdry: sorry for the liberties taken with what is, after all, a real human life, however flawed.