Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Leave Me by Dying

by Rosemary Aubert

Prequels – the earlier adventures of a series character – are generally written after the author has exhausted the possibilities of the series or the age or personal circumstances of the featured character precludes further adventures. In Free Reign, Rosemary Aubert constructed the unique scenario of an aging, disgraced judge, Ellis Portal, emerging homeless from Toronto’s ravine system to solve a murder. She won high praise for her original take on contemporary social problems, and despite some improbabilities in the plot, the premise and character were intriguing enough to sustain two sequels.

In The Feast of Stephen and The Ferryman Will Be There, Aubert constructed two more socially oriented mysteries. These novels fleshed out Portal’s Italian immigrant background and documented his slow climb back to regular society, including his restored family ties and prospects of returning to the legal profession. But with his reversion to respectability, much of Portal’s appeal has vanished.

The newest in the series, Leave Me By Dying, is set in 1965 and finds the ambitious 23-year old law student lured to a meeting at the Toronto morgue by a fellow student from the WASP establishment. What follows is a series of missing bodies, mysterious trysts, law school politics, glimpses of the 1960s protest movements, and some seedy portrayals of the city’s thriving but hidden gay scene.

The whole mix of events is overburdened by lashings of Italian urban immigrant angst, sequences of redundant description, and an air of mystery that often leaves the reader more baffled than informed. Leave Me By Dying is not a bad novel, but it’s not remarkably good either. If this episode from Portal’s past is anything to go by, his future adventures hold little potential appeal.