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The Ferryman Will Be There

by Rosemary Aubert

Since Ellis Portal, disgraced ex-judge turned street person, first emerged from his hovel in one of Toronto’s elaborate ravine systems in Rosemary Aubert’s first novel Free Reign, he has made great strides toward personal rehabilitation. In this third outing, the newly wealthy Portal (flush with funds from his ex-wife) finds himself assisting the police department to trace a witness to a high-profile murder that occurred during the Toronto International Film Festival.

The police hope that Portal’s intimate links to the street community, and especially to ex-street child Tootie Beets, his landlady, will enable him to locate the missing daughter of the murdered man. But Portal and Beets are distracted by a private developer threatening to take over the rooming-house Beets owns and manages, and in which Portal resides. And as if this imminent displacement were not enough to unnerve him, Portal is trying to cope with an amicable reunion with his estranged son and seriously missing the advice of his streetwise friend Queenie, who has returned to Moosonee to take a training course.

Aubert tells an intriguing and tangled tale that eventually winds its way through the city’s backwaters before resolving the mystery of the murder. Readers must be willing to buy into the story’s occasionally improbable characters and convenient coincidences. Aubert also shows a propensity to make references to Portal’s earlier adventures that may baffle new readers. However, there is little to dislike in this gentle tale that explores a side of Toronto few have seen and most could not fathom.