cover image Free Reign

Free Reign

Rosemary Aubert, 5 Continents Editions. Bridge Works Publishing Company, $21.95 (321pp) ISBN 978-1-882593-18-7

Ellis Portal, who only five years earlier was one of Toronto's most able and respected judges, is now a derelict living in a packing crate in a remote area of one of the city's parks. But a bizarre discovery forces him to confront his past. While preparing his illicit garden in the park, Ellis discovers a hand, severed at the wrist, wearing the distinctive ring of a secret fellowship to which he belonged. There were only five members, all white. The hand is that of a black man. Reluctantly and with justified paranoia, Ellis is drawn back into the society that branded him a felon, put him in a mental institution and precipitated his fall. To find a murderer, he forms a liaison with those he knows best, the homeless of Toronto, and teams up with a persistent reporter who has her own vital connections. Their prying leads them to a solidly funded and seemingly respectable halfway house for pregnant teenagers. Why have so many of them disappeared? How are his former friends, now in positions of considerable power, involved? Why Ellis chose to become an outcast is never addressed in a satisfying manner. But a truly frightening scenario unveiled by this introspective judge, a feisty reporter and an array of shrewd street people makes this mystery debut nearly irresistible. (May) FYI: Rosemary Aubert is a Toronto-based criminologist and the winner of the 1994 Arthur Ellis Award (the equivalent of an Edgar) for best crime short story of the year.