Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alone In The Classroom-Elizabeth Hay

Alone In The Classroom
Elizabeth Hay
Quercus, Aug 1 2014, $24.99
ISBN: 9781623651053

In 1937 Ontario, schoolgirl Ethel Wier picks berries.  Not long after she started, someone brutally murders her; leaving behind her battered body, two pails and berries.  The murder is identical to that of a killing almost a decade earlier in Saskatchewan.

In the present historian Anne Flood reads newspaper articles written by her aunt Connie the journalist.  In 1929, eighteen year old Connie Flood became a teacher in Saskatchewan.  Her principal Parley Burns takes a special interest in her as he seems to do with all the young females (staff and students) in the school.  Once a failed thespian and playwright, Parley loves the theater.  Not surprising, the principal directs Hardy’s classic Tess of the d'Urbervilles starring thirteen-year-old Susan Graves.  Like a Svengali to Susan’s Trilby (see Trilby by George du Maurier), he shapes the teen into what Parley believes is a star.  Meanwhile Connie recognizes that Susan’s older brother Michael is not a menacing retard, but instead an intelligent person who learns for some unknown reason differently than the norm.  As she works and encourages him, a tragedy forces a mass exit from the province.

In 1937 Ontario, Connie the reporter runs into Parley just after Ethel’s vicious homicide.  She realizes raging martinet Parley had opportunity in both cases, but lacks substantive evidence to accuse him.

This enthralling twentieth century murder epic is not an easy read with switching time periods and an absorbing point of view.  Character driven by a deep cast (to include the narrator), readers will believe we were transported to the Depression Era Canadian Plains as Elizabeth Hay provides a compelling literary mystery.

Harriet Klausner

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