CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 32. . . .April 19, 2013
Following on the author’s Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death: The Story of Steven Truscott, this is another story of a Canadian wrongfully convicted of murder, in this case Donald Marshall, Jr., convicted of stabbing to death Sandy Seale in Cape Breton in 1971. The book follows Marshall’s story from the fateful night described above, to the sloppy, prejudiced police investigation, to his lengthy incarceration, his appeal, and finally his vindication by a Royal Commission.
While a familiar story to adult Canadians, especially through the book, Justice Denied and subsequent NFB film of the same name, this book is a welcome attempt to bring the story to today’s teens. Told in a style that alternates between simple narrative, background facts, and chilling foreshadowing of Marshall’s well-known fate, the book builds an elegant, if stilted, case for Marshall’s innocence and the guilt of all those charged with the investigation of the murder. Swan recreates scenes from Royal Commission documents, and some imagination, to portray the foibles of all involved, especially the hectored and intimidated witnesses, two of whom lied and said they’d seen Marshall stab Seale. Swan also tackles the delicate subject of racism and manages to convey the facts of racial tension without too much hype. Contrasting Native stereotypes with the gentler reality, and ascribing the White prejudice of the era to the poverty of post-industrial Sydney, Swan makes a point of mentioning Marshall’s later fight for Native fishing rights, and the recent economic success of the Membertou Reserve in which Marshall grew up.
Containing some occasional unclear points, and perhaps a little too much drama, the book could have been a little better edited. One complaint in particular is the constant use of italics to convey various characters’ thoughts in the third person rather than “quoting” them in the first person as is the convention. For example, Sydney Police Sergeant John MacIntyre, while pondering the case, is described as thinking There was something about it that the senior police officer [MacIntyre] could not quite believe. However, the important subject matter, meticulous research, and ultimately balanced portrait of the flawed man Marshall was makes this an engrossing and enlightening read for curious teens.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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