The Weather of Hangmen.
Review by Deborah Mervold.
In the cooling period between the alleged crime and the trial, rescheduled for April, the world as it touched on the Luckey tragedy settled once more into comfortable routine. The case had all but disappeared from the papers, the occasional tidbit being sandwiched in between the war in Dahomey and ads for miracle cures.This novel is a blend of fiction and fact detailing a crime which took place in rural Ontario in the 1890s. Charley Luckey was accused of murdering his parents, only two months after the famed Lizzie Borden incident in the US. But even at the time of his indictment, there were questions. Was Charley really the murderer? Was the crime a copycat of Lizzie Borden? How did the law and the police force account for their inadequacies?
Shock and self-righteousness diminished, horror turned to ambivalence, ambivalence to empathy. Empathy evoked the instinctive need for insularity. People still spoke in superlatives: it was the most heinous, the foulest of foul, the dastardliest crime of the century. But the intonations were less shrill, the attitude slightly blasé, the air of a maiden aunt becoming accustomed to a brothel in the neighbourhood.
The tide was turning in Charley's favour, for reasons which had little to do with his guilt or innocence. Charley's arrest was regarded as an indictment of his entire family, causing confusion of loyalties in Kitley Township. Who could judge the innocent bereaved harshly? Those who were undecided or easily influenced swayed like blossoms in a breeze, waiting to take their cue from the Luckeys themselves. The remaining Luckeys had conducted themselves in public consistently with decorum: what Johnny did in the dark hours when he went off in his buggy without disclosing his destination could only be guessed at and was considered beneath comment. For every utterance against Charley there would be demurring rejoinders: a comment on the business acumen Sam was developing, or the bravery of the sisters homesteading out west, or the impossibility of baking rhubarb pie that would top Liza Ann's in taste and texture.
Adams, who has written poetry and short fiction as well as non-fiction articles and book reviews, splits the narrative into several streams. One is a chronological account of events, another a series of interchapters, "Entr'acte," that detail the thoughts and feelings of the hamgman who goes by a number of different names. Adams also includes the letters of Charley's lawyer and accounts of the actions of Charley's older brother Johnny, as well as Montgomery, the officer involved in the case.
Adams stretches herself thin with all these parts. The superfluous stories and characters - the hangmen, the lawyer, the officer, etc. - add more than is necessary to the novel and the division between fact and fiction begins to blur towards the end of the book.
Nonetheless, the basic story of Charley and his alleged crime, fleshed out with details of the community and their reactions to Charley, makes for interesting reading.
This book would be a good choice for readers interested in non-fiction and/or history and is suitable for senior high school, private and public libraries.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a Grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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