The White Ribbon Man is a murder mystery set in Toronto. A woman’s body is found in the basement toilet of a downtown Toronto church. It is an Anglican church that welcomes homeless people for coffee and soup and has a congregation composed largely of social activists. The discovery challenges a community that sees itself as a compassionate one and causes people who once were comfortable with each other to become suspicious instead. During the investigation we get to know something about the minister whose sleepwalking makes him suspect, a librarian who answered the classified ad in the Globe and Mail placed by another suspect; one of the wardens who is an activist against violence against women, a member of the congregation who was the neighbour and friend of the murdered woman, and the detective in charge of the investigation. The gentle handling of all of these characters and their issues allows the reader to see humanity and vulnerability of each one and the way in which as a community they support one another.
“After a woman is found dead in a downtown church basement, nearly everyone becomes a suspect. Dickinson deftly takes us into the world of a social-justice community and their struggles to cope in the aftermath of violence. When a writer and cop unintentionally team up, imagination and evidence blur. This is a page-turner with an unexpected plot-twist that will leave the reader guessing until the very end.”
—Farzana Doctor, author of All Inclusive, Six Metres of Pavement, Stealing Nasreen
“An insightful and contemplative literary mystery that is steeped in religion, lost loves, loneliness, and the desire for companionship and meaning in life. A beautifully written poignant and touching exploration of human hopes and frailties.”
—Lisa de Nikolits, author of No Fury Like That, The Nearly Girl, Between the Cracks She Fell & four other novels
“A well imagined story of how a horrible crime not only upends lives, but the trust of a community. In The White Ribbon Man, Mary Lou Dickinson also explores the mental and emotional injuries that children suffer under the unrelenting demands of fundamentalist religion. It’s a book that will leave you thinking.”
—Ken Murray, author of Eulogy (a novel)
A few people who had heard the same sound Rosemary had noticed squirmed around to see if they could figure it out. Puzzled brows coming together, eyes darting over the space of the nave, all these gestures expressed their uncertainty about what they ought to do. Rob came through the door, but instead of going to sit in a pew, started across the wooden floor toward a staircase to the basement. The minister was not far behind, perhaps realizing that Rob had pinpointed the sound from outside and it was time to check out the area it had most likely come from. Then Linda O’Reilly, a rather heavy woman with hair dyed red, followed them, heading toward the stairs also. Below was a washroom for women and, a little further along the corridor, one for men. They were small washrooms, each with two cubicles. Between them in the hall was a water fountain. The stairs were of the same heavy wood that extended throughout the church, but the floor in the basement was tiled. The sound had stopped, but just as Rob came down into the hall, a woman emerged from the first washroom.
Upon seeing Rob, the woman began to shudder. “On the floor,” she said in a quaking shrill voice. “Feet… sticking out. Blood.” She was visibly shaken, her face contorted, her dark leather purse fallen or left open.
David Stinson, the priest, pushed past Rob through the door. His face, if anyone could see his clenched jaw, looked as if he had to contain his own fear so as not to frighten anyone else. Solace in crisis situations was often some form of quiet meditation for him, impossible in these circumstances. Praying almost silently, he saw a pair of feet wearing red heels stretched out from under the cubicle on the right and made a low, guttural sound. Then he pushed the cubicle door gingerly to reveal a woman face down on the floor with one arm flung off to the side, so still he thought she must surely be dead. There was blood on the floor and wall and he felt bile rise in his throat. He turned to tell Rob and, seeing the other man clutch at his throat, remembered that Rob had not long ago watched his partner die of AIDS and soon after had seen two men carry him out of the house in one of those dark bags. He thought that would explain why he appeared to be having memories of some recent trauma.
“Don’t let anyone else into the basement,” David said. “I’ll call the police.”