In the “Afterword and Acknowledgments” of Invisible Dead (Quercus), Sam Wiebe writes about the actual investigations into the missing and murdered women of Vancouver and problems the commission had with its investigation: “The Commission was dogged by controversy stemming from its sidelining of sex trade workers, First Nations groups, the victims’ families and loved ones. This marginalization is not new. This, unfortunately, is part of our way of life.” This marginalization and the willingness to murder women is also pervasive in popular crime fiction, so it was nice to read a book where a woman, who is a potential victim, is reality-based and not just the whims of lazy TV producer.
Wiebe’s main character Dave Wakeland, a young ex-cop, is a private investigator and partner of an upscale firm, Wakeland & Chen Private Investigations. Wakeland specializes in missing person cases which suits his partner Jeff Chen just fine as the publicity generated from such cases gives good PR to the firm. However, as Chen says to Wakeland, “You lack perspective. You care too much.” Wakeland gives Chen’s words some thought, “He’d spoken the truth. But then I wasn’t convinced that being true and being right were exactly the same thing.” The idea of being right versus the truth plays throughout the Invisible Dead as Wakeland investigates the ten-year-old disappearance of Chelsea Loam.
Invisible Dead opens up with Wakeland interviewing an imprisoned serial killer as the PI looks for closure for one of his new clients, the foster mother of the missing Chelsea. Wakeland’s quest for the truth about Chelsea’s whereabouts takes him all over Vancouver from the forgotten to the self-important and to the incredibly dangerous: Terry Rhodes, leader of the motorcycle gang The Exiles. In Rhodes, Wiebe has created a fantastic villain as Rhodes lurks on the periphery ready to strike out in gruesome ferociousness at any moment.
The washroom door opened and out strode a bullet-headed mastiff followed by another. They were slobbering and their nails clawed into the wood floor as they fought against the pull of the choke chains that held them back. Behind them, taking his time, with the other ends of the long chains wrapped around his forearm, was Terry Rhodes.
He was short and wore denim, wore his silver mane of hair long and unruly but his beard kept cropped and dyed ink black. Bad teeth in a wide grin and small grey roaming eyes.
There are a lot of great private investigator characters out there: Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Sherlock Holmes. But for me, and possibly my generation, the private investigator I compare any new fictional PI to is Jim Rockford. As Robert Lloyd, a TV critic for the Los Angeles Times, explains:
Like Marlowe, and all the best detectives, Rockford is not interested in the law, but in justice; and yet he is interested in justice in a very local sense. He is not trying to set the world aright, only to get a result for his clients, a little relief for his friends and some peace for himself. (In the opening credits, he’s famously never around to answer his phone.) In one sense, The Rockford Files is the story of a man who wants to be left alone, but whose lot in life is never to be. He is dragged into most cases seemingly against his will; he is knocked about, locked up again and again. If you prick him, he bleeds; if you sock him, his jaw will still be sore the next day.
Wiebe’s Wakeland resoundingly passes the Rockford Test as he functions more as a human being rather than some fictionalized fighting machine. And as Los Angeles is to Rockford, Vancouver is just as alive and important for Wakeland. With Invisible Dead, Sam Wiebe delves into our collective fictional past and creates a character with wondrous possibilities.
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