Ellis Portal’s fourth adventure is a prequel that takes him back to the days before he was a street person, a disgraced judge, even a rising young lawyer.
Back all the way, in fact, to 1965, when the Beatles rule, Martin Luther King is organizing a march from Selma to Montgomery, and Vietcong terrorists have bombed the US embassy in Saigon. Ellis, né Angelo Portalese, a Toronto law student eager to snare a coveted judicial internship with Magistrate B. Sheldrake Tuppin, proposes to research the legal status of Billy Johnson, an American-born Canadian Cree determined to resist the draft without renouncing his American citizenship. But Ellis’s friend Gleason Adams has other ideas about the internship. He wants to look into the case of a woman whose corpse mysteriously disappeared from the morgue minutes after the two students arrived to observe the beginning of the postmortem. Nor is the cadaver all that’s vanished; so have any records that the woman was ever there, along with a pair of distinctive wedding rings inscribed “If you love me, leave me by dying” that Gleason himself purloined from the corpse and took home. And the disappearances continue with Billy and Gleason, whose upscale background is clearly hiding painful secrets.
Probing, sensitive, and rewarding. Despite the eminently predictable dénouement, Ellis’s followers will treasure this glimpse of what made him the complicated man he turned into (The Ferryman Will Be There, 2001, etc.).