At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Sam Wiebe is an award-winning author. Then you read a book of his. With his shaved head and goatee, he wouldn’t be out of place as a character in one of his detective novels. His newest Invisible Dead tells a story that hits all too close to home.
Living in Vancouver – anywhere in Canada really – one is familiar with the horrendous tale of pig-farmer/serial killer Robert Pickton. His arrest and subsequent confession to killing numerous prostitutes on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a large number of them being of First Nation descent, jump started perhaps the most thorough investigation in the nation’s history – The Missing Women Inquiry, which played a role in the larger Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
That bit of information provides a background to Invisible Dead, which follows cop-turned-Private Eye Dave Wakeland as searches for Chelsea Loam, an aboriginal woman who went missing on the streets of Vancouver 11 years prior. The character that is Chelsea is a composite and amalgam that is typical of many in Vancouver’s DTES. A First Nation’s kid, who was in and out of Foster care, gets adopted by a wealthy couple, but always with drugs and prostitution before winding up dead. Sad to it happens to many. In fact, Wiebe begins his story with the ominous proverb “Vancouver: I don’t know why this city sees fit to kill its women. Answers won’t be forthcoming”
And they aren’t. While Wakeland does solve Chelsea’s individual case, the novel doesn’t have answers for the system as a whole, which reflects an all too true reality here in BC (not only with DTES but also the Highway of Tears in the Province’s North). And while Wiebe isn’t naive enough to think that his book will change anything, he is hopeful of the current conversation being had about the city, and, if nothing, wonders if Invisible Dead might allow some to see the issue in a new way. Sometimes we need an outsider’s perspective to help us see the true nature of what is right in front of us.
Although it is inspired by true-to-life events, what makes Wiebe’s novel so enchanting is the direction it takes. Invisible Dead contains the perfect mix of backstory, plot twists and character development, and has a few perfectly placed red herrings that it quickly becomes a captivating page-turner. A modern-day, film noir-esque adventure. The book is subtitled as “A Wakeland Novel”. I’m looking forward to the rest.