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Posted: October 18, 2020

Aubert leads the reader to reflect on social issues

Book Review

By Derryll White

Aubert, Rosemary (2005).  The Red Mass.

This is an Ellis Portal mystery, seemingly the last. Rosemary Aubert has taken the dedicated reader on a real journey with this series. In the four preceding novels Ellis Portal grew from an immigrant Italian mason’s son to a lawyer at the Ontario bar, then an exalted judge. He became the youngest and most controversial judge in the Provincial Court of Ontario.

The reader watched Portal crash and burn, losing his judgeship and legal status and become a street person living for five years in the doorways and ravines of Toronto.  As he descended into despair he left behind a wife and two children.

Aubert is particularly sensitive to the plight of the homeless, to the paucity of services in Toronto (and Canada) that support people in need. A Toronto-based criminologist, her voice is very clear and it is sad to think that we may not hear that any more.  Her characters are flawed in the most magnificent ways, causing the reader to reflect on social issues that are not a normal part of most people’s lives.

Portal Ellis is a sensitive man with dreams that surpass most common men.  For Ellis, to help and assist those who were once his street companions is the ultimate goal.  Toward the end of the story the reader believes he has achieved this.  For myself, I am sad to see him go so quietly into that good night.

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Excerpts from the novel:

DOWNTRODDEN – I saw young people with the premature look of age that life on the street dispenses.  And I also saw the blank look of innocence on the faces of older men and women whose mind had been wiped clean of thought by years of abuse: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex and the most powerful of all abusers of humans – poverty.

CONFINEMENT – “Enter that door.”

I did as I was told and entered a metal and wire-reinforced glass enclosure.  A heavy metal door crashed closed behind me.  Before me another metal door stayed resolutely shut.

More fear and more than a little claustrophobia gripped me.  The tight little room started to spin.  Dark blotches seemed to obscure my vision, and then the door before me cracked in half and fell away, and I found myself staring into a brilliantly lit room containing a small wooden table and two empty chairs.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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