THE FERRYMAN WILL BE THERE by Rosemary Aubert
AN ELLIS PORTAL MYSTERY
Bridge Works Publishing, 2001
When the police ask former Judge and former homeless person Ellis Portal to help find a girl missing since her fatherís death, Portal wants to object. He has problems of his own including losing his home, a long separation from his son, and a multimillion dollar tax burden. Still, Toronto (Canada) Police Detective Matt West is insistent and Portal finds himself re-exploring the haunts of the homeless. He comes across repeated mention of a mysterious Ferryman, although no one can explain exactly what the Ferryman is, or what he has to offer.
THE FERRYMAN WILL BE THERE provides a convincing view of Torontoís underlife. While the rich live oblivious lives, the poor struggle to find housing, to keep themselves warm as winter approaches. To some, even a cave in an urban canyon, or an abandoned parking garage sounds like heaven. Portal has been there, giving him a unique insight into the people he wants to help.
Insight and empathy for the homeless are the great strength of THE FERRYMAN WILL BE THERE. Although Portalís story is told from first person point of view (an ĎIí rather than a Ďheí), and we learn a great deal of Portalís emotional confusion, the novel lacks a real sense of drive. Although Portal would like to find the missing girl, he is only tangentially involved and this limited involvement makes it difficult to commit fully to the novel. Every character, from Portal down, is filled with intense emotional drives which are difficult to understand or empathize with.
Author Rosemary Aubert also cheats the reader by introducing a huge shadowy corporation and sinister bad-guy, neither of which has anything to do with the story. By not offering the reader any information about possible suspects in the murder, Aubert fails to use a major tool in bringing in the reader.
Aubertís concept of a formerly homeless ex-judge walking the tightrope between affluence and indigence is compelling and her compassion for the poor and homeless is admirable. Aubert strengthens this experience with writing that is both is smooth and agreeable. The major flaw in this novel is Aubertís failure to bridge between big social issues that obviously concern her deeply and the readerís emotional involvement.
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