That Lonely Section of Hell (Greystone Books) by Lorimer Shenher
Reviewed by Thursdays Writing Collective director Amber Dawn
For at least a week That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away by Lorimer Shenher sat on my coffee table like a lead brick. Object wise, the hardcover is only the standard 9.76 x 8.25 inches, a book that can fit into my purse, like any other memoir. As a memoirist and former Vancouver Book Award winner myself, please allow me to say this isn’t any memoir. Former police detective, Lorimer Shenher’s story is an utterly sharp and demanding look at his own role in Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women Investigation, as well as the systemic colonial violence, racism, misogyny and poor-bashing that were pervasive throughout the investigation.
The first time the book felt too heavy in my hands was when I read the preface; Shenher, “began [his] assignment in the Vancouver Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit in July 1998 [and] received an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip that implored [him] to look at a man named Willie Pickton.” I too was aware of Willie Pickton in 1998, at which time I was working as a street based sex worker, both in the Downtown Eastside and what was then the “Kiddie Stroll” near Powell and Hastings. Likewise, the book felt too weighty to hold up when I read names I recognized, like Sheila Catherine Egan and Sarah de Vries. I have Post-Traumatic Stress connected to Pickton trail. I am in no way unique. Indeed, an aptly large section of Shenher’s story reveals the Post-Traumatic Stress he developed and needed to recover from while working on the case.
One thing I’ve learned about people who survive trauma—witnessing or direct experience—is that we can be exceptionally keen and compassionate. It is these attributes that firmly steers That Lonely Section of Hell away from sensationalism and hopelessness, and instead invests in remembering the murdered women, honouring the grieving friends and families, and even exploring possibilities of how healing can occur.
This is a book I recommend bringing to a book club or reading alongside a trusted friend or two. Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women has and continues to damage us, as Vancouverites, and the communities we hold dear. Lorimer Shenher has done remarkable work in writing his story. Don’t be alone with the pain and truth of That Lonely Section of Hell. Talk about this book with others. Talk about how you feel and what you think. Talk about how we can collectively prevent other women from being harmed or killed. Talk about change. Be vulnerable, be angry, be confused BUT don’t be alone.
Thursdays Writing Collective
Thursdays Writing Collective runs free, drop-in creative writing classes at Carnegie Community Centre for members of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area challenged by poverty-related issues and beloved by residents for its optimism, activism and creativity.
Since the Collective’s inception in 2008, more than 150 writers ranging in age from 18-86 years old have participated in writing sessions, events and festivals including the Heart of the City, Spirit Rising, Candahar Art Bar at the Cultural Olympiad, Word on the Street, V125 Poetry Conference, the Memory Festival and numerous artistic collaborations with diverse literary communities, including UBC Law, Music and Performance students.
The Collective has published seven chapbook anthologies with the support of Canada Council, City of Vancouver, SFU and Carnegie Community Centre.