In this novel, set in Newfoundland, you are “from away” unless your family has lived there for generations. Tony Breau, the protagonist, has known this all his life. He was adopted.
Tony’s career as a correction officer in the notorious Kingston Penitentiary, has a lot to do with the kind of man he becomes. At one point he mused that the staff actually spend more time behind the walls than most of the prisoners.
However, it is when Tony takes early retirement and returns to his small house in St Ninian’s that the real story begins. He quickly finds out that Dwayne Strickland is also back in St Ninian’s. Tony has had dealings with this young con over the years and none of them have turned out well. Now Strickland, also an outsider, considers their uniqueness a bond, is arrested again. This case revolves around the suspicious death of a teenaged girl in Strickland’s home.
There are always people from Tony’s past – Neil MacDonald who became a Boston police officer; Caddy Stewart, Tony’s first love, and they all converge in St Ninian’s.
There are many layers to this novel and I suspect trial, sentencing and punishment by the community is not foreign in small, tightly knit communities. It is however, mostly about the exploitation of guilt, remorse, action and retribution. It is about the many criminals in prison for complicated reasons. It is about the reader being asked to separate the crime from the criminal. Can we be empathetic or is it human nature to punish behaviour we do not understand?
The Bishop’s Man
Why Men Lie
Kingston Penitentiary opened in 1835 and housed both male and female inmates and even an eight year old! Inmates “must not exchange a word with one another under any pretense whatever” and “must not exchange looks, wink, laugh, nod or gesticulate to each other….with violaters receiving the lash.”