The title pretty much tells it all, as that’s exactly what this startlingly readable non-fiction book is – an extended behind-the-scenes examination of what it took to not only determine who committed this murder but also to find a way to get that person to admit to the crime.
While it’s a study in forensics, it’s also much more. Told through a very personal lens, it’s the story of a small Nova Scotia town – a place where murders are anything but the order of the day – and the people who live there. It’s also the life story of a girl named Karissa who died when she was only twelve, her life cut short by the person who should have been the most protective of all, her mother.
That’s not a spoiler. It’s right there in the title and is certainly spelled out in detail in the book’s preface. But how justice came to be served (through a complicated investigation that cost a million dollars) constitutes the rest of the account. In respect of its structure, the story unfolds much the way the old-timey TV show Columbo did: there’d be a murder, we the audience would witness it, and then Detective Columbo would start digging for details. But there, the similarities end. For one thing, the ending’s not so tidy, and it doesn’t arrive neatly at the end of a single hour.
It isn’t an easy read, though through no fault of the writing. Elliott’s style is straightforward and clear. After giving us enough backstory for us to know the major players, the action moves along in a mostly linear way. Yet I will admit to sometimes feeling that he’s giving me more than I need to know; his frequent insertions of conversions from metric to standard measures – distances and temps – bothered me some. And I probably didn’t need to know as much as is offered about each officer’s training and background, but I digress. The meat of the story is the untangling of a web of lies and cover-ups and the effects all of that had on everyone involved.
For me, the difficulty came in the fact that several elements of this crime were just too close to those of a murder case I’d been a little too familiar with. And it didn’t help that soon after reading the book, I made the mistake of attending a film whose plotline hit many of the same points (like what happens to a body upon and after death). Details about the corpse, always an element of any forensic study, continue to linger in my mind.
But even more impactful are the personal details, the words and behaviours that push trained police personnel to tears. We’re reminded that they too are only human, just as vulnerable as anyone to emotional pain. So, it comes as no surprise to learn in the final chapters that many of those professionals involved in the investigation – as well as family members and friends – suffered long-lasting PTSD. Today at least we have learned to place more value on the fact that traumatic experiences often result in major psychological damage rather than leaving people to suffer without supportive assistance. There are details in this book which I admit I will never forget, though I may well wish that I could.
If you’re prone to triggers that lead to nightmares or worse, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re someone who wants to understand more about the depth of certain aspects of RCMP work, A Mother’s Betrayal might prove to be an eye-opener.
A study in forensics revealed through a very personal lens.
Heidi Greco lives and writes in Surrey, BC on the territory of the Semiahmoo Nation and land that remembers the now-extinct Nicomekl People. Her most recent book, Glorious Birds (from Vancouver's Anvil Press) is an extended homage to one of her favourite films, Harold and Maude, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. More info at her website, heidigreco.ca
(Photo credit: George Omorean)
About the Author
Former Sergeant John Elliott served thirty-five years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in his home province of Nova Scotia. His policing experience included uniformed duties, criminal intelligence gathering and major crime/homicide investigations.
- Publisher : Pottersfield Press (Oct. 21 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1990770061
- ISBN-13 : 978-1990770067