Highly charged and profoundly important, Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul is a new masterpiece from one of Canada’s greatest writers.
On a bright morning in June 1985, a young Micmac man starts his first day of work—but by noon he is dead, killed mysteriously in the fourth hold of the cargo ship Lutheran. Hector Penniac had been planning to go to university, perhaps to study medicine. Roger Savage, a loner who has had to make his own way since his youth, comes under suspicion of killing Hector over a union card and a morning’s work. Even if he can’t quite put it into words, Roger immediately sees the ways in which Hector’s death will be viewed as symbolic, as more than an isolated tragedy—and that he is caught in a chain of events that will become more explosive with each passing day.
The aging chief of Hector’s band, Amos Paul, tries to reduce the tensions raised by the investigation into Hector’s death and its connection to a host of other simmering issues, from territorial lines to fishing rights. His approach leads him into conflict with Isaac Snow, a younger and more dynamic man whom many in the band would prefer to lead them—especially when the case attracts press attention in the form of an ambitious journalist named Max Doran, the first of many outsiders to bring his own agenda and motives onto the Micmac reserve. Joel Ginnish, Isaac’s volatile and sometimes violent friend, decides to bring justice to Roger Savage when the authorities refuse to, blockading the reserve in order to do so. And though perhaps no one really means for it to happen, soon a single incident grows ineluctably into a crisis that engulfs a whole society, a whole province and in some ways a whole country.
Twenty years later, RCMP officer Markus Paul—Chief Amos Paul’s grandson, who was fifteen years old when Hector was killed—tries to piece together the clues surrounding Hector Penniac’s death. The decades have passed, and much about the case has been twisted beyond recognition by the many ways that different people have sought to exploit it. But, haunted by the past, Markus still struggles towards a truth that will snap “those chains that had once seemed impossible to break.” (290)
This is a novel that begins with an instant from today’s headlines, and digs down into the marrow to explore the oldest themes we know: murder and betrayal, race and history, the brutal and chaotic forces that guide the groups we are drawn into. Nothing is one-sided in David Adams Richards’ world—even the most scheming characters have moments of grace, while the most benevolent are shown to have selfish motives, or the need to show off their goodness. All are depicted with an almost Biblical gravity, framed by an understated genius of storytelling that makes this novel at once both an utterly gripping mystery, and a vitally important document of Canada’s broken past and divided present.