Supporting Canadian authors is easy when given books such as Black Feathers to read. I first heard about this book by Robert J. Weirsema when he was interviewed by Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio. The central character is a sixteen-year-old runaway named Cassandra Weathers who turns up in downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island and is quickly absorbed into the street scene. She is befriended by Skylark who helps Cassie learn where to panhandle most effectively, where to sleep, where to get a shower and where to find a community of friends.
Throughout the book we are offered glimpses of Cassie’s earlier life but the truth is withheld in the interests of suspense. There are many memories of a happy family life along with unspoken trauma which resulted in mental health issues and treatment. When a serial killer threatens their community of damaged street people, a police officer called Harrison, who has a daughter of his own, recognizes her vulnerability and takes a particular interest in Cassie.
The author paints a vivid picture of street life during a Canadian winter (albeit Victoria) and his characters are so well drawn we are able to get inside the mind of a killer. Black Feathers is not an uplifting book but it is satisfying in the end. As I was reading it I was reminded of another excellent book with a similar theme, Lullabies For Little Criminals written by the very talented Canadian Heather O’Neill. Well-written and a page-turner, Black Feathers uncovers a side of life most of us will never see or experience. It’s a mystery, an observation of the complexities of mental illness and a story of justice. For anyone who has been to Victoria, you’ll recognize the landmarks and street names which helps your mind’s eye wander around the downtown area. All in all, an interesting read. And, it will make you want to be more sympathetic to street people and toss some Toonies into their hat.
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