Girl in the Wall, The

Signature Editions
Preston, Alison
2013-04-24 17:28:59: Nomination was created
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Karen Haughian
Signature Editions
Feature film
Alison Preston was born and raised in Winnipeg. After trying on a number of other Canadian cities, she returned to her home town, where she currently resides. A graduate of the University of Winnipeg, Preston was a letter carrier for 28 years before becoming a writer.
Winner of the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. The Girl in the Wall is the fifth instalment of Preston's popular Norwood Flats Mystery Series, each one involving Inspector Frank Foote. They are The Rain Barrel Baby, The Geranium Girls, Cherry Bites, and Sunny Dreams. Preston was twice nominated for the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. She was shortlisted for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for Cherry Bites and the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher for Sunny Dreams.
Retired cop Frank Foote works to solve a decades-old crime and exonerate Mrs. Mortimer, who once made her living taking photographs of the dead.
After leaving the Winnipeg Police force, former Inspector Frank Foote has gone into home renovations. Tearing down a wall on a Norwood Flats job one day, he and his partner come across the skeleton of a small female who has been imprisoned there. They alert the police, who confiscate their tools and remove them from the crime scene. Frank doesn’t tell them about the photograph he’s found tucked in the wall space with the young woman. He may be retired, but his investigative instincts are still strong. Tracking down the identity of the girl leads Frank into the past and down the trail of the long-forgotten Mrs. Mortimer, who’d had a short-lived business in the 1960s taking photos of the recently deceased for their families. Frank finds himself hoping against hope that she isn't involved. But what are the odds?
o Morven Rankin is a mentally challenged girl who struggles through life with the help and love of her brother George, the only person with whom she has a true relationship. She finds a place for herself in the world by looking into the heart and soul of death. She does this by taking photographs of the recently deceased at the request of their family members. Renaming herself Mrs. Mortimer, she starts what becomes a successful business.
o George Rankin: Morven's brother, who helps her through adolescence by coaching her on how she should act when around other people.
o An unscrupulous character named Jim Coulthard leads her into the very essence of evil, but she manages to come out intact.
o Frank Foote is a retired cop who has started a home renovation business, but wonders if he retired too soon. He is the single father of three. He worries constantly about his children and his fading career.
 Overcoming the obstacles life throws in one’s way: growing up with emotionally absent parents, children raising themselves
 Children with Aspergers who don't understand social cues, which leads to other kids bullying them
 How mentally challenged girl manages to find a place for herself in the world
 Sibling relationships
 A vulnerable person being taken advantage of
 Understanding and preoccupation with death
 Fear of growing old, the safety/legacy one leaves their children
 Human decency and goodness
 The Girl in the Wall is set in Winnipeg, many visual opportunities with local landmarks (The Red Top Diner, Wellington Crescent, the Red River and Lyndale Drive, etc.) The events leading up to, and including the crime, occur in the 1950’s and 60’s. The days are sunny and seemingly idyllic, the nights silky and warm, but much of reality is dark and sinister.
Men 18–34
Women 18–34
Men 35-54
Women 35–54
 Rain Man, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – A brother taking care of a sibling to the extent that it rules his life
 To Kill a Mockingbird – A single widowed father taking care of young kids on his own
Behind the drywall were layers of mortar and cracked plaster covering wood lath. In some spots the lath had pulled away from the framing behind it. Someone had tried to repair it.
“I like this ripping-down phase,” said Frank.
“Not me,” said Jane. “It’s my least favourite part. I like getting to the stage when we start building new stuff.”
“Hey, wait a sec,” Frank said. “What’s this?”
His arm was out of sight up to his shoulder in a hollow space behind a destroyed sheet of dry wall.
“Just a minute. I can’t quite get it.”
He tore away some more of the outer wall, reached in and brought out what looked to be a photograph. He took off his mask and blew on the item and then wished he hadn’t as he coughed away the dust and sneezed four times.
“What are you up to over there?” Jane asked. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”
Frank sneezed one last time.
“I’ve found something interesting.”
He took a clean white handkerchief out of his back pocket and carefully dusted off the picture. It was in faded colour, unframed and curled at the edges. It was bigger than an ordinary snapshot, perhaps five by seven.
“What is it, Frank?”
“It’s a photograph.”
“Let’s see.”
Jane took off her gloves and whapped them on the side of her leg.
“Hmm. It looks kind of sixtyish,” she said.
There was a man, two women, a boy and a girl. And they did look like their time was the sixties or early seventies, with their tie-dyed T-shirts and long flowing hair, even on the man. The women and girl sat on straight-backed chairs, the man behind them, standing. The boy stood beside the girl with his hand gripping her shoulder.
“Are they wearing costumes, do you think?” asked Jane. “Or…”
“It looks like a pose for an album cover.” Frank interrupted. For a group with a girl singer or two.”
Jane put her gloves back on.
“I’ll leave you to it. I want to get this part over with today.”
She went back to her job and Frank continued staring at the photograph.
“Could you please turn the music down, Jane?”
Frank’s head was starting to hurt and he no longer liked the songs. There was too much death in the lyrics.
Jane turned it off.
“Are you all right, Frank?”
“I don’t know. There’s something weird going on in this picture.”
“What kind of weird?”
“The little girl might not be alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think she was dead when this was taken.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Jane set down her crowbar and walked over to where Frank was sitting on a crate with the photograph held gently in his hands. She peered over his shoulder.
“Look at her eyes,” Frank said.
Jane pulled up another crate and sat down beside him, taking a closer look.
“I think everyone else is alive,” she said.
“It’s her eyes that give her away, but I’d like to see this in a better light.”
They looked at each other for a moment and then back at the picture. Frank turned it over. There was writing on the back, too faded to read. It looked like it had been written in pencil. A capital L for sure, and maybe a capital D, and 19 something, a date perhaps.
“I can probably get someone at work to figure out what this says.”
“You’re retired, Frank. You don’t go to work anymore.”
“I still have people there.”
His words sounded petulant to his own ears.
Jane stood up.
“Okay. You try to figure out what it says. And I’ll go to the library and find out who all has lived here.”
Frank suspected that she was humouring him, that she had no intention of going to the library, but he decided to try to take her words at face value and dismiss his mistrustful feelings.
“It’s no big deal,” he said, as he set the picture down carefully in a safe spot away from their activity. “Featherstone probably already knows who all lived here. We could just ask him before you go trudging off to the library. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up today while we’re still here.”
They went back to work.
“Garth has a powerful magnifying glass at home,” Frank said, mostly to himself. “Maybe it will do the job of deciphering the words.”
“Maybe,” said Jane.
With a creaking rip Frank tore down the last of the drywall on the north-facing side of the house.
“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he whispered when he saw what was stashed behind it.
Quoted as " becoming one of Canada’s most consistently good crime writers." (The Globe and Mail) Alison Preston takes us through another thrilling case about the discovery of a child that had been killed and hidden for decades. The encapsulating opening line, “Morven Rankin was born dead. … It ran in her family.” catches the viewers attention and pulls them into this historical mystery with great force.
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