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Fiction Literary

The White Angel

by (author) John MacLachlan Gray

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Sep 2017
Literary, Historical, Historical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2017
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
    List Price

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Vancouver is in an uproar over the death by gunshot of a Scottish nanny, Janet Stewart. An almost deliberately ham-handed police investigation has Constable Hook suspecting a cover-up. The powerful United Council of Scottish Societies is demanding an inquiry. The killing has become a political issue with an election not far away.

The city is buzzing with rumours. Miss Stewart's fellow nannies have accused the Chinese houseboy of murder, capitalizing on a wave of anti-Chinese propaganda led by the Asian Exclusion League and enthusiastically supported by the sensational press—not to mention the Ku Klux Klan, which has taken up residence in upperclass Shaughnessy.

The White Angel is a work of fiction inspired by the cold case of Janet Smith, who, on July 26, 1924, was found dead in her employer's posh Shaughnessy Heights mansion. A dubious investigation led to the even more dubious conclusion that Smith died by suicide. After a public outcry, the case was re-examined and it was decided that Smith was in fact murdered; but no one was ever convicted, though suspects abounded—from an infatuated Chinese houseboy to a drug-smuggling ring, devil-worshippers from the United States, or perhaps even the Prince of Wales. For Vancouver, the killing created a situation analogous to lifting a large flat rock to expose the creatures hiding underneath.

An exploration of true crime through a literary lens, The White Angel draws an artful portrait of Vancouver in 1924 in all its opium-hazed, smog-choked, rain-soaked glory—accurate, insightful and darkly droll.

About the author

John MacLachlan Gray is a multi-talented artist. As a playwright, composer and theatre director, he has created many acclaimed productions, most notably Billy Bishop Goes to War (1978), which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Drama, was produced on and off Broadway, and was released as a feature film in 2011. As a writer, Gray has authored several books, fiction and non-fiction, including The White Angel (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017) and a series of mystery-thrillers: A Gift For The Little Master (Random House, 2000), The Fiend in Human (St. Martins/Random House, 2004), White Stone Day (Minotaur Books, 2005) and Not Quite Dead (Minotaur Books, 2007). He is an Officer of the Order of Canada. He lives in Vancouver, BC.


John MacLachlan Gray's profile page


  • Short-listed, Arthur Ellis Awards—Best Crime Novel

Editorial Reviews

“It takes a distinct talent to turn factual murder into fiction and playwright (Billy Bishop Goes to War) John MacLachlan Gray has it…. I found it tightly edited without a single extraneous page. One of the best novels of the year.”

Margaret Cannon, <i>The Globe and Mail</i>

“Wonderfully evocative mystery set in Vancouver, 1924. Smog, police corruption, and of course the Klu Klux Klan. I’d so love the CBC to do a limited series of this. The setting, historically accurate, would be as wildly unfamiliar as it is weirdly topical.”

William Gibson, from a <i>The New York Times</i> interview

“Labor unrest, enormous class disparities, and racial prejudice all figure into this thoughtful and entertaining novel.... Gray’s attention to character development yields fascinating protagonists.... The White Angel is a particularly appealing work of historical fiction.”

Karen Mulvahill, <i>Foreword Reviews</i>

“This rich fictionalized take on the real-life 1924 murder of Scottish nanny Janet Smith, one of Vancouver’s most famous cold cases, is another feather in the cap of MacLachlan Gray (Not Quite Dead).... There’s wonderful dark humor, which Gray uses as a weapon against ruling-class political aspirations, clueless cops, and the shameful racism of the time. This is a highly entertaining work of fiction informed by hard truths.”

<i>Publishers Weekly</i>

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