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Fiction Historical

Vile Spirits

by (author) John MacLachlan Gray

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Historical, Literary, Historical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price

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An exhilarating page-turner set in 1920s Vancouver post prohibition, when liquor was the fuel driving big business, big government—and major crime.

In this spellbinding follow-up to his mystery The White Angel, John MacLachlan Gray captures the spirit of Vancouver in those gritty, gin-soaked days, as the city was remaking itself between wars.

Alcohol is once again legal in Vancouver after the failed experiment of prohibition, but pro-temperance sentiments remain strong. Politicians like Attorney General Gordon Cunning attempt appeasement by establishing the Liquor Control Board, which oversees supply, from the lofty circles of power down to bleak public drinking factories called “beer parlours.”

But when Cunning is found deceased, an empty martini glass at his side, quickly followed by Mrs. Harlan Crombie, the wife of a prominent bureaucrat, who falls dead after an afternoon book club meeting, suspicions are raised. Is it pure coincidence that the deceased were both drinking the same brand of “tonic”? Or is it a spillover from American prohibition, where deliberately tainted booze is killing thousands?

Fans of The White Angel will be delighted by the return of straight-shooting constable Calvin Hook, frustrated poet-cum-reporter Ed McCurdy and unpredictable, eavesdropping telephone operator Mildred Wickstram, as they pool their skills in order to get to the truth.

The result is a clash between temperance activists, the Ku Klux Klan, the Liquor Control Board and global events on the mean streets of Vancouver—a rough little city on the edge of empire.

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.


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Editorial Reviews

“... wonderful dark humour, 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>

“Wonderfully evocative mystery set in Vancouver, 1924. Smog, police corruption, and of course the Ku Klux Klan … as wildly unfamiliar as it is weirdly topical.”

William Gibson, <i> New York Times</i>

“... tightly edited without a single extraneous page. One of the best novels of the year.”

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

Other titles by John MacLachlan Gray