#116 Wiebe not Spade
First published April 5, 2017
Review: Invisible Dead
by Sam Wiebe
Toronto: Penguin Random House 2016
$22 / 978-0-345-81627-6
by Maansi Pandya
Soon to be released in the United States, Sam Wiebe’s Invisible Dead is a gritty journey into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside crime world of biker gangs, drugs and suspicious characters against a backdrop of homelessness and substance abuse.
Now working as a private investigator, 29-year-old Dave Wakeland is a former cop who searches for Chelsea Loam, a young indigenous woman who disappeared eleven years earlier. He is hired by Chelsea’s adoptive mother, Gail Kirby, who wants closure about Chelsea’s fate now that she herself is ill and has only a few months left to live.
As the hunt for Chelsea Loam gets Wakeland into trouble, it’s his never-back-down attitude in the face of danger that makes him an endearing character. Along the way we’re introduced to a stream of characters willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Some are more dangerous than others, but all are battling their own demons.
Wakeland himself is no angel. He’s a quick-witted, hasty and street-savvy guy, a tad reckless, and seemingly hardened by all the violence and darkness he has seen throughout his career. His friends and colleagues are somewhat taken aback when he appears to be taking a personal interest in the case. Wakeland is unable to accept how the city remains so unfazed by the scores of women who are going missing.
Sometimes it’s easy to imagine the old school, hard-boiled detective voice of a Sam Spade or Humphrey Bogart: “Somewhere above or below ground was a woman who’d vanished when she was twenty-four and would be thirty-five this year. The world hadn’t paused. Hadn’t even noticed.”
Wakeland receives word that a serial killer named Ed Leary Nichulls may know something about Chelsea Loam’s disappearance. Nichulls is reminiscent of notorious hog farmer Robert Pickton. He doesn’t divulge much; Wakeland gets little more than an eerie premonition: “Think I’m bad,” says Nichulls, “there are people out there who put me to shame.”
Wakeland learns from Chelsea Loam’s social worker, Vivian, that Chelsea’s old boyfriend may have been the last person to see her alive. At first, Vivian is reluctant to share this information. Wakeland says, “I believe you have an obligation to the living that supersedes any promises you make to the dead.”
Vivian concedes and gives Wakeland a new lead: Chelsea’s boyfriend may have been a pimp who went by the name of “Kamikaze.” To get the lowdown on this guy, Wakeland finds Shay, an old classmate who works as a dancer in a club. Shay agrees to dig for clues, for a fee. Shay and Wakeland eventually develop a romantic interest in one another and their bantering dynamic adds a layer of much-needed levity
Clues lead Wakeland back to Terry Rhodes, the leader of a biker gang known as the Exiles. Again the horrific Picton story resonates. Arranging a meeting with Rhodes proves to be harder than expected. After a violent confrontation with one of Rhodes’s lackeys, Wakeland is given repeated warnings to drop the search for Chelsea Loam, or face serious consequences.
Of course Wakeland ignores these warnings. When he finally does come face to face with Rhodes, he’s conflicted by his need to save his own skin versus his pursuit of truth and justice for Chelsea. Wiebe does an excellent job of creating tension and nail-biting suspense. Certain scenes are not for the faint-hearted, but they never feel forced or unnecessary.
Wakeland narrows down his list of suspects. Tensions rise to the proverbial breaking point. Wakeland’s own loved ones are threatened. His struggles within himself are powerful and visceral. Invisible Dead emphasizes the strength and resilience of the human spirit against seemingly insurmountable odds while shedding more light to the very real issue of missing women in British Columbia.
Invisible Dead will soon be followed by a second Dave Wakeland novel in June called Cut You Down. In both novels the mean streets of Vancouver are strewn with victims. Wiebe’s literary debut, Last of the Independents, earned him a Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and a 2012 Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished First Novel.
Cut You Down 978-0345816290
Maansi Pandya is a graduate of UBC’s Sociology program. She currently lives in Vancouver, BC and is studying Professional Communications at Douglas College.