The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

2 Mins read

Canada is often thought of as a gentler, safer, and dare I say it, more boring version of its southern neighbour. Canadian citizens are less brash, perhaps less overtly patriotic than Americans, and the country’s gun laws are tighter. At least, the kind of violent tragedies that have befallen the States are less likely to happen in Canada, or in the United Kingdom for that matter. But we have had Jack the Ripper, Fred West and Harold Shipman. For every generalisation, however, there are exceptions from time to time that remind us that law and order has its limits, and people are not as save as they sometimes think.

For Canada, proof of this arrived in Toronto in 1993. Paul Bernardo and his wife and accomplice Karla Homolka were convicted of a series of brutal rapes and murders. Between 1987 and 1990 more than a dozen young women and school girls were raped, often near their homes, after being followed. Some victims were murdered. The perpetrator was called the Scarborough Rapist after the Toronto suburb he worked. At the same time several young women went missing, presumed murdered.

With The Devil You Know, author Elisabeth de Mariaffi has produced a kind of fictionalised memoir based on the Scarborough Rapist case. The main character is rookie crime reporter Evie Jones, who is assigned to report on Bernardo’s arrest. Through her, the author explores how having a monster in its midst might have affected Canadian society at the time. The book also looks at the specific effects upon young women growing up at that time who had to constantly look over their shoulders and assess every man they met for the threat he might present.

Cleverly, the author gives Evie a back story, including the abduction and murder of a close childhood friend which makes her emerging paranoia seem plausible. Despite news of Bernado’s arrest, Evie is convinced that the Scarborough Rapist is the same man who murdered her friend more than a decade ago, and that he has been hiding in plain sight ever since. Her mother’s unconventional early life – running away from home, living in a hippy commune, and the suspicion that some of the residents traded sexual favours when they couldn’t meet the rent – becomes an obsession for Evie too. It’s something she can’t drop even as her worst fears seem to be coming true – a masked man is stalking her at night and the police don’t seem interested.

The mystery aspect of the story holds up, but is rather uninspired when compared to the book’s real strength, which is its portrayal of the effect living in fear has on people, particularly on women. Time and again De Mariaffi shows how even the most mundane of Evie’s decisions are influenced by that fear, to the extent that it has become an almost automatic and unconscious thing. Recollections of Evie’s childhood are interspersed with the present to show how her adolescence and adulthood have been warped, and the suggestion is that she’s been changed for good. This is where the true power of the book lies.

Titan Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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