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  • Tracy Sherlock

Former chief justice's legal thriller revolves around mercy killing law


By Beverley McLachlin

Simon & Schuster

When Canada’s former top judge writes a legal thriller with the Canadian mercy killing law at its heart, Canadians ought to pay attention.

Beverley McLachlin was Chief Justice of Canada from 2000 to 2017, the first woman to hold the position as well as the longest-serving chief justice. Her new novel, Denial, revolves around the murder of a Vancouver woman suffering from cancer who wanted Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID), but didn’t qualify because her death wasn’t imminent.

The woman had begged her daughter Vera to help her have a death with dignity, but Vera just couldn’t do it. Now, Vera stands charged with the crime, but refuses to take a plea bargain that would see her spend just a year in jail. She insists she’s innocent and lawyer Jilly Truitt agrees to take her case, even though two lawyers have already quit and the trial is in just two weeks.

Truitt, one of Vancouver’s top criminal defense lawyers, was the central character in McLachlin’s first legal thriller Full Disclosure, a No. 1 national bestseller shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best First Crime Novel award. McLachlin’s earlier memoir Truth Be Told won the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize and the Ottawa Book Award for Nonfiction.

Truitt is a compelling character, having grown up in foster care in British Columbia and risen to the highest echelons of legal careers. Denial is well-paced and the backdrop of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods and restaurants is a rare treat in a mystery novel.

The fact that McLachlin was Canada’s top judge when the country’s highest court ruled that not allowing assisted suicide was cruel and violated the Charter, forcing the government to bring in the MAID law, is now writing about that very law’s shortcomings via a murder mystery is fascinating. More than 13,000 people have used MAID in Canada since it became legal in 2016, most of those with cancer.

There’s one plot twist in Denial related to Truitt’s personal life that feels a bit manipulated, but other than that, the legal machinations and outside-of-court action create a page-turner that’s both topical and easy to read. I’m guessing Truitt will be back in a fictional courtroom again before too long and I look forward to that.

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