CBR Bingo: Snake
Retired Canadian detective’s Steve Ryan’s The Ghosts that Haunt Me is a thoughtful, interesting look into cases that have stayed with him over the course of his career. I have read a lot of true crime, and this is one of the better books in the genre, particularly for its sensitive handling of victims’ stories and how their cases impacted the lives of their loved ones (as well as the investigators of their murders). Too often true crime can be salacious or exploitive. Not so with this book, and it doesn’t lose any of the riveting details that can make true crime so fascinating.
The first case Ryan recounts is of a young girl who is kidnapped and murdered. He sets the tone of centering and humanizing the victim and those affected by her death. A fascinating case follows, where three tourists sharing a hotel room are brutally murdered, with seemingly no leads or witnesses. Other cases include a stalking case that ends in murder and a cold case involving a missing child who had endured terrible abuse. Along with describing the cases, Ryan educates the reader about police work and the criminal justice system.
I was really struck by what a decent and empathetic cop Ryan is. At one point he says, “The problems that caused the situations I policed ran so much deeper. There’s a sadness you feel when policing—the sorrow that you can’t do anything more.” He also writes a poignant passage about the effect his work had on him:
I became numb to all the joys and pains of life. I spent most of my days awake thinking about the suffering I’d seen, and all of my time asleep dreaming about it. It got to a point where I often felt as if I were living behind a pane of glass. On the other side of the glass was the life everyone around me was living. It was vibrant and colourful there, but I couldn’t be where it was. I stood alone in a place that was dark and cold, in a soupy fog that twisted and morphed into the victims of the homicides I investigated. I spent all my time with them and could only observe everyone else from behind the glass.”
More surprisingly, he embraces critiques of his profession and the criminal justice system: “[The defense lawyer] was a staunch critic of the police and Crown, and for that I admired him. Criminal defence lawyers hold agents of the state accountable for our actions.” I don’t know if this shows the culture of policing is different in Canada, but as an American I was definitely surprised to see such an attitude. It certainly speaks to Ryan’s understanding of the responsibility he bears as law enforcement, and how his profession must be held to account for any wrongs.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a little short, but Ryan gives the victims their full due. He never approaches anything callously and is cognizant of how sacred his duty is in many ways. I appreciated learning about his own reactions to his cases, and how he interwove them with his greater thoughts about crime and investigation. This book is a more positive look at police work, which is welcome given the many entrenched and serious systemic problems that exist.
Snakes: Perpetrators of such crimes can be seen as snakes in the grass, dangerously stalking their prey. I also found my expectations of police also being potentially dangerous “snakes” subverted (without losing sight that this is just one personal account and the problematic state of policing remains a deep, complex social issue that this book does not address).
This book was provided to me by NetGalley. It has not affected the content of my review.