(Published by Eschia Books Inc.)
Review by Shari Narine
Ghost Detective is an engaging blend of supernatural and whodunit wrapped around life on the reserve. It could easily have remained a mystery novel with a twist, but author Zachary Muswagon makes it more as he explores the conditions on reserves and the reasons that motivate the antagonists.
Clearly written and easily read, Ghost Detective spins the tale of the Ghostkeeper cousins, Billy and Dale, both of whom are flawed but likeable, as they make their way through the unnamed Rez, trying to piece together the murder of, yes, Billy Ghostkeeper.
Dale is Billy’s reluctant helper, drawn into the fray when Billy reminds Dale that he saved Dale’s life from gang leader Gar all those years ago when Dale was in Grade 7.
Ghost Detective also blends the traditional ways with the modern ways. Billy is helped along by the Crow, his spirit guide. Crotchety Aunt Kena, who has the Eyes of Fire, can talk to Billy (and others in the spirit world) directly but Dale has to depend on his Bluetooth for communication with Billy the ghost.
As the two work their way through the mystery of Billy’s death, two suspects become clear. First, gang leader Gar. In this way, Muswagon tackles the issue of the ever-growing problem of gangs on reserves. A little heavy-handed in his dealing of the topic, Muswagon refers to the gang members as thugs who are wanna-be great Aboriginal warriors.
The second suspect is DBA Resources executive Grant, whose oil company pumps so much money into the Rez that Billy, who holds the position of assistant band compliance officer, turns a blind eye – initially - to the company’s deadly infractions. Muswagon is blatant in slamming big oil for its unethical behaviour and its never-failing pursuit of the dollar.
DBA Resources is so bad that at one point a dead Billy is confronted by the ghosts of two children, who died of leukemia and who lived at a house where Billy fudged water and air emission sample results. Muswagon also takes an anti-government stand, with Grant telling Dale that even if Billy had damning information against the company, the government would not shut down a multinational billion dollar corporation, regardless of deaths.
But of course, no whodunit is complete without a twist and Ghost Detective offers just that.
And more. Muswagon examines the conditions on the reserves, pointing to housing on Attawapiskat First Nation, and the attitudes of the public towards the deaths of Aboriginal people, naming the Pickton murders as one example.
But all is not lost for Billy. Before his death, Billy is on the road to redemption and in his death, he finds forgiveness from the two children he inadvertently led to their deaths, and he also connects with his cousin. Billy realizes that he has been selfish and points out to Dale, that while the younger cousin is a poser, he’s also a good guy who has stepped up to help Billy out more than he needed to. Billy learns to control his ghost body and understand his role in the spirit world in time to help solve his murder and get the help of Aunt Kena to rescue Dale.
Ultimately, Ghost Detective is about trying to balance the traditional ways of caring for the land and the people with moving forward and providing for the people on the reserve. Can that happen? Says spirit guide Bear to Crow, “We’re moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.”