Monday, May 1, 2017

BOOK: The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Nation by Charlotte Gray, 336 pages

In 1915, a Toronto man coming home was shot as he entered the front door. That is was a young 18 year old maid, Carrie Davis, who shot prominent Bert Massey, of the Massey family, made this story sensational, and historical writer Charlotte Gray tells the tale.

Actually, there isn't a ton to the crime story. The whole incident, from shot fired to end of trial took only a few months and was fairly unremarkable. But Gray does more than tell the story of the trial. Instead, I  read about a young country Canada about to come into her own as a nation fighting in WW1, the beginning of the end of the class system in Toronto, the crazy newspaper wars that were occurring, women fighting for rights, immigrant life in Toronto, and some background on a well-known rich Canadian family the Masseys. (I assume this became Massey-Ferguson farm equipment, not to mention Massey Hall) This was a great history book of Canada in the early 1900s, using a crime as the backdrop and to give some real people to anchor to the story.

Gray does excellent research, and I liked her narrative style. The background of many of the characters, including the defense lawyer Harley Dewart, the judge, the whole Massey family, and some of the women fighting for votes and better life for women. Gray even manages to reuse some of her previous research, as she quotes Nellie McClung, a book I read in 2010 about the Canadian feminist pioneer. That's okay because everyone needs to hear about Nellie more often!

This is what history is meant to be and how it is supposed to be taught in school - events happen within a social context and it is necessary to investigate any event, like a random little crime, looking at how life was and what else was going on socially, economically, and politically.

Some other Canadian History books by Charlotte Gray:

  • Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susannah Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill
  • Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention
  • Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E Pauline Johnson
  • Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike