Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
When the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it made the headlines. Media coverage reverberated the tragedy around the world: 316,000 people dead, 1.5 million displaced. We shook our heads and prayed, and then promptly forgot about Haiti, as its disaster was replaced by another and another and another.
In Blood and Belonging, Vicki Delaney remembers. She remembers through one family: a young man named Robert Savin who raised his younger brother, after they were orphaned by the quake. She remembers through Sergeant Ray Robertson, a Canadian RCMP officer, working in Haiti with the United Nations. According to a recent report from the UN, 2.5 million Haitians still need humanitarian aid. Stand-up guys like Ray Robertson are needed and valued on an island still reeling from epidemics, poverty, crime, ruthless entrepreneurs, and political disharmony.
Robertson is in Haiti training police officers, like recent graduate Robert Savin. So, when Savin’s corpse washes up on a beach in Turks & Caicos, where he is vacationing with his wife, Robertson remembers the young man. He remembers shaking his hand at graduation, remembers meeting his younger brother, Jean-Claude, and his cousin, Henri Savin. Robert Savin was proud and thrilled to be starting a new life as a Haitian police officer.
Robertson’s quest to solve Robert Savin’s murder, and save Jean-Claude and his cousin, leads to an investigation into human trafficking. Refugees, like the Savins, buy their way onto a boat that promises hope and freedom in the United States, but too often dumped on Turks and Caicos, an island 140 miles north, and told they must work off their debt. Men are sent to work in construction, women into maid service, and all are in danger of becoming trapped in the sex trade, especially the children.
Blood and Belonging is part of the Rapid Reads series published by Orca Books. It’s short, 109 pages, and is intended to be read in one sitting. Many Rapid Reads are written by best-selling authors like Vicki Delaney, for adults who want interesting contemporary stories without complex vocabulary. This is not to say, Delaney’s writing is simple. To unpack a murder investigation in just over one hundred pages takes skill and precision. Every word counts, yet her descriptions place us in the centre of the action. “All around me the sea was a boiling mass of panicked humanity” (99) she writes of a shipwreck. She introduces new terms too, like “snakehead” — a word that aptly describes a human trafficker and “belonger” — someone native to Turks and Caicos.
As a former English teacher, I can recommend this series for teens, especially ESL students and those with learning difficulties. Jean-Claude dreams of being an American rap star, and this allusion makes the story appealing to teenage boys. Moreover, the book is well-researched. Delaney’s description of the holding facility near Providenciales, where refugees are photographed, fingerprinted, and detained for shipment back to Haiti conjures up a third world prison: “…a mild version of hell. We drove to a cluster of dull cinder-block buildings on a patch of bare dusty ground. It was surrounded by high fencing topped with barbed wire” (53).
In the merging of history, social justice, and contemporary characters, Rapid Reads offers accessible quality literature. Blood and Belonging is the third book in the Ray Robertson Mystery series. Juba Good is set in the south Sudan where he is stationed for two years, and the second, Haitian Graves, in Haiti. Although Ray Robertson’s wife wants him to come home and retire in B.C., I think Vicki Delaney has other plans for him. He’s not quite ready to give up his UN work, and this is what Ray’s wife loves about him.
Blood and Belonging is published by Raven Books.
WL Hawkin writes urban fantasy with a twist of murder. To Charm a Killer and To Sleep with Stones are the first two books in her Hollystone Mysteries series with Blue Haven Press.