These memories have haunted Steve Ryan, and now they haunt me too. Ryan warns the reader that the contents of this book will be dark, warns us to close it and move on if we value our peace of mind. He’s right. This book will cleave to my bones like scars from bites. The murderers in Ryan’s cases are depraved animals, creatures looking like humans but lacking humanity. The crimes recounted to us are sweat-inducing-chills-on-the-soles-of-my-feet terrifying. The thing is, they were committed for such trivial, banal, forgivable reasons, sometimes for no reason at all except for the purpose of inflicting pain.
Ryan weaves into his account the effect of these crimes on his psyche, giving us — those who have not worked in policing work or its related domains — insight into the damage being witness can cause. We don’t just see the effect on Ryan, but on the entire community of those who do this work. It becomes quickly clear that this work is as emotional and psychological as it is mired in materiality: these people study the severing of a life from its body, but in this memoir we see how deeply entwined the soul is to the the gory material left behind. In a sense, the homicide detective is required to lend the dead their own soul, a poor but necessary substitute in the effort to ameliorate the injustice of the victim’s murder.
The reader will weep for Ryan and for all homicide detectives as much as they weep for the victims and their families. And, let us also not forget, the families of the murderers — in some cases, the extended family of the murdered and the murderer are one and the same, a double slice, the cut twice as deep.
Ryan takes us through six of his most memorable, most awful cases, the ones which made him value his humanity. They are baffling in different ways: How could this have happened? In some cases the murder was sudden, a crime of impulse and opportunity. In others, it was planned with meticulous attention to detail. Some murders were the inevitable outcomes of years of abuse, the eventual killing a culmination of many crimes perpetrated. The scars were not always only the fatal ones.
These cases occurred in Canada, Ryan being a detective in Toronto and serving the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), but these will be familiar to any urban resident. The cases here involved immigrants, travelers, transnational cultures and expectations, mothers, wives, husbands, lovers, children, fathers, brothers. There is the odd stranger as well, a crime committed via a random encounter by someone the victim does not know — to be fair, the discovery of a murderer in the family can invoke a feeling of utter strangeness and dissonance, it is so unfathomable that someone we hold close and love could be capable of these kinds of crimes — but Ryan proves to us that intimacy is not a prerequisite for really knowing the interior mind of anyone. We can never really know the person we sleep next to at night. That’s the horror here. Trust is malleable in the mind and hands of murderers.
I’m glad to have read this book, chilling as its contents are. I sleep worse for it. But I a little less so because of people like Steve Ryan. I am grateful people willing and able to sacrifice a little of their soul to deliver justice to victims of crimes like these.
4 thoughts on “The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective by Steve Ryan”
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