Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Sept 20, 2015)

That Lonely Section of Hell Ė A review 


By Bob Cooper


In That Lonely Section of Hell, Lori Shenher chronicles her experiences as a Detective Constable newly assigned to the Vancouver Police Missing Persons Section in the summer of 1998, when she received the first tip identifying Willy Pickton as a possible suspect in the disappearances of a number of women from the Downtown Eastside.  Most were drug-addicted prostitutes and were subsequently found to have been murdered on Picktonís pig farm in Port Coquitlam east of Vancouver.   Pickton was eventually convicted of 6 of the murders but is widely believed to be good for close to 50.  The title itself is a grabber and I thought it referred to the Pickton Farm.  I wonít spoil it for those who havenít read the book but it was something else entirely and the imagination it showed, along with superb writing skills and a sharp dry wit, combine to make it an excellent read.


When That Lonely Section of Hell hit the shelves I debated whether I should buy a copy.  A couple of books Iíve read by retired cops were good but most of them wouldnít have Joe Wambaugh laying awake nights with worry.  The next morning I read an excerpt from Chapter 3 in the Globe and Mail.  I bought it as soon as I finished and couldnít put it down.   

I left the Homicide Squad in June of 1998 the month before Lori arrived and returned two years later by which time the whole case had been handed off to the Missing Womenís Task Force so I have very little first-hand knowledge.  Most people Iíve talked to agree with Loriís description of events but some interpret them differently.  Iíve written several pieces on the Pickton case including A few basic truths in which I tried to explain the incredible difficulties with serial killer investigations and debunk some of the myths being spun by some media outlets and activist groups.  One thing that didnít surprise me was Loriís reference to Lindsay Kines of the Victoria Times-Colonist as recognizing that something was troubling her and displaying genuine concern.  As I mention in the column, I knew Lindsay when he was covering us with the Vancouver Sun and he always stood out as a class act. 

I know most of the people in the book personally and some I consider good friends.  Lori has an amazing way of bringing them off the page in a 3 dimensional state.  Her portrayal of Detective Al Howlett who I worked with in the Internal Investigation Squad was spot on.  Al was a great detective and a really nice guy.  It saddened me to read Loriís account of the torment he suffered along with a twinge of guilt because I never saw it.   I hope Al has found the peace and contentment he deserves in retirement.  Iíd love to get together with him but Iíd understand completely if he doesnít want to.  Some guys say goodbye and mean it. 

Loriís vivid account of her descent into depression so severe that she could barely function, and her strength and determination to recover are the part of the book that will really resonate with most readers particularly those who have stood at the edge of that same abyss.  She describes her symptoms and her battle in a way that those of my generation, not given to soul-baring, never could.  Like the characters, she gives such life to her demons that it makes some passages difficult to read and at times her pain is palpable. 

That Lonely Section of Hell is a frank but fair chronology of successive failures, both individual and organizational, eventual triumph, and the scars it left on a lot of people, particularly the author.  In addition to being both compelling and entertaining, it contains some valuable lessons for any Officers or NCOs on a major case such as watching carefully for signs of burn-out or Stockholm syndrome, particularly in younger less-experienced members and intervening early.  Another is that, for obvious reasons, no one should be working alone in a situation like this. 

Like Joe Wambaugh with The New Centurions, Loriís first book is going to be a major hit and I hope she keeps writing.  As Iím sure she realizes, sheís not alone.  Whether they admit it or not, anyone who spends a lot of time in places like the Downtown Eastside or the Homicide Squad never leaves without taking some baggage with them.  We each have our own little Ďsectioní.   Itís just a matter of degree.


Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



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