REVIEW: Missing From The Village by Justin Ling

The Official Description: The tragic and resonant story of the disappearance of eight men — the victims of serial killer Bruce McArthur — from Toronto’s queer community, and the failures of the social and political systems which allowed the cases to go unsolved for so long.

In 2013, the Toronto Police Service announced that the disappearances of three missing men — Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Majeed Kayhan — from Toronto’s gay village were, perhaps, linked. On paper, an investigation continued for a year, but remained “open but suspended.” By 2015, investigative journalist Justin Ling had begun to put in multiple requests to speak to the investigators on the case. Meanwhile, more men would go missing, and police would continue to deny that there might be a serial killer. On January 18, 2018, Bruce McArthur, a landscaper, would be charged with three counts of first-degree murder. In February 2019, he was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder.

This extraordinary book tells the complete story of the McArthur murders. Based on more than five years of in-depth reporting, this is also a story of police failure, of how the gay community failed its own, and the story of the eight men who went missing and the lives they left behind. In telling that story, Justin Ling uncovers the latent homophobia and racism that kept this case unsolved and unseen. This gripping book reveals how police agencies across the country fail to treat missing persons cases seriously, and how policies and laws, written at every level of government, pushed McArthur’s victims out of the light and into the shadows.

Just the facts: Non-fiction, crime, queer community, Canadian

Justin Ling’s account of such a tragedy is spearheaded by empathy for the families and friends of the victims. It’s not a “true crime” novel, it’s a story about people. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: The short description of this book is that it’s about the victims of a serial killer in Toronto. That’s a really inadequate description of this work though. Justin Ling has written a book that recounts what has happened and what is still happening to a “community” of people in Canada. I have quotations around the word, community, because like Ling I think that the LGBTQIA2+ (Queer) community isn’t always a community. I know that’s an unpopular opinion but I thought that Ling covered it very succinctly in the introduction to this book so it is worth mentioning!

This book is a detailed and empathetic account of the timeline of a terrible time in Canada’s recent history. From 2010 to 2017 members of Toronto’s queer community disappeared without a trace. Members of the queer community mobilized to try and search for their friends, families were frightened and confused, the police… weren’t really engaged in any helpful way. In 2018 Bruce McArthur was arrested in connection with some of the disappearances. A lot of things happened between 2010 and 2018 and much of it leads one to believe that there were significant mistakes made by law enforcement.

Ling also writes about the way the history of queer people and the prevalence of violence/death. He writes of forty-two queer people who were killed between 1975 and 1985. There are times when law enforcement implies that the blame lies with the community itself and that may add to peoples’ reluctance to get involved.

And what of racism and its impact on crime investigation? Ling explores the fact that many of the missing men were people of colour, immigrants, and the impact that their background may have had on the “weight” law enforcement gave to their significance. Ling’s research is thorough and relevant considering the current issues facing law enforcement regarding systemic racism. Even now family and friends are revealing they were fearful of being speaking to police because of their precarious status with respect to immigration.

Justin Ling has basically written a book outlining the way he uncovered the details of this case. This book is intriguing for a couple of reasons. The way that Ling writes about the victims of Bruce McArthur is caring, clear, and thorough. Ling has taken the time to get to know the men who disappeared from the community. The author has delved into the past of people who might otherwise have become just a name on a page. Ling has interviewed family and friends, delved into the past of the missing men, and doesn’t shy away from speaking about how many mistakes are made in terms of the investigation of these cases.

Men began to go missing in 2010, police had McArthur’s name in 2013. He was interviewed twice. He had been arrested for assault. He was not arrested until 2018. What happened in all that time in between?

Ling explores the complicated nature of searching for information in the queer community. Not only is the community sometimes fragmented but fear leads many people to remain silent or hold on to information. In addition to the missing men in Toronto’s queer village, this case was complicated by the Luka Magnotta case and the domestic terrorism of Alek Minassian.

This book is an interesting exploration of the way that connections between people are made… and might still be overlooked in certain communities. Ling also explores the accuracy of criminal profiling and supposes that the sample group of “serial killers” isn’t large enough for accurate conclusions to be drawn about their behaviour. This sparked a lot of thought for me about basic statistics and set me off on my own research.

The names of the men who were killed are forefront in this book and I appreciate that. Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisawik, Krishna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, and Soroush Mahmudi are names that will be remembered for a long time to come.
image from 08/25/20

This is an interesting and engaging book. Ling has walked the line between being factual and being empathetic. He gives the deceased men the space they need on the page to become “real” and valued. I appreciated the remarkable effort and dedication that went into the telling of this story. It is a sad but important book. There are so many issues being brought into the light at the moment regarding law enforcement and this book is very timely.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) Descriptions of violent encounters, descriptions of the recovery of dead bodies, descriptions of the aftermath of missing person cases, descriptions of the recovery of bodies.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of Missing From The Village by Justin Ling from Penguin via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.