Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine

True crime?  Yes, I suppose so, but closer to reportage than sensationalism.  With the murder of Tina Fontaine, BBC journalist Joanna Jolly takes on a disturbing subject:  the numbers of raped, murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.  Folks outside of Canada may be oblivious, but the problem is such that Justin Trudeau, upon becoming Prime Minister, promised and implemented an initiative to focus on the issue.  And in truth, victim-blaming obscures the problem, for, you see, many indigenous women who come to cities such as Vancouver and Winnipeg (where Fontaine’s death occurred) become involved in drugs and the sex trade – risky, vulnerable lives, low priority lives that, unfortunately, are too easily dismissed.

Tina Fontaine was only fifteen years old, looked much younger, and had been reared on a First Nations reserve by an aunt who loved her.  Like many teenagers, she wanted to spread her wings a bit and came to Winnipeg in hopes of establishing a relationship with her mother.  Her mother, however, was nowhere to be found, but Tina stayed anyway and was soon on the streets.  For about a month.  Then somebody killed her.  Dumped her in the Red River.  Wrapped in a floral duvet cover.  That’s a jarring note, isn’t it?  A duvet cover.  I don’t have a duvet cover or a duvet to cover for that matter, but someone did.  Probably Tina’s killer.  Probably a psychopath.  With a duvet cover.  Strange.

Of course, Richard Cormier, her accused killer, is strange – a cagey, articulate man with a taste for very young women and a thing for Tina that he can’t stop talking about.  He supports himself and supplies his meth habit by stealing scrap metal, copper wiring and bicycles.  Living rough, looking stringy.  And, if you listen closely, you may hear the jingle jangle of loose screws as he walks by.  But did he kill Tina?  Winnipeg homicide detective John O’Donovan doggedly pursues Cormier, even setting up an elaborate and costly “Mr. Big” sting operation, but he can only build a circumstantial case against the suspect.  If you’re not familiar with the term, “Mr. Big” is an investigative ploy that actually originated in Canada.  It’s been banned in some countries as entrapment, and is restricted even in Canada, but O’Donovan’s version reads like a novel, and the case becomes a cause.  Is there justice for Tina?  For any of these women?  Well, you know how it is.  You know what they say.  It’s complicated.  But you can read and we can hope.

Shop your local indie bookstore for this one, Joanna Jolly’s compelling non-fiction debut.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada / Viking via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

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