I was walking around Netloft on Granville Island a few days ago to escape a particularly heavy downpour, when I found myself thinking of how rainy days are the weather best suited for mysteries. It’s no surprise that so many suspenseful tales start on dark and stormy nights– rain can provide so much atmosphere, that you could transport yourself somewhere else entirely. Take a mystery like Rabbit Foot Bill by Helen Humphreys, for example. Based on a true story that took place in the prairies of 1940s Saskatchewan, the beginning is a drizzle; words are the droplets that outline murky themes, like the lasting impact of grief on humans, or the pain of living through trauma.
We follow our protagonist, Leonard Flint, as a young boy who befriends the rough and quiet Rabbit Foot Bill, a vagabond whose presence serves as a figure of solace for the lonely, bullied boy. I could hear the rain hammer above me as I thought about Leonard’s growing dependence on Bill, that culminated in his witnessing an act of unspeakable violence that brought about Bill’s imprisonment. I found myself inside the Circle Craft co-op store, populated with an assortment of beautifully crafted objects, the tables and cabinets ensuring social distancing between the customers. They created a maze where I willingly lost myself amongst various testaments to artistry, the rain steadily simmering down by this point. My thoughts raced back to the words of Helen Humphreys; words that evoked the desperation and confusion of a grown-up Leonard, and how he had to face the horrors of his past when he and Bill crossed paths again many years later, in an unexpected way.
I was shocked back to reality as I passed by two lapine figurines– one white, one brown. The white rabbit seemed observant but apprehensive, wary of engaging with the unknown. The brown rabbit was more forthcoming, and almost beckoned me closer. Two sides of one coin, constantly figuring out how to live alongside each other. That same sentiment runs through Rabbit Foot Bill, a book that charts the ways people leave indelible marks on one another, and how we succeed and fail in persevering against adversity. By the time I left the craft store, the rain had stopped, and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the clouds.