Missing From the Village is our history told through the lens of true crime. Regardless where this book gets shelved, it’s importance cannot be overstated: finally, our story is told by one of our own, journalist Justin Ling (VICE, The Guardian). The arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur in 2018 captivated the world, his next potential victim drugged and bound in the bedroom when police arrived. Such murderers are the stuff of the 70s and 80s—a nearly extinct breed now mythologized in a variety of Netflix docuseries. It seemed unfathomable to many that a predator could still hunt undetected in such a sizable, sophisticated city. Unfathomable to everyone except the queer residents of Toronto’s gay village, who had spent years desperately trying to draw attention to the men who had gone missing, men who bore striking resemblances to one another.
Missing From the Village is the story of community response in the face of indifference from the police, one borne of historic contempt for its gay citizens. Significantly, it is the story of the victims, many of them marginalized, all of them complex individuals with families and friends and lovers, nearly all men of color from semi-closeted backgrounds that often led to their absence going unnoticed, though brave allies and advocates kept the fire burning, striving for answers, rallying the community. What this book is not about is Bruce McArthur. While much is revealed about his background and murderous methodologies (that more than one victim was his fuck buddy for years before succumbing to McArthur’s deadly instincts is beyond chilling), he remains an enigma, an unknowable voracious force. A heterosexual author would likely have magnified such an enigma in ways salacious and grotesque. However, Ling’s work here is one of advocacy: by holding the police and press responsible he documents decades-long institutional discrimination. Friends and family are interviewed, humanizing victims that are often relegated to statistical body counts in lesser books. The decision to forego the lurid photos so typical of the genre is not only commendable, but Lochlan Donald’s lovingly rendered black and while illustrations of these men act as fitting tributes, and proof that this book serves a higher purpose.
Friends, we’re getting there. More and more, we tell our own stories, from David McConnell’s American Honor Killings; Desire and Rage Among Men to James Polchin’s Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, we are recording our histories and, by naming the dark forces that put many of us at risk, Ling helps move the needle in the right direction. Speaking of names:
Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam
These men were all killed between 2010 and 2017. Yet Bruce McArthur was born in 1951 and though married, lived near the gay village in the 70s. There’s speculation that he was active much earlier, when the fight for equality was nascent and our lives much less valuable and visible. Missing In the Village is a searing blueprint of accountability; hopefully lists like the above will be a thing of the past.
Reviewed by Tom Cardamone, editor of Crashing Cathedrals: Edmund White by the Book, and the author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning speculative novella Green Thumb as well as the erotic fantasy The Lurid Sea and other works of fiction, including two short story collections. Additionally, he has edited The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered and co-edited Fever Spores: The Queer Reclamation of William S. Burroughs.