TRUE CRIME BOOKS are based on facts and detail, usually of the lurid variety. That Lonely Section of Hell—which depicts the failed investigation of Canada's most prolific serial killer—may look like it falls into the true crime genre, but it's actually something very different (to both its credit and failure). A former police detective, Lori Shenher, began investigating the murders of Vancouver, BC, sex workers in 1998. However, due to what Shenher describes as overarching sexism, racism, and bureaucratic incompetence within the department, it took until 2007 to convict pig farmer Robert Pickton, who's suspected of murdering nearly 50 women.
Pickton's spree is mind-numbingly horrific, and well documented in the 2011 Stevie Cameron true crime account, On the Farm. With That Lonely Section of Hell, Shenher has written a police procedural/memoir—a deeply personal and confessional recounting of her largely ignored attempts to bring Pickton to justice. While Pickton was introduced as a legitimate suspect very early in the investigation, Shenher was continually blocked by the Vancouver Police Department's disinterest in the plight of sex workers (many of whom were members of the historically ignored indigenous population). Overwhelmed by frustration and guilt, Shenher's life was shattered. Diagnosed with PTSD, both her personal and professional lives were very nearly destroyed, and she's still in a position of tenuous recovery.
This is a book that Shenher obviously needed to write. It's an extremely emotional, conflicted read, crammed with minute details of the investigation, as well as personal notes to the murdered women she thinks she's failed. In this regard, That Lonely Section is fascinating, and it's hard to think of a more honest memoir. But the book is by turns frustrating and infuriating, overwhelmingly packed with unnecessary and narrative-slowing details, which often come off as the author protecting her own professional reputation. (This is especially evident from a conspicuous lack of outside sources backing up her story—especially surprising since Shenher was a reporter before joining the police.)
If there's any failure here, it stems from the editor rather than the writer, who should've reined in what could've been the most fascinating and interesting memoir of recent times. That being said, when Lonely Section works, it really works, and is an excellent companion piece and ethical antidote to the more lurid accounts of Pickton's crimes.