Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Free Reign

Book: Free Reign
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words  : Good QuotesReferences

Basic Information:
 Author: Rosemary Aubert
Edition:Hardback from the Mountain View Public Library
Read: May 10, 2017
321 pages
Genre:   Fiction, Mystery
Rated: 3  out of 5

Synopsis  (Caution: Spolier Alert-Go To Thoughts):
A judge in Canada has been jailed, put in a mental ward, mostly because he cannot control his anger. When released, he drifts around until he leaves the inner city and resides in a valley cut by the Don River in the middle of Toronto.

He finds a severed black hand with a ring on it. He recognizes that there are only four other rings like it in the world and he has one of them. After graduating from law school, Ellis Portal and four others from his graduating class made a vow that they would always be there to help each other. This was sealed by each being given a ring, the ring which was attached to the severed hand.

The book then goes into the background of Ellis which is helpful, but awfully long. He has some street friends: Queenie and Johnny Dirt and some others. But the most important connection is Aliana, a newspaper reporter. She had done a sympathetic story on Ellis Portal when he was in the mental ward. It is her who he turns to to help him dig up what this hand is all about.

They trace what happened to the last of the ring bearers, Stow who is about to become a Supreme Court justice for Canada and his wife Harpur, who Ellis was infatuated.  It turns out that Stow and his wife are board members of a “hostel” called Second Chance. This is where well to do girls are directed to to take care of messy problems like abortions. The only thing is that some of the girls disappear

A storm comes in at the conclusion of Ellis’ talk with Williams, another ring bearer. This talk leads Ellis directly to the conclusion that Stow is up to no good and must be stopped, even if it means risking Ellis’ freedom. But before Ellis can act, the mother of all storms, at least for this area, comes in flooding the Don River. This causes many lives to be threatened; some are lost. Eventually this will include Williams. But not before we hear that Ellis found with the ring belonged to Matt West, Williams’ lover. The ring came from Gleason, the fifth ring-bearer, who was also Williams’ lover before he died in a car accident.

After Ellis has found redemption by being a hero in rescuing several people from the flood, he goes and confronts Stow. The whole story is then let out with a twist. The bottomline is nobody is murdered, even Matt West is alive, but without a hand. The whole Second Chance scheme is legal, but left with the question of is it moral.

When I first read the reporters exclamation of “we are connected to the Internet” like it was a new thing, I thought how cheesy. Of course you are. Then I realized the book was published in 1997, when it was mostly dial ups, not WiFi. Maybe not as cheesy.


In looking at the Google Earth of the Don River, I was thinking this area did not have too many places to hide, particularly for a long period of time. But what was it like 20-30 years ago? At least in 2002, it looked pretty similar according to Google Earth.

I thought that the explanation which Stow had for everything was a bit too coincidental. Such as Matt West being the homosexual partner of Williams who was one of the five ring bearers. Matt West being the guardian for Harpur who was also a ring bearer and the wife of Stow. There seemed to be many of these interlocking which would be a bit too complicated for real life, possible, but probable?

Probably the biggest dilemma in the book is the actions which are legal yet are they moral? A a few is is more moral to break the law than to obey it at times? Neither are shown in a particularly striking fashion to cause us to rethink things.

Free Reign is an enjoyable read, starting a bit slow, but then progresses. If you are looking for a hardcore mystery, try someone else like Dorothy Sayers. But for an enjoyable way to spend a summer day, you could do worse.

Notes from my book group:

Why the title of Free Reign?
    There is a quote in the beginning of the book referencing the title.

What is the difference between Free Rein and Free Reign?  (From the Writing Explained web site)
  • free rein is an allusion to horses, not to kings or queens. This is an important distinction to make when you are looking for the correct spelling and it will guide us the rest of the way when comparing free rein vs. free reign.. free rein is an allusion to horses, not to kings or queens. This is an important distinction to make when you are looking for the correct spelling and it will guide us the rest of the way when comparing free rein vs. free reign.
  • Free reign is a spelling error, mistakenly used for the phrase free rein.. As a noun, reign refers to the period of time a sovereign rules. As a verb, reign refers to the action of holding royal office, being the best of most important, or holding a title.

  • Does this story work as a mystery? Did the ending seem fitting? Satisfying?  Hammish? Predictable?
    • Not a traditional mystery. Dust jacket calls it a suspenseful story. What is the difference between suspense and mystery?
  • Did you think that with the  description of Toronto, you could trace where Ellis was going?
  • Which character was the most convincing? Least? Which character did you identify with? Which one did you dislike?
  • Was there any philosophical underpinnings to this book? Any symbolism?  In what context was religion talked about in this book? Was there anybody you would consider religious? Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • When Stow’s story unfolded, did you change your mind about him? Did you think of and contrast with  John in Still Alice?
  • Would you read other Ellis Portal books-there are five of them?
    • Answered varied
  • What would you have done in Ellis’ place with Stow? Harpur?
  • What would you ask Rosemary Aubert if you had a chance?
  • What “take aways” did you have from this book?

As our discussion went, I thought this would have been a good question: Did saving lives allowed him to save his own?

New Words:
  • impegno (chp 12): Italian for commitment

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: My name is Ellis Portal.
  • Last Line: “Yes, Dad,” she said, “It’s a promise.”
  • ...anything fenced in is some kind of servant. (Chp 2)
  • If your English was indistinguishable from everybody else’s, nobody could ever accuse you of not belonging. (Chp 2)
  • A man with a bad temper can never be a free man. (Chp 4)
  • ...despite all my joy at my free existence, I was neither free, not safe, … (Chp _)
  • What we’re after is simple, Aliana. The truth. (chp 17)
  • no matter how fast a man moves to get away, he never outruns himself, (Chp 17)
  • All love ends in tragedy.  (Chp 18)
  • A person untouched by tragedy is unfit to judge others. (Chp 18)
  • the heart needs no reason to love.  (Chp 18)


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