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Black River Road
Black River Road

Black River Road

In 1869, in the woods just outside of the bustling port city of Saint John, a group of teenaged berry pickers discovered several badly decomposed bodies. The authorities suspected foul play, but the identities of the victims were as mysterious as that of the perpetrator. From the twists and turns of a coroner's inquest, an unlikely suspect emerged to stand trial for murder: John Munroe, a renowned architect, well-heeled family man, and pillar of the community.

Munroe was arguably the first in Canada's fledgling judicial system to actively defend himself. His lawyer's strategy was as simple as it was revolutionary: Munroe's wealth, education, and exemplary character made him incapable of murder. The press and Saint John's elite vocally supported Munroe, sparking a debate about character and murder that continues to this day. In re-examining a precedent-setting historical crime with fresh eyes, Komar addresses questions that still echo through the halls of justice more than a century later: is everyone capable of murder, and should character be treated as evidence in homicide trials?


Debra Komar is the author of The Ballad of Jacob Peck, The Lynching of Peter Wheeler, and, most recently, The Bastard of Fort Stikine, which won the 2016 Canadian Authors Award for Canadian History. A Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and a practicing forensic anthropologist for over twenty years, she investigated human-rights violations for the United Nations and Physicians for Human Rights. She has testified as an expert witness at The Hague and throughout North America and is the author of many scholarly articles and a textbook, Forensic Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Practice.

Shortlisted: Arthur Ellis Best Non-Fiction Crime Book Award
"Debra Komar's latest foray into Canada's murderous past recreates a sensational Victorian-era morality tale that's brimming with intrigue, shady characters, forbidden sex, and high-stakes courtroom drama. Black River Road combines meticulous research, razor-sharp insight, and riveting storytelling to unearth a forgotten chapter in our legal history." — Dean Jobb

"An engaging and atmospheric account of a crime that shocked a mid-Victorian city. The Maggie Vail case lives on as a tale interwoven by deceit, lust, avarice, class privilege, and the 19th-century media's growing fascination with ‘true crime.’" — Greg Marquis

"Fans of Komar's finely detailed forensic re-examinations will find much to enjoy here. No rock is left unturned, no assumption left to fester, in the search for truth. The complex moral ambiguities that arise will haunt your thoughts, but with Komar's calm manner deftly guiding proceedings, the readers are always in good hands. I can't recommend her books highly enough as much for the philosophical issues they raise as for the first-class storytelling. Black River Road serves to remind us, at a time when it is needed more than ever, that there simply is no reliable forensic test of character." — Brooke Magnanti

"An intriguing piece of social history that has a few surprising things to tell us about life, love and crime." — Winnipeg Free Press

"A careful dissection of the question of character." — The Globe and Mail

"Meticulously researched and told with style and authority. A strong sense of place, a tense plot, and plenty of cliff hangers will keep the reader glued to the pages." — The Journal Pioneer

224 pages
Pub date: September 6, 2016