Recovering cop and author Lorimer Shenher richly deserves his nomination for a B.C. Book Prize

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      With all due respect to the other nominees, I have a sentimental favourite on the shortlist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

      Self-described recovering cop Lorimer Shenher has been nominated for this B.C. Book Prize for his riveting, deeply emotional, and honest memoir, That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away (Greystone).

      It details how families of missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside were let down by police agencies and Crown counsel as the country's worst serial killer remained at large for several years.

      Shenher, a former newspaper reporter, was the Vancouver Police Department's first detective assigned to the missing-women investigation.

      Robert William Pickton emerged as a prime suspect in 1998 after Crown had entered a stay of proceedings against him for attempted murder. This came after Pickton had stabbed and nearly killed a Downtown Eastside sex worker in a fight on his Port Coquitlam pig farm.

      It wasn't until 2002 that he was booked on two counts of first-degree murder. He was eventually charged with killing 26 women and was ultimately convicted on six counts of second-degree murder.

      It's astonishing what Shenher was able to accomplish in the book.

      He goes into considerable detail about the botched police probe, revealing how investigators went on a wild goose chase after another suspect even though Pickton deserved far greater attention.

      Shenher highlights how cops sometimes withheld information from one another and how one expensive fishing expedition was launched merely because this other suspect caused a cop's hair to stand on end.

      Shenher also chronicles how senior VPD officials were more committed to investigating a spate of home invasions than capturing a serial killer preying on Vancouver's most marginalized women.

      In addition, he writes about attending a teary memorial for missing women held at CRAB Park, where he met journalist Lindsay Kines. A subsequent series of articles by Kines and Kim Bolan in the Vancouver Sun shamed the Mounties and the VPD into responding with a far more fulsome investigation.

      Later in the book, Shenher takes readers inside the room where Pickton was interrogated. And the finale details in vivid terms how this investigation took a devastating toll on Shenher's mental health.

      On top of all of this, That Lonely Section of Hell is interspersed with Shenher's loving letters to some of the murdered women, such as Sereena Abbotsway, Sarah de Vries, and Marnie Frey. These sections humanize Pickton's victims and capture some of the pain felt by family members.

      And Shenher manages to do all of this in a highly readable style that doesn't force readers to toss aside the book out of repulsion over Pickton's abominable acts.

      That Lonely Section of Hell may, on the surface, appear to be about the Pickton investigation. But on a deeper level, it's really an exploration of how Vancouver was policed in the 1990s and early 2000s before well-educated technocrats, like Jim Chu and Doug LePard, rose to the top of the department.

      Chu and LePard learned a great deal from the botched Pickton investigation about how police should interact with the public.

      They've both left the force, raising questions whether the VPD could conceivably lose some of the professionalism and big-picture thinking that they instilled in the wake of the Pickton probe.

      Shenher has come under fire in the past for wanting to write a book about his experiences. But in the end, this decision to lay out the force's shortcomings in That Lonely Section of Hell increases the likelihood that these lessons won't be forgotten.

      He's also broadened our understanding about a shameful period in the city's history, which has advanced the healing process. And for this, Vancouver residents owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

      Lorimer Shenher began a gender transition to male in the fall of 2015. He posted a statement about this on his website on March 10.

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