Neglected Classic #1

Posted by Daniel on Jan 6, 2009 - 7 comments

I thought from time to time I would recommend books about BC that I consider to be neglected classics. (The irony of using a blog to recommend books is not lost on me.) First on my list is Who Killed Janet Smith? by Ed Starkins, published in 1984 and as far as I can tell now out of print. Which is a pity.

This used to be my favourite book about Vancouver history (until Jean Barman published Stanley Park's Secret three years ago and claimed the #1 spot). Starkins has written a terrific social history in the form of a murder mystery.

The case of Janet Smith, the Scottish nanny murdered in a Shaughnessy mansion in 1924, is the stuff of local legend. A Chinese houseboy was charged with the murder but, obviously innocent, he was acquitted and the crime was never solved. Before it faded away, the investigation reached the floor of the legislature and involved pretty well every member of the city's political/social elite. It's a great story, but I love Janet Smith most for the way Starkins provides such an intimate look at upper crust Vancouver in the Jazz Age: its fancy dress parties, its political connections, its racism and arrogance.

I know that another book has been written more recently about the murder, but Starkins remains my favourite, and a neglected classic.

Labels: BOOKS