Steve Ryan’s new memoir, The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective (Dundurn 2022), is an anthology-style text that recounts some of Ryan’s most memorable cases as a homicide and cold case detective with the Toronto Metropolitan Police. Across his career of over a decade, Ryan walks the reader through several infamous murder cases from Toronto’s history, and it is a thoroughly interesting book for those fascinated by Canadian true crime.
Ryan has been involved with the investigations of over one hundred homicides during his career with the Toronto Police, and some of those cases continue to stick in his mind as the most complex and haunting of his career. Now retired, Ryan’s focus has changed, but he still feels largely defined by his former career. In this book, Ryan addresses six cases he investigated and solved that defined his time as a detective.
Overall, this book was a fascinating read. This felt less like a memoir—although it is structured by Ryan’s investigative voice—and more like an anthology of true crime stories. None of these cases were familiar to me, but they might be to someone from the Toronto area. Either way, Ryan offers an inside perspective on the case beyond the news headlines, and recounts in great detail the personal and investigative elements of the cases. I discovered new and truly harrowing Canadian crimes that I had never heard of, and Ryan’s clear, cool, and straightforward writing style was refreshing and direct.
It seems that many police memoirs have this kind of episodic, case-based structure. Although some police memoirs attempt to make a larger point out of this structure, which can be a problem, Ryan’s writing seems less interested a social commentary and more focused on the lesser-known facts of famous Toronto cases. Still, this kind of apolitical writing can pose its own problems in reference to positionality, power dynamics, and the willingness to work for an organization that has actively caused harm in the past. These kinds of memoirs are therefore a bit fraught in my view: the stories are important, as are the victims whom they involve, but the position of the author remains at issue when thinking self-reflexively about the role of law enforcement in this country. The solution to reading this genre of true crime is, perhaps, what we should always do when reading memoir: to pay attention to perspective and positionality, even if such things are not explicitly stated in the text itself.
For Ryan’s part, his focus seems to remain almost exclusively on the victims whose cases he endeavoured to solve, and on the families who he attempted to provide closure for. Although he dedicates his memoir to both victims and his colleagues in law enforcement, this is a bit at odds with the content of his book, which centralizes the histories and stories of the victims of homicides, no matter how strange the case at hand.
All in all, while I feel largely ambivalent about the police memoir genre as a whole, the stories in The Ghosts That Haunt Me are fascinating, and Ryan’s writing made for an interesting and fast-paced read! Going in with open eyes, reading this book can be a rewarding experience.
Please add The Ghosts That Haunt me to your Goodreads shelf.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
A digital copy of this book was graciously provided to True Crime Index from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.