David Adams Richards: An iconoclast protests

A grand parable of modern scapegoating

David Adams Richards has long been a wizard at conjuring tragic scenarios that address topical social problems in all their gory complexity. He is unafraid of challenging the reader’s prejudices or slicing through any delusions we might have about what makes us tick. In Principles to Live By (2016), for example, he pairs the brutal vicissitudes of a foster care system run by self-righteous and self-interested bureaucrats with the immense tragedy of genocide in Rwanda. Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul (2011) takes off from the death of a young Mi’kmaq man to explore racism and politics on a New Brunswick reserve.

His new novel, published only two years after his last, features a page-turning plot, the full life of a memorable character, and a provocative exploration of a fundamental concern in today’s media-driven world: our rush to judgement and our urge to scapegoat. Sadly, it’s marred by an...