On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel pounded Toronto with high winds and torrential rains. When the swollen rivers flooded their banks, bridges were swept off their moorings, houses were washed into Lake Ontario, and 81 lives were lost.
Once the storm abates, Ray Townes, a young police officer whose wife, Mary, is expecting their first child, is hailed as a hero. His picture is splashed across the front pages of several newspapers, and reporters clamor to interview him about the details of his dramatic rescues. Shattered by the events of the evening, Ray shuns the publicity. As time passes, his marriage disintegrates and he becomes a shadow of the man he once was. Fifty years later, when Ray is 84 and dying of emphysema, he decides it is time to reveal the truth. Writing in a journal, which he hides from his wife and daughter, Ray recounts the untold story of the hurricane that swept away his plans and dreams that night.
I was predisposed to enjoy this book: Not only are the premise and title intriguing, but Hurricane Hazel was a frequent topic of adult conversation during my childhood. I was, however, disappointed. The storyline shifts chapter-by-chapter between Ray and Mary; and also jumps, within chapters, between 1954 and 2004. This style could work, if it added to the suspense, but hints about what we are about to learn are so blatant that there are few surprises. Ray and Mary’s relationship is as laborious and boring as Ray’s constant effort to intake his next breath. While this may be the whole point, it does not create interesting characters. That being said, Sinnett’s descriptions of the human drama amidst the storm-ravaged city are powerful and worth the read for anyone interested in learning more about this portion of Canadian history.