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The Word On The Street Blog

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Toronto Book Awards: The Massey Murder

September 10, 2014

The Massey Murder book cover

Our series of Toronto Book Awards reviews continues. Kim MacMullen will be reading and reviewing each of the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

Today Kim reviews The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray (HarperCollins Canada). A representative for Charlotte Gray will be reading at the The Word On The Street on September 21st, at 1:30 PM and again at 2:00 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.

On February 8, 1915, Charles Albert “Bert” Massey was shot to death by his 18-year-old housemaid, Carrie Davies, on the doorstep of his Walmer Street home. Confessing immediately upon her arrest and stating that Mr. Massey had attempted to assault and ruin her, Carrie leaves no question as to her participation in the murder of her employer—all that remains is to determine her fate. In The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, Charlotte Gray tells the compelling story of the murder and trial while also painting a vivid picture of Toronto of 1915 and its wide array of citizens and social spheres.

Structured chronologically beginning with Massey’s death, each chapter of The Massey Murder outlines a day or more in the time between the shooting and the verdict, culminating in several chapters that address the fallout of the trial and beyond. The bulk of the book details the particulars of the case that unfolded throughout February of 1915 while fleshing out social and historical context related to those particulars. The impressive range of topics includes the rise of the Massey family, the cause of Bert’s expulsion from Hart Massey’s favour, the newspaper war between the Toronto Daily Star and the Evening Telegram, the Toronto Local Council of Women, the Women’s Court of Toronto, and the working conditions of domestic servants, all of which adds to the reader’s understanding of the complex and tumultuous time period and offers rich and invaluable context for the lead-up to Bert Massey’s death and Carrie Davies’ trial.


Gray also sets the murder firmly against the backdrop of World War I, which had broken out in the summer of the previous year. The conflict was six months old by the time Bert Massey died on his front step, and the now-infamous “home by Christmas” deadline had been surpassed by over a month. Soldiers had dug in on both fronts, stories of the brutal nature of the fighting and horrific conditions had made their way home, and Canadian troops were about to see action. When news of Massey’s murder broke, it provided a welcome, if slightly morbid, distraction from the months of grisly and overwhelming news from overseas, and captured the attention of Toronto and the country at large.

With some minor speculation and projections regarding things like Carrie Davies’ emotional state after being arrested, Gray ties the facts of the murder and subsequent trial together with strong narrative flair and excellent pacing. Far from being a simple retelling of the facts of a long-ago murder case, The Massey Murder is a thoroughly enjoyable and accessibly written look into the key players and institutions surrounding the death of Bert Massey, along with the effects of the trial and shocking verdict on Toronto itself.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


In 2013 Charlotte Gray was a panelist on which CBC Radio show? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews, and more chances to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.