September 12 2023, Knopf Canada

a new RCMP recruit and his wife walk down a dirt road

“A gripping, spare, emotionally complex story. Endicott writes with the understated intelligence and sure insight of a master novelist, piecing together fragmented memories and haunting details in a devastating revelation of the fragility of life, death, and the law in a tightknit, vulnerable community.” 

In 1992 Julia leaves her urban, literary life to go to a tiny town on the Alberta prairie with Hardy, on his first posting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Grounded in Endicott’s long experience as the partner of an RCMP member, this is her most personal book. The Observer’s powerful and moving stillness offers an unprecedented view of this time and place.

The deal was that Hardy would work and I would write for five years, and then we’d switch. Seemed fair. Only it turned out he didn’t make enough money for me to do nothing. The electricity bill came at the end of July—$900, half Hardy’s monthly salary—and I couldn’t pay it. It sat there beside my computer glaring at me, making it even harder to write. So when the phone rang I was happy to hear a voice looking for me instead of Hardy, asking if I’d be interested in editing the local paper, The Observer. Could I come in right away? I went in.

Julia tries to explain their new life to old friends from the city, but can find no shared vocabulary to convey this new rural reality, let alone police life. As Hardy disappears into long days and nights at work, Julia takes a job as editor of the local newspaper, the Observer. Interviewing people to compose a view of the town each week, she gathers knowledge of the community’s surface joys and sorrows; meanwhile, Hardy works the harder side, immersed in violence and loss, and Julia can only witness his exhaustion and despair. At first this new life is an adventure, but as in all the best stories, time will darken it.

Grounded in Endicott’s experience as an RCMP member’s spouse starting in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, The Observer is a gripping, spare, emotionally complex story from one of Canada’s most beloved storytellers.

By the end of a ten-day stretch with eleven dead bodies, Hardy was wrecked. But there was no let-up. Hardy and Vinn did the paperwork required by so many deaths, while continuing to attend domestics and accidents and the usual ordinary horrors, and I prayed more than usual. One night I phoned the detachment to see if I could bring them some supper. Hardy answered, “Nicky’s Pizza?” so I knew where he was—at the desk phone that displayed my caller ID. I asked how he was doing and he said, “Oh fine, fine. I split my personality to cope with all the horrors, and we’re both fine.”

The number of the dead matters. I came to think there must be some finite number of deaths people can handle in a month, a week. In a shift. Each death cuts away a clod of our earth, Donne was right. A highway accident with seven bodies is not a single death-event, it is one death seven times. In a hospital, a seniors’ residence, in a natural disaster, the number of the dead correctly shocks us. We do not want to lose that consciousness of each death being equal and terrible, each one diminishing us. A long time later I read something Hardy wrote for our Medway doctor, trying to explain what was making it difficult for him to work:

After accident scenes, there are day dreams of broken bodies opening their eyes, wide and surprised. Frustrated with me because I failed to find the pulse in the armpit. Long after sweeping glass off the highway, a quick prickle of fear, and I convince myself that there might have been life under all that blood and brain. No doubt this is some kind of denial of responsibility, rejection of the assigned task. I belong in Craiglockhart with the mute and the paralyzed.

Some time during those bad weeks Ben Martin came to stay with us, out of the blue. I knew him a little—he and Hardy had graduated from Depot together. Old for a recruit, like Hardy, Ben was a sturdy guy from out east who knew his way around, an ex-fisherman, not a delicate plant. He was posted to Lethbridge, not a hardship location. As far as I knew, Hardy hadn’t exchanged six words with him since Depot. And then came a brief phone message on the machine: I’ll be in Medway tomorrow, can I stay with you?

Not having our land address, he stopped at the detachment and the steno phoned our place to alert Hardy, who got out of bed and pulled on some clothes. He went out into the yard, standing still as Ben’s little blue car swirled around to a stop.

Ben didn’t get out. In the shade of the car his face looked puffy, like he’d gained weight.

After a minute Hardy went over and leaned down to the window, as if it was a highway check. They talked, Hardy leaning one elbow on the window’s edge. Then he straightened up and walked around to get in the passenger door, waving to me briefly at the back of the car, out of Ben’s line of sight.

When they came back it was dark, the northern summer dark that doesn’t descend until 11 pm. They were talking as they got out of the car, and Hardy helped Ben carry in his stuff. Two duffles, a bag that looked like liquor. The car was an older Nova, nothing a guy with a new job would be proud of. Recent recruits usually drove nice new cars or trucks, loans arranged as soon as they got their posting.

In the darkness of our room later, Hardy told me Ben had been put on leave and didn’t have anyplace else to go. His fiancée had decided their relationship was over; she was keeping the townhouse and he had to find another place to live. I guess Ben couldn’t face any of it, so he hopped in the car and drove north to find Hardy.

Unable to tell even Hardy much, Ben said nothing to me, except that his wedding was off. Hardy was working all the time, and I thought he was a little impatient with Ben; maybe he just had no way to solve a problem Ben couldn’t articulate. For a couple of weeks he hung around the house, a doleful guest, still asleep on the pull-out couch when I ran into town to work, often just getting out of bed when I came back in the evening to feed the dog. He went for long drives, he drank, he watched the video tapes he’d brought with him—he had taped the first two seasons of the Simpsons on his vcr, genuine comedy gold. When I came home I’d make some kind of supper and then pretend I had to work. In the late evenings we sat together in an equal stupor, watching episode after episode of the Simpsons, laughing from time to time.

One time Hardy had a night off—a miracle—so we all went up to Ridgeway to the steak restaurant for dinner, then came back and lit a fire in our little pit. We had chairs by then—plastic ones, not the fancy black-cloth umbrella folders with beer-holders, but they did the job. I didn’t have the stamina for an all-night party, and I knew Ben didn’t need me there, so after one drink I took myself off into the house. But I could hear them talking outside the open window of our room. I undressed quietly and stood by the window screen, caught by a change in the tone of the conversation.

Ben was really talking, for the first time. “A guy I know in Lethbridge, senior guy, killed himself—did it in a really graphic way. Everybody said, Oh the cancer must have come back, he’s such a solid guy, that must have been how it happened, why it happened.”

Hardy nodded, head sunk low into his collar. It was cooling off, even by the dying fire. The end of summer now.

“Like, instantaneously people attempted to make him, you know, separate from them.”

Hardy nodded again.

“You know.” Ben rocked his plastic chair onto its back legs, almost too far. “Figuring it out, labelling it, to push it away. It was because he shot somebody, it was because somebody shot him.”

Hardy laughed. “It was the headaches.” I was always alert to the subtext of his laugh, to the anger in it.

Ben let his chair fall forward slowly, balancing. “But the truth is, he was exactly like everyone else: there was no one he could talk to, and he had an illness, he had depression.”

Hardy said, “The motherlode reason is there is no reason. It’s every one of us. There’s no answer, the way people think there will be. It’s us.”

He stopped. I stood listening, not breathing. Sometimes when drunk Hardy hears extra well, some preternatural awareness. After a while he said, “And one of the reasons we can’t get to the bottom of it is that the first impulse we have is to shove people aside who have mental health issues, attempt to make them different. So the last thing you’ll do is tell anyone, because you know they will make you different.”

Ben said, “That guy, you know—the guy I knew? Never said a thing. It was literally easier to die than to ask for help.”

I stood leaning on the window ledge a while longer, waiting for them to say more. Then I lay down quietly in bed, listening to the occasional snapping of the fire. I don’t know when they came in. Some time in the night I felt Hardy’s long body beside me, and then I could truly sleep. When I got up in the morning Ben had driven off. His bags were gone, but he’d left his precious Simpsons tapes sitting on the VCR. Hardy and I used those to get us through the winter.


One night I woke at 3 a.m. and went to the kitchen and found Hardy standing in the light of the open fridge door. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of days—he’d been working non-stop, napping in cells at the detachment while they pushed through a heavy file. He was drinking milk out of the carton. It was nearly empty anyway. He’d taken off his belt and left it on the table, and I stared at all the implements. Knife, metal cuffs, bullets, holster, gun, radio clip, bag for gloves, the belt itself—each time I had to pick it up I was shocked again by the weight of it.

“Let’s go to bed,” Hardy said, gentle and milky. “Take me with you.”

The Observer

a new RCMP recruit and his wife walk down a dirt road
At Depot, Regina, 1992