The Way the Crow Flies

The sun came out after the war and our world went Technicolor. Everyone had the same idea. Let’s get married. Let’s have kids. Let’s be the ones who do it right.”

The Way the Crow Flies, the second novel by bestselling, award-winning author Ann-Marie MacDonald, is set on the Royal Canadian Air Force station of Centralia during the early sixties. It is a time of optimism – infused with the excitement of the space race but overshadowed by the menace of the Cold War – filtered through the rich imagination and quick humour of eight-year-old Madeleine McCarthy and the idealism of her father, Jack, a career officer.

As the novel opens, Madeleine’s family is driving to their new home; Centralia is her father’s latest posting. They have come back from the Old World of Germany to the New World of Canada, where the towns hold memories of the Europeans who settled there. For the McCarthys, it is “the best of both worlds.” And they are a happy family. Jack and Mimi are still in love, Madeleine and her older brother, Mike, get along as well as can be expected. They all dance together and barbecue in the snow. They are compassionate and caring. Yet they have secrets.

Centralia is the station where, years ago, Jack crashed his plane and therefore never went operational; instead of being killed in action in 1943, he became a manager. Although he is successful, enjoys “flying a desk” and is thickening around the waist from Mimi’s good Acadian cooking, deep down Jack feels restless. His imagination is caught by the space race and the fight against Communism; he believes landing a man on the moon will change the world, and anything is possible. When his old wartime flying instructor appears out of the blue and asks for help with the secret defection of a Soviet scientist, Jack is excited to answer the call of duty: now he has a real job.

Madeleine’s secret is “the exercise group”. She is kept behind after class by Mr. March, along with other little girls, and made to do “backbends” to improve her concentration. As the abusive situation worsens, she is convinced that she cannot tell her parents and risk disappointing them. No one suspects, even when Madeleine’s behaviour changes: in the early sixties people still believe that school is “one of the safest places.” Colleen and Ricky, the adopted Metis children of her neighbours, know differently; at the school they were sent to after their parents died, they had been labelled “retarded” because they spoke Michif.

Then a little girl is murdered. Ricky is arrested, although most people on the station are convinced of his innocence. At the same time, Ricky’s father, Henry Froelich, a German Jew who was in a concentration camp, identifies the Soviet scientist hiding in the nearby town as a possible Nazi war criminal. Jack alone could provide Ricky’s alibi, but the Cold War stakes are politically high and doing “the right thing” is not so simple. “Show me the right thing and I will do it,” says Jack. As this very local murder intersects with global forces, The Way the Crow Flies reminds us that in time of war the lines between right and wrong are often blurred.

Ann-Marie MacDonald said in a discussion with Oprah Winfrey about her first book, “a happy ending is when someone can walk out of the rubble and tell the story.” Madeleine achieves her childhood dream of becoming a comedian, yet twenty years later she realises she cannot rest until she has renewed the quest for the truth, and confirmed how and why the child was murdered.. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called The Way the Crow Flies “absorbing, psychologically rich…a chronicle of innocence betrayed”. With compassion and intelligence, and an unerring eye for the absurd as well as the confusions of childhood, , MacDonald evokes the confusion of being human and the necessity of coming to terms with our imperfections.

From the Hardcover edition.


The prime contender for book of the fall. [T]his is an engaging and ingeniously plotted portrait of a ‘perfect’ 1960s Canadian family coming to terms with all its imperfections.”
Quill & Quire

“[A] richly involving novel. MacDonald … makes Jack and Mimi ring true emotionally, without cliché.”
The Bookseller

“A little girl’s body, lying in a field, is the first image in this absorbing, psychologically rich second novel by the Canadian bestselling author of Fall On Your Knees. …MacDonald is an expert storyteller, providing an intricate recreation of life on a military base in the 1960s…a chronicle of innocence betrayed…The finale comes as a thunderclap, rearranging the reader’s vision of everything that has gone before. It’s a powerful story, delicately layered with complex secrets, told with a masterful command of narrative and a strong moral message.”
PW Daily starred review

“Remarkable…an engrossing, disturbing and layered tale.”
Chicago Tribune

“One of the finest novels I’ve read in a long, long time….Often her narrative explodes with the sheer joy of writing well….The Way the Crow Flies is a brilliant portrayal of child abuse and its consequences, but it is much more than that. It is a fiercely intelligent look at childhood, marriage, families, the 1960s, the Cold War and the fear and isolation that are part of the human condition.
Washington Post

“[MacDonald’s] prose…is always right and true, clean and penetrating.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“MacDonald’s much anticipated follow-up to Fall on Your Knees lives up to the hype. … MacDonald expertly takes the reader through the cold-war era and delivers a twister of an ending to make the 700-plus page journey worth the trip.”
The Coast (Halifax)

“[A] gripping, twisty plot with powerful undercurrents of anger, abuse and even murder….MacDonald is a stunningly good writer….Her novels are fleshy books, solid as their length and heft….MacDonald doesn’t falter….The Way The Crow Flies…secures for MacDonald a place, forever, in Canadian literature.”
The Calgary Herald

“[A] hopeful and satisfying finale….[T]his novel has close to perfect pitch.”
The Edmonton Journal

“MacDonald’s careful navigation of the minds of her people is astonishingly accurate; so wholly formed are her characters that you may find yourself talking out loud to them as you read. She has us. …[A] profoundly Canadian novel….This is a big, beautiful book just waiting for you to walk into its marvellous world and then walk out some days later, a slightly different, perhaps slightly sadder person.”
The Daily News (Halifax)

“[Readers will] find The Way The Crow Flies an engaging, very cleverly written coming-of-age story about a precocious young girl named Madeleine.”
The London Free Press

The Way the Crow Flies [is] a mesmerizing recreation of a vanished era and a lost childhood. … [MacDonald’s] depiction of a vulnerable girl almost destroyed by the confluence of global politics and local murder is rendered with beauty and passion.”

“Ann-Marie MacDonald’s big novel generates a strong emotional pull….suspense and the evocation of feeling on the author’s part continue to drive the reader’s interest forward to the very last page….MacDonald touches some deeply moving and insightful themes — the deliberate assertion of nothingness which is behind human evil, the effort of guilty children to shield their innocent parents from knowledge.”
Toronto Star

“[E]xtraordinary in its scope and unerringly accurate in its portrayal of life on an air force station in the early 1960s….It’s all we could have hoped for and more from MacDonald. The Way the Crow Flies deserves the BEST accolade found in the term bestseller, while not all of the wildly popular books do.”
The Chronicle-Herald (Halifax)

“[T]he pages practically turn themselves…irresistibly readable….[MacDonald has] written a love song to the innocence and optimism of the post-war generation.”
Elm Street

“Neither Deafening nor Garbo Laughs…match the combination of ambition and achievement that marks The Way the Crow Flies, a mesmerizing recreation of a vanished era and a lost childhood….Her depiction of a vulnerable girl almost destroyed by the confluence of global politics and local murder is rendered with beauty and passion….Universal truth through the alchemy of writing.”
—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s

“This extraordinary follow-up to Fall on Your Knees, is both a head-spinning murder mystery and an absorbing exploration of morality, innocencelost and the lengths to which parents and children will go to protect each other. Astonishing in its depth and breadth, it artfully weaves one family’s struggles into the fabric of the Cold War.”
People magazine, Critic’s Choice

“Every bit as luminous and poignant as Fall On Your Knees…. The Way The Crow Flies is…liberally sprinkled with small yet resonant grace notes, seemingly offhand observations about matters or sentiments or feelings that will cause you to trip, to stop dead, to smile and say: that’s the way it was, I remember now.”
The Hamilton Spectator

“The most exciting thing about The Way The Crow Flies…is how big it is. Big as in expansive in human feeling and experience, and weighty with moral and meaning — though not ponderous or pretentious…. [I]t never drags. Its superb, cinematic crafting moves us swiftly from scene to scene…. The Way The Crow Flies…is stunning proof of MacDonald’s abilities…. [It] is a fantastic novel, not only because it is humorous, and sad and suspenseful and entertaining. It is a fantastic novel because it reminds us, as Canadians, of our citizenship in the world.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“A gripping, insightful cinematic tale….I could not put it down….She recreates a child’s world, with its own logic that is simultaneously completely convincing and a ghastly distortion of adult reality. The sweetness never veers into soggy nostalgia thanks to the author’s crisp intelligence…[Ann-Marie MacDonald] knows what news stories today make readers wince, then re-examine their own and their children’s lives. The Way the Crow Flies tells a gripping tale, and has the power to illuminate the way we think about the modern world.”
—Charlotte Gray, National Post

“MacDonald’s central and wonderful creation, Madeleine McCarthy…is at once sophisticated and uncomprehending, in ways that ring terribly true. Hers is the consciousness that renders this novel compelling well beyond the level of its highly competent whodunit plot.”
—Claire Messud, The Globe and Mail

The Way the Crow Flies is a big book. Do not be intimidated. It is a totally absorbing, craftily plotted, wonderfully written saga. Building upon itself, chapter by chapter, “Crow” is suspenseful, faithful to its time period, and comes complete with a rather shocking final plot twist. It has been seven years since MacDonald’s debut novel. Let’s hope that another seven do not go by before she writes her third.”
The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

“The story is told mostly from the point of view of Madeleine, a precocious youngster who’s in grade 4 at the school serving the children of servicemen living in PMQs….Madeleine’s story is about picking up the pieces so she can ‘reinhabit’ herself. ‘That is the journey. And that’s romance. That is the true meaning of romance, where you have quite a bit at the beginning, you lose everything, and at the end of the story you have more than you began with’ [says MacDonald].”
Canadian Press

“[U]nfolds relentlessly…[MacDonald’s] prose has a heart-poundingly powerful effect. The book is about secrets, how hard they are to tell and how keeping them can distort intimate connections….
[E]vokes the time and place meticulously…a huge accomplishment from an awesome talent.”
Now Magazine (Toronto)

“[T]here is something to MacDonald’s stories, to the outsize tragedy, the awful inevitability, the need to tell and be told, that draws our hunger and our hope toward her midnight visions.”
The Georgia Straight

The Way the Crow Flies is a beautiful, compelling and heartbreaking story of a young girl’s loss of innocence and a murder that is to haunt her for the next 20 years…. Her vivid imagination breathes life into her characters and their world: the baby powder and Brylcreem smell of a teenage boy, the vivid pink streamers on a child’s bicycle, the pale perfection of a robin’s egg.”

The Way the Crow Flies is the most disturbing piece of fiction I have ever encountered. Ann-Marie MacDonald’s second novel is a riveting story, her writing is superlative and her heroine is high-minded and intelligent, a veritable Alice in Wonderland as unforgettable as Scout or Salinger’s Phoebe. MacDonald’s book is brilliant on so many levels…. MacDonald creates a perfect time warped world, authentic and exact.”
New Brunswick Reader

“This dark thriller, set mostly in the early ‘60s, is part coming-of-age story, part Cold War thriller and part murder mystery, all wrapped around a fascinating history lesson. Like her first novel, it centres on a painful secret that will pull most readers compulsively back to this book until the last page.”

“Ann-Marie MacDonald’s…Can lit is both accessible and glamorous, two qualities for which we aren’t usually recommended and that offend all the right people. … The book itself is at once a spy intirgue and a historical melodrama…. [MacDonald] is intrepid, exploring the world’s complexity through her characters.”
Hour (Montreal)

[A]n engrossing read with a detective-novel appeal.”
The Gazette

The Way the Crow Flies…is at once informingly historical, moving, and deeply endearing. MacDonald effectively tells the story from the perspectives of a housewife, a military man, and their nine-year-old daughter. A shrouded mystery makes this fictional novel a real page-turner. MacDonald’s language is rich and full of imagery, and relevant to any reader.”
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“Ann-Marie MacDonald’s The Way the Crow Flies is a terrific read. … MacDonald brings back not only the temper of living on an air-base at the time of possible nuclear threat but also the past times and music that coloured the lives of those living in Southwestern Ontario.”
The London Free Press

“MacDonald gives us a totally believable child in a series of brilliantly coloured, action-filled vignettes, kaleidescopic, fast-moving, as compelling as watching a film….Survival of the emotional rollercoaster of this long and demanding text is also a matter for celebration. However, one reader’s rejection of the haste and overabundance of the final section will be another reader’s intense satisfaction. By any standard The Way the Crow Flies is a remarkable acheivement.”
Books in Canada

“[T]he colorful visual details of an idyllic Canadian air-force family in the early ‘60s are cinematic….Macdonald’s multiple plot lines are meticulously woven together. The book is thoroughly researched and the end result is an engaging and complex whodunnit with heart.”
Women’s Post

From the Hardcover edition.