Fifth Business is the first in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995). The Manticore and World of Wonders are the second and third.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.”

Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous.

This book is in the form of a letter written by Ramsay on the occasion of his retirement as master at Colborne College and addressed to the school Headmaster.

“Fifth business” is a reference to the odd man out, the one who inadvertently sets events in motion.

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