One problem with New York or Los Angeles or Chicago as settings for crime fiction is that they've been around forever. Among other things, this means that the fictional cities have long since supplanted their real counterparts in most readers' imaginations.
That's a tribute to the great writers and movie makers who have taken these cities as their subjects. But wouldn't it be exciting to see a great crime-fiction city taking shape before your eyes, to see a real city becoming a city of the imagination, with all the graft, corruption, population shifts, money, drugs, and tumultuous daily life that implies?
You can do this. Your city is Toronto, your author John McFetridge
, your novel Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
. And why not Toronto, a city far larger, far more diverse and far richer than the settings of most crime novels? McFetridge manages the difficult feat of portraying a city in constant transition, and he does this without slipping into easy sentimentality about days gone by or easy rants against the ravages of development.
"It's hard to tell about this neighborhood," one character tells another as they approach a multiethnic strip mall. McFetridge does a nice job of portraying a city that has not just changed but may well be changing even as we read.
So much for urban studies; this is a crime novel, and McFetridge has populated it with at least six characters we can care about on both sides of the law. Among these, detectives Armstrong and Bergeron, a sexy marijuana grower named Sharon, and a mysterious, ambitious operator named Ray eventually emerge, but the book really has multiple protagonists, which lends it a kind of epic feel that matches the sprawl of the city the characters populate.
There are violence, killings, corruption, takeovers, and a plot set in motion by a body that plunges from a roof. Money is the motive force, and cops and gang leaders alike share a bland management-speak upon which McFetridge has his multiple characters comment acerbically. Canadian readers may enjoy McFetridge's take on a motorcycle gang that decides to move its head office form Montreal to Toronto, as so many more legitimate operations did after the 1976 election victory of the Franco-centric, separatist Parti Quebecois in Quebec, but the satire is accessible to anyone.
The action is slam-bang, the characters memorable, the resolution a a surprise on at least two levels. More to come.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008
Canadian crime fiction
Labels: Canada, John McFetridge