Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Good things from across the border, Part II: John McFetridge


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

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13 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

Great day in the blogsphere for John McFetridge; Declan Burke gives DIRTY SWEET a great writeup on Crime Always Pays.

I've read some of John's short fictin and liked it a lot. Now I have two books to add to my TBR pile. This internet thing is getting expensive.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

We get the CBC's As It Happens on public radio out here every day, and I've heard a lot of stories about Hell's Angels in Canada. I've often wondered if the group constitutes a huge problem there, or if it's the bikers' visibility which causes the news. Now you tell me a biker gang has hit crime fiction, so maybe I'd better take the AIH folks more seriously.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Forgot. Anybody who references Neil Young in a book title is worth a read.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger GJG said...

Reading the Linkmeister's comments I have to flash on the fact that I actually went to jr Highschool and early Highschool with the guys that founded the original chapter of Hell's Angels out in the San Bernardino/Fontana area in the late 40's and Early 50's---more to the post however I have to say when reading I am torn over which I find more fascinating---references to cities I am familiar with, streets stores etc, or totally fictional make believe well describe settings I can fix in my mind---guess depends on the skill of the authors.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger GJG said...

OOOH want to again offer my thanks for the swell books ya sent as my prize in the contest a few weeks back. They arrived in the mail just a few minutes ago---keep up the challenging posts, I'll do my best to stay with ya----and input my comments.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

John is the "real thing" and a nice guy to boot. I read a bit of book three and it was simply outstanding. Go, John.

July 02, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

I don't know really know much about Canada, but the book seems like an intriguing read.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Declan Burke is apparently a big fan of John McFetridge's. His blurb runs down the front inside jacket flap of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. I'd read one of John's short stories, to which he links on his own blog, and I liked. I've also just started reading Dirty Sweet, and the early verdict is favorable.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, if you're intrigued by biker gangs and their roles in crime fiction, you'll very likely get a special kick out of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and John McFetridge's previous novel, Dirty Sweet. In his Toronto and Canada, things are changing for motorcycle gangs as well as for just about everyone else.

It was nice to see a Neil Young song title attached to the novel. "Cinnamon Girl" would make a good title, too. Now someone has to write a book to go with it.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

GJG, Everybody Knows ... works for me in both those ways. I have family in Toronto, and I have visited there. I am also familiar to the phenomenon of corporate head offices and English-speaking Quebecers leaving Montreal for Toronto after 1976. On the other hand, this was the first Toronto-set crime novel I had read, and I am unfamiliar with several of the neighborhoods McFetridge writes about. So the novel's Toronto works for me as a familiar setting and also as a city of the imagination.

You're welcome re the books. Enjoy them.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CS, the book does a nice job of capturing much of what people say about present-day Toronto. I also mentioned in a previous comment the book's references to the exodus of Montrealers to Toronto. The author himself grew up just outside in Montreal, and he lives in Toronto. I don't know when he made the move, but he's surely familiar with that exodus phenomenon. So you need not read the book as a history lesson, but you will know something about Canada once you've read it. One of those things you'll learn is that Toronto and Canada have as many stories in them as does any great crime-fiction setting.

July 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Go, John is right, Patti. I've started Dirty Sweeet, and I look forward to Swap. It's exciting to make such discoveries.

July 03, 2008  

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