blurb for John McFetridge's new novel, Tumblin' Dice
, invokes This is Spinal Tap
and Elmore Leonard, but I'd add Return of the Secaucus 7
to the list of cultural referents. Tumblin' Dice
is even more about growing into middle age and facing change than it is about fast talking, violence, and life on the road, though it's about all those things, too.
And the change is nuanced; there's no clear line between characters who accept and characters who reject it. Even the most decisive is plagued by occasional introspection, doubt, and reminiscence. Others act decisively (for good or ill) just when a reader is likely to write them off as hopelessly nostalgic or irredeemably stupid. That nuance makes this an unexpectedly moving book, as close a simulation of what I imagine real life is as I can remember in a crime novel.
Let's meet some of the characters:
- There are The High, a 1980s rock band that reunites and hits the oldies-and-casino circuit, with larceny on its mind.
- There are the Philadelphia mobsters.
- There are the Saints of Hell, familiar to readers of McFetridge's previous books, bikers gone upscale and professionally stratified. The Saints challenge the Philadelphia mobsters for control of an Ontario casino, where The High are booked for a show (opening for Cheap Trick).
- There are the cops from Toronto and elsewhere who try to contain the violence and who cope with a blood-chilling and culturally timely case of their own.
Each of those groups has its own drama and subplots, in addition to its role in the climax at the casino. That's a lot of characters and action for a medium-size crime novel, a lot of story lines interacting in any number of ways, expected and unexpected, kind of like life. But it's funny, it's moving, it works, and the worst thing I can say about McFetridge is that he appears to like Rush.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012
Labels: Canada, John McFetridge, music in crime fiction, Toronto, Tumblin' Dice, United States