Saturday, April 27, 2013

On the waterfront and elsewhere in Toronto with Cary Watson

Parts of downtown Toronto's lakefront look as if someone dumped the world's biggest, shiniest, most expensive Erector set on the shore of Lake Ontario, put up the Gardiner Expressway to keep the pile from sliding onto Yonge Street, shrugged, and said, "Don't look at me. I don't know what to do with it, either."

I suspect Cary Watson, an occasional commenter here and at other fine blogs, might agree because his novel Dead Bunny is full of mordant, resigned descriptions of Toronto such as:
"We ended up at a mini-mall on Yonge Street, on the southern edge of Richmond Hill, which is indistinguishable from the northern edge of Toronto. Once there was a thick barrier of farms between the two, but now there’s only a gauntlet of big box superstores."

and
"It was pissing rain and the winding road through the development was crisscrossed with tan rivers of mud streaming off the building lots. No one seemed to be working anywhere, and the half-completed homes dotted across the torn-up landscape seemed to make the scenery even bleaker."
and
"the ultra-trendy nightspots mushrooming up along College Street in what was once a Little Italy and is now Italian-themed ..."
The closest Watson's descriptions get to anger is this:
"Highway 7 is a Hadrian’s Wall across the top of Toronto. It separates the city from the land of two-car garages and golf courses named after the natural features they’ve obliterated."
But the novel does not take the easy path of railing against development as a despoiler of all that is good.  Mostly, I thank, Watson has that ability, apparently unique to Toronto crime writers, to observe urban change without rancor or apocalyptic rants. (See John McFetridge's comments on the subject in his 2008 interview with Detectives Beyond Borders.)

It's not necessary to know Toronto to get a sense of the city from Watson's book. Equally accessible are the suspects in the killing alluded to in the title, as reprehensible and pathetic a gang of insecurely macho dickheads as any set down on paper.

But you have to be Canadian to enjoy this line as much as I did:
 "I thanked Carver and left him disappointed that I wasn’t going to stick around for his précis of his projected one-man show on the life of Pierre Berton."
And now, your turn. What are your favorite and most unusual descriptions of setting in crime fiction?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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9 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I liked this. What Cary and John do is make you see beneath the surface of a city that has a reputation of being that most cardinal of crimes: "nice".

April 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Though Toronto is no longer "Toronto the Good." I think what they do, that crime writers from other places do not, is chronicle the change from nice to post-nice without getting on a soapbox. And that's pretty impressive.

April 27, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

While the setting may not qualify as unusual, my favorite is Iceland as portrayed in Arnaldur Indridason's novels. But perhaps I am biased: I lived there for a while in the 80s.

April 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, you know what I think of Arnaldur’s Iceland. Or if you don’t, you can read part of my assessment here.

April 27, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I think I prefer the Iceland of The Hitman's Guide To Housekeeping where he takes the piss out of Arnaldur and the other gloomy Icelandic crime writers.

April 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's on my TBR list (and my e-reader.) I might have read it already had I not detoured through Algeria.

The only reason I'd say those Scandis might not be ripe for a good piss-taking is that they're too easy a target.

I know of just two Icelandic crime writers other than Arnaldur, only one of whom I've read: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. She's a jolly sort, and her books are not terribly morose, either.

April 27, 2013  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

A million thanks for the review, Peter! Glad you enjoyed it.

April 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it was good fun. I thought your descriptions were pretty damn good, so much so that I had to restrain myself from throwing in more of my own physical descriptions of the city.

April 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. I love Kraft Dinner.

April 29, 2013  

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