Today I'm the interviewee at Declan Burke's fantastic blog, Crime Always Pays.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
A few weeks ago I reviewed this book for The Toronto Star, but they haven't published it, so I thought I'd put it here. It's a terrific book.
by Roddy Doyle
In the foreword to The Deportees, a book of short stories dealing with the recent explosion of immigration to Ireland, Roddy Doyle writes, "I went to bed in one country and woke up in another." It's probably the way a lot of people in Ireland have felt over the last ten years, and, probably the way a lot of people in southern Ontario have felt over the last twenty.
Certainly there's been a lot of Canadian literature dealing with the immigration experience in Canada, but almost all of it has been from the point of view of the newcomer. What Roddy Doyle has done is completely different – he's written mostly about the immigrant experience from the point of view of born-and-raised Irish, in all the usual utterly frank and direct Doyle way.
So, in "Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner?" Larry Linnane is the modern Irish man – married father of four, employed and happy in his mid-life. And not a racists, no, not at all. Until he actually has to face the idea of one his daughters bringing home a black boyfriend. Doyle never stoops to presenting Larry (or anyone else in the book) as a stereotype, or racist buffoon, but he does have them ask themselves the tough questions. It's easy to be an open minded, progressive, non-racist when everyone you know looks just like you. But Larry really has no reference points for this new Ireland, so he considers the possibility, am I racist? And the question makes him squirm, even as he tries to reassure himself. "When he watched a footballer, for example, he didn't see skin; he saw skill. Paul McGrath, black and brilliant. Gary Breen, white and shite."
But he keeps asking and keeps squirming. He goes through all his emotions, all the confusion, anger and fear. Of course, he's not afraid of Africans or Russians, he's afraid of change. He went to bed in one country and he woke up in another and it's going to take a while to figure it out, to adapt, to adjust.
All the Irish-born characters in The Deportees are trying to figure it out. Along the way, they're getting a lot of it wrong, they're making a lot of mistakes (often hilarious, but also sad and moving), but they keep trying – what choice do they have? It's going to happen and no one's asking their opinion. Well, they have the Canadian choice of just not talking about it; putting on a smiling face and pretending they aren't confused or angry or scared at the way their home has become a completely different place when they woke up than it was when they went to bed. Live in complete denial.
Not all the stories (written in 800 word sections for a Dublin magazine, Metro Eireann, started by a couple of Nigerian journalists to be by and for the immigrant community in Ireland) are from Irish-born points of view; one's about a nanny from Poland, one about a boy from Nigeria and even one from an immigrant point of view Doyle doesn't reveal. All of them, though, are having a tough time putting up with the Irish-born. One story even offers a reverse on the usual Irish Diaspora; it's about Declan, a black Irish guy looking for his roots in the country of his ancestors – America.
In Canada we've been trying to define our culture forever, wondering if we even have one, and all this time we just assumed everyone else had a culture they could easily define, but in "57% Irish" Doyle subverts this idea hilariously. The Minister of Arts and Ethnicity hires a grad student to put together a test that can measure people's 'Irishness.' But a quiz won't do, the answers can be learned, instead a way is found to measure people's reactions to things like Robbie Keane's goal against Germany in the 2002 World Cup, Brendan Behan and Irish porn star Shamrock Chambers.
In the story "Black Hoodie" a teenage boy goes through all the angst of his first time asking out a girl (his father's advice, "just ask her") – except there's an added bonus, she's black, making it even tougher, "even here in multicultural, we-love-the-fuckin'-foreigners Dublin." Hard to imagine that sentiment in a Canadian novel. Harder still to imagine no Canadian has ever felt it.
Pretty much my whole life I've heard the same refrain; Canadians are racists but they don't think they are, Canadians don't make immigrants feel welcome, Canadians are doing it all wrong, and I've wondered, okay, so where's the model? Who can we look to and learn from? Who's doing it right? Roddy Doyle's doing it right; with insight and understanding and humour and the direct approach.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The November issue of Quill and Quire features the terrific Louise Penny on the cover and inside has an article by Sarah Weinman, she of The Idiosyncratic Mind, listing ten rising Canadian mystery writers and I'm on the list. Here's what she said:
Why you should read him: McFetridge describes a Toronto of opportunists, seedy deals, and double-crosses not unlike Elmore Leonard's Detroit of James Ellroy's Los Angeles, but his books are distinctly rooted in his home city's rhythms and flavours. Start with:
Dirty Sweet (ECW Press, 2006), McFetridge's first novel, in which a murder becomes an opportunity for real estate agent Roxanne Carter to embroil herself in the doings of the Russian mafia -- and possibly come out ahead. Fun fact: McFetridge recently sold Dirty Sweet and the follow-up, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, to the U.S. publisher Harcourt -- which will publish the books next year with eye-popping retro 1970s covers.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Well, never, really. But because of odd timing, my second novel, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere received two good reviews way too early.
The book was scheduled to come out from ECW Press in Canada in May, 2007. ARC's were printed up and sent out. Then the US rights to the book were bought by Harcourt and it was too late for them to get it out in 2007, so publication was scheduled for spring/summer 2008. ECW decided to wait and publish at the same time.
But two reviews were already done and couldn't be delayed. And both of them, Margaret Cannon in the Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire, were really good but won't get reprinted when the book comes out, so I'm going to put them here.
From the Globe and Mail:
Thanks to this terrific second novel by the author of Dirty Sweet, I know all I need to about urban grow- ops. And that's only the beginning of this smart, slick story.
McFetridge's brother is a police officer and it shows. His Toronto cops are the requisite diverse assembly of race and gender, with a buffoon racist goon added.
But the group, led by Detective Gord Bergeron and his new partner, Detective Armstrong, is more sophisticated than is usual and McFetridge loves the sound of these guys - and women - talking.
An unidentified "Arab-looking" guy fell, jumped or was pushed off the roof of a high-rise. He had at least a passing acquaintance with Sharon MacDonald, currently under house arrest with a tracking device on her ankle after she assaulted a customer in a local massage parlour.
She has a week to go, but the death has disrupted her real business, the profitable harvesting of pot from the grow rooms she runs in the building. That could mean a takeover by one of several competing groups. Sharon needs an alternative supply, and the cops out of her hair. The trouble is, she is a person of interest in a very nasty crime.
McFetridge doesn't rush this story, although the opening pages - as the body bounces down on a whore and a john in a Beamer - are fast, furious and hilarious. From there, he moves the story from cops, to high-class escorts and low-down dives.
Sharon MacDonald is a marvel as she moves from plan to plan to keep her little world together, all the while tethered to the tracker and with a floor full of pot growing leafier by the hour.
There's a lot of fun in this story, but a lot of unpleasant reality, too. McFetridge has a great ear for dialogue and a great eye for Toronto - even for those people and places that you might, as a rule, prefer to miss.
And, from Quill and Quire (a starred review, no less):
Next time I need to score handguns, hookers or heroin in Toronto, I'm going to look up John McFetridge, a crime writer who clearly knows his way around the city. One of the key elements in McFetridge's second novel, which bears the intentionally ironic title Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (after the Neil Young song), is the sheer immensity of what the author points out is North America's fourth-largest metropolitan centre. In one of the book's spot-on and street-wise descriptions of Toronto's disparate locales – in this case the Jane/Finch shopping centre – McFetridge comments that the city, "built its ghetto way out in the suburbs, never thinking it was a growth industry." This Nowhere really is known to everybody who lives in a big enough city.
Growth is the literal root of the evil driving the book, which crashes open with a man's swan dive from the balcony of an apartment building that houses more marijuana plants than residents. A pair of detectives is tasked with not only figuring out if the death is a homicide or suicide, but with the less-than-simple act of giving the body a name. By the time they have that name, fully halfway through the book, the entire homicide division in entangled in the case, and the city has been crossed repeatedly. Crime, like rust, never sleeps.
Not so much larger than life as just alive, the Greater Toronto Area itself is the most conflicted protagonist in a novel brimming with them. "As if happy people in rent-controlled public housing will live side by side with happy people in expensive condos," spits a seasoned patrol officer surveying a housing project being forcibly converted into a mixed-income neighbourhood.
McFetridge's style can be compared to Elmore Leonard's, as both writers seamlessly mix the police procedural with perp procedural to underscore the parallel lives of members of the opposing teams. But where leonard tends to favour Hollywood-homicide banter, McFetridge keep the quips to a minimum, prefering punch to panache. As a result, the only time his prose gets purple is when fists are flying.
Quill and Quire – March 2007
Well, we'll see what happens when the book is published, sometime around July, 2008.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Today I'm giving a reading at the Toronto Public Library and I prepared a little introduction. Here it is:
A little while ago there was an article in the Calgary Herald and Rick Blechta, a mystery writer and president of the Crime Writers of Canada said that right now Canadian crime writing is really coming into its own internationally. He mentioned Giles Blunt as proof, and I certainly have to agree. With people like Mike Harrison and Louise Penney and Maureen Jennings leading the way.
Then, I was looking at a website that's all about Canadian writing and writers. They had a link to the Calgary Herald article and then in the comment section of the website, some Canadian writers made sarcastic remarks, mostly about the whole idea of crime in Canada. My favourite was the guy who wrote, "The only thing I can think of when I think of Crime in Canada is unlicensed lemonade stands resulting in allowances being revoked for a week." I thought, wow, is that guy ever out of it. And he calls himself a writer.
This is a country where right now in BC there's a trial going on for a guy who probably killed fifty women. It was the Montreal mafia that started the whole French Connection heroin smuggling, bringing in pretty much all of North America's heroin. When some biker gangs went to war in Quebec they killed over two hundred guys and when they came to Ontario they killed eight in one night. Last year we called it the summer of the gun in Toronto.
So, maybe there's a little more going on than unlicensed lemonade stands.
And maybe that's why there's such an interest in crime fiction. Of course, fiction itself is a great way for people to try and better understand the world in which they live. That's why I wrote a crime novel. I wanted to write a book that was all about Toronto, right now.
And right now, Toronto is all about opportunity.
People come to Toronto from all over the country and from all over the world. We all have a love hate relationship with Toronto. Mostly. But people come here, a million people live here who were born somewhere else, they come here for the opprtunities. That's what stuck out for me, that's what I kept coming across. I'm one of those people. I was born and raised in Montreal. I was thirty years old when I moved to Toronto.
So when I started to write a book about Toronto I knew it would be a book about opprtunity. About chance. And I thought the best way to approach that theme, to illustrate it in the most dramatic way, was by following crime. I like crime novels because they're really about actions. Someone commits a crime, someone tries to find out who did it.
In the case of "Dirty Sweet," someone commits a crime and everyone involed finds a little opportunity. Because that's Toronto.