Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interview and Review

An interview I did a few weeks ago with my own publisher is up on their website now:


An interview with your own publisher has to be the very definition of softball questions, but it is kind of fun.

Also this week, Scene magazine in London, Ontario reviewd Swap. There's no link, but I'm happy to post the whole thing here:

Following on the heels of the well-received 2008 release, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Canadian author John McFetridge returns to the gritty streets of Toronto with his newest novel, Swap. When a husband and wife are murdered in their car on a busy downtown onramp, their unusual deaths spark an investigation leading police into the darkest recesses of the city’s criminal underworld. All of a sudden Toronto the Good isn’t looking so good anymore, and in McFetridge’s vision, the multicultural metropolis seems to assume a personality all its own - brooding, worldly, corrupt. Typical demonstrations of underworld power are passé here, and biker gangs consisting of well-groomed men driving European sports cars or Hummers roam streets filled with peeler bars and massage parlors. On the other side of the tracks, the cops are in disarray – having been the subject of a recent internal affairs probe - and rifts have started to fracture the force. Detectives Price and McKeon find themselves following the finest thread of a lead in the married couple’s murder case to an exclusive Toronto swinger’s club, where their investigation really starts to pick-up steam. McFetridge’s readership will recognize some of the shady characters from his earlier book here – Richard, Nugs, J.T. - but that knowledge is hardly required to appreciate the story. The magic of the writer’s electric prose lies in his sense of pacing and his ability to create plausible dialogue between characters. McFetridge doesn’t judge their actions; he lays bare their motivations, and benefi ts from all the tantalizing narrative possibilities he finds there. Come to think of it, so do we. ~ Chris Morgan.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two Reviews - one good, one bad

Last week the Winnipeg Free Press ran a negative review of Swap:

Torontonian John McFetridge shook the manicured trees of Hogtown complacency with last year's gritty cops-and-bikers saga, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. But he seems to have lost his GPS in Swap (ECW Press, 240 pages, $25), a grimy sequel that seems designed only to set off another round of "oh-we-bad" titters among the overreaching Big Smoke glitterati.

The corps of ethnically hued cops is back, but this time they're little more than aw-shucks narrators on the sidelines of a greasy show that's all about the bad guys.

McFetridge strives for whorehouse/grow op-in-the-burbs shock value, but it all just seems like a low-rent Sopranos episode, full of suburban mob angst and endless reminiscing about gang warfare past.

An unrelieved dumpster-dive into Canada's criminal underclass, Swap is just too earnestly exploitive, a sleazy travelogue for dirtbags

I think it's good to get some bad reviews. In this case it's tempered by the fact the reviewer also didn't like the new Dexter or the new Kathy Reich (full reviews here), but also I think I tried to write a book that didn't please everyone. If the book is going to be something that some people really like, it's also going to be something that some people really don't like.

Of course, that review is also tempered by a starred review in Canada's book magazine, Quill and Quire:

In Swap, John McFetridge gives readers an in-depth look into the world of organized crime in the form of outlaw biker gangs, and the difficulties law enforcement faces trying to quash them...The tension is palpable and the reader waits for the one spark that will ignite a bloody turf war...Swap’s dialogue displays much of [Elmore] Leonard’s sparkle, and the novel’s terse, staccato prose evokes [Ken] Bruen. But Swap is more than just the sum of its influences. It grabs you by the throat and squeezes until you agree to read just one page, just one more page.

You gotta take the bad with the good, right?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Street Performers

Do you like them?


You're walking down the street minding your own business and suddenly some guy is in your face juggling a bowling ball, a rubber chicken and a cross-country ski - is that fun?

Well, yes, sometimes it is. I've seen some great buskers. Some of the best musicians I've seen in my life have been playing in the subway or on the sidewalk ignored by almost everyone (and often by me).

This year at the CNE in Toronto we watched a guy try and do a routine that involved laying down on a bed of glass while someone stood on a bed of nails on his chest. I say "try" but actually the routine was good - it was just going on at the same time the planes were practising for the air show so everyone in the audince kept looking up to the sky.

All this is by way of explanation, of excuse, for how I got myself into a street performer's act in Dublin.

Normally if a busker asked me for help I'd run away. But here I was walking down Grafton street in Dublin with a video camera in my hand and I stopped to watch a guy set up his act. I kept the camera running. The act started. The guy was enthusiastic and funny but the audience was deadpan.

I started to feel for him. I was thinking about that poor guy at the Ex.

The next thing I know the guy on Grafton Street, Figo he calls himself - is standing in front of me asking to borrow my jacket. And to make it worse, he'd already asked another guy who refused. I could see this guy's act slipping away and I felt for him. I've given readings in front of two people, I know what it's like when the audience just isn't interested.

So I hand him my jacket.

And good luck to him, I think.

But the next thing I know, he's pulling me out in front of the audience.

Wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for. My jacket, okay. I didn't even mind that he was joking how he might set it on fire while he did his trick with the cigarette (he was making it disappear, saying it would only take about five minutes as he smoked it. He also said he didn't actually smoke, that was just for his act - he was up to about thirty acts a day) but there was no way I'd go out there in front of the crowd.

But I do like to see a big crowd when I do a reading.

So maybe this busker and I were sort of in it together. I couldn't very well ruin his act, he's some guy trying to make a living.

The next thing I know I'm handing my video camera to a woman beside me and I'm in front of the crowd.

Maybe I don't like a big crowd for a reading. Maybe that intimiate connection between a writer and a single reader is the way to go.

Or maybe I should dress up in red tights and make cigarettes disappear.

Maybe not.

But Figo made the cigarette disappear and didn't even burn my jacket.

Great, now I can get off stage.

Oh wait, what's this? Now he's blowing up a balloon and saying he's going to swallow it. Good for him, I'll just get my camera back and film that, might even put it up on YouTube, the guy is pretty entertaining and what's this?

Now he wants me to walk around in front of the audience holding the balloon.

Did I mention the Bobby hat?

Then I probabkly also forgot to mention he's asked me to walk around looking as "butch" as I can.

The really sad thing, now that I see this picture, is that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

Before he swallowed the balloon, though, he put a rubber glove over his head and blew it up.

The rubber glove, I mean, not his head.

But really, he's just getting warmed up.

The big finale involves Figo laying down on a bed of broken glass.

And me standing on his chest.

Now it really feels like that poor guy at the Ex who couldn't get anyone's attention. I can't give up on Figo now.

As he's setting it up he asks me how much I weigh and I think does Ireland use that weird "so many stone" meaasurement because I have no dea how many stone I am and if I say ____ pounds will anyone get it and then I realize I'm not going to put a number on it, so I just say, "Too much."

He's a good performer, he can work a crowd and Figo goes with that. Makes a bunch of jokes that good Canadian diet and pats my stomach.

So here I am in front of a big crowd of people showing off my fat stomach.

Figo and I are no longer in this together. I am going to put my full weight (however many freakin' stone it is) on him. Oh yeah, baby.

He gets a kid out of the audience to help me balance.

He tells the sudience if they don't each put at least five Euro in his hat he'll go back to his old job of selling drugs to children and the kid who's supposed to help me balance says, "Can I have some."

This is the same kid who, when Figo said not to worry, he wasn't going to burn my jacket yelled, "Burn it."

Now I'm going to stomp on Figo and then punch this smarmy kid in the face.

But I can actually hear the glass crunching as I step on this guy. His face is red and he's tensed up every muscle in his body.

This is actually pretty cool, this guy is really trying to entertain this crowd.

And the kid manages to keep my huge body weight steady for ten seconds, so good on him, too.

Now I'm actually excited to be a part of the act.

The audience does a big countdown from 10 and when they get to, "Zero!!!" I step off.

Figo jumps up to accept the appluase and I see chunks of glass stuck to his back.

He's right, I think, that deserves five Euro.

Figo tells me it's only like two bucks.

All in all a pleasant afternoon in Dublin.

Though I can't help but think Peter Rozovsky comes to Ireland and he sees the hurling final, a once in a lifetime exciting game, and I get to stand on a man's chest.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Globe and Mail Review

It's always stressful waiting for reviews of a new book - or really just wondering if you'll even get any reviews.

I've been very fortunate with my books to have received generally very good reviews.

I must admit I've been surprised that Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail has been so supportive. I guess I've always felt that she usually favours more traditional mysteries with a central detective, lots of suspects, clues and a resolution. But the fact that I don't really have any of those things in my books doesn't seem to bother her.

Here's her review of Swap:

If you're interested in learning about the backside of Toronto the Good, Swap is a great place to begin. Drugs, guns, gangs and just plain nastiness hide in the suburbs, just outside the shiny city centre. For Vernard McGetty, a Detroit homeboy in search of lucrative partnerships, Toronto's biker gangs are a perfect fit. They deliver the dope, he delivers the guns. Of course, he's a bit mystified by bikers who ignore their Harleys in order to drive SUVs, but who cares about appearances?

While Get is planning his get, Toronto detectives Price and McKeon have a pair of dead bodies on their hands. The couple are Mr. and Mrs. Clean, not so much as a traffic ticket. Someone sailed by and shot them as their car headed up a freeway ramp. Who knows what company these nice family folk may have been keeping?

McFetridge has his difficulties keeping the plot moving, and some of the dialogue owes a bit to Quentin Tarantino, but this is a slick little story.

Pretty good, I think.