Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Honour Killing in Tumblin' Dice

My novels are often critisized for having too many characters, too many sub-plots and being too messy. Fair enough, life is messy.

Usually my books have a murder investigation that isn’t directly related to the main plot and isn’t really a mystery, but is the kind of murder that happens all too often. Sometimes these murders come rather late in the book and wrap up fairly quickly. These murders are usually based on real incidents that have happened in Toronto and, I hope, they serve to develop the characters a little more and to develop the theme of the book a little more.

These murders interest me precisely because they aren’t mysteries, they don’t require brilliant detective work or even much forensics but, sadly, they happen all the time. Often these crimes are committed by one family member against another.

In Tumblin’ Dice the murder is the kind the media is now calling an honour killing.

This murder is seperate from the main plot but is investigated by the same police officers (McKeon and Price) involved in the central plot and I think helps to develop the theme of the book, the question of peoples’ ability or inability to adjust to change.

What really struck me about honour killings and the reason I felt one fit in this book was how much the motives and language looked and sounded like a mob hit; someone is causing trouble, bringing dishonour to the family, questioning the absolute authority and they must be stopped and a message must be sent to anyone else who may cause trouble, bring dishonour and question the absolute authority.

An honour killing murder trial just finished here in Ontario in which three members of the Shafia family (husband, wife, son) were convicted of first degree murder of four women (first wife and three daughters). This is not the case I fictionalized in Tumblin’ Dice, but the motives are very similar. In this case an expert on honour killings, Dr. Shahrzad Mojab, has testified (something that hasn’t happened much up till now as plea bargains are often struck, something some people involved feel happens precisely so that there will be no public testimony about honour killings) that, “the way to deal with the dishonouring is through the shedding of blood... It’s a way of purifying the honour of the family.”

Or maybe it was Vito Corleone who said that. It’s a little flowery for Tony Soprano but he would certainly agree with the sentiment.

The one-time leader of the Hells Angels in Montreal was once heard on a wire tap advising a guy who felt he’d been dishonoured to, “get a baseball bat and go get your honour back.”

Dr. Mojab co-edited a book called, “Violence in the name of Honour,” which wouldn’t be out of place as a title for a book about organized crime families.

“Cleaning one’s honour of shame,” Dr. Mojab said, “is typically handled by the killing of a loved one,” and with the murderer often ending up being, “respected as a true man.” I think in the mob you need to kill someone to become a ‘made man,’ and the bikers are said to require a murder before someone can receive a full patch and be, “respected as a true man.”

Dr. Mojab also said there may even be family meetings held to discuss whether a killing is necessary. I’m not entirely sure, but I think in the mob they call this a “sit down.” Dr. Mojab also said that sometimes the girl in question is brought in, “to hear the decision” and be told that “it is best for her and for the restoration of family honour.”

Often afterwards, Dr. Mojab said, such fathers will claim they loved their children, that the killing was “part of the continuum of love and care.” The fathers may even claim that the suffering of the rest of the family, having to live as dishonoured, is greater than death.

So, I think the similarities are there.

Last week the National Post newspaper published an ebook called Killed Because They Were Girls, made up of the articles by Christie Blatchord (who did an excellent job) that covered the Shafia murder trial in Kingston that’s available for Kindle, iBook, Kobo, Nook and probably more formats. The quotes here from Dr. Mojab are from articles written by Christie Blatchford.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Music of Tumblin' Dice

It's a novel with a rock band as the main characters, so yeah, there's a lot of music references in Tumblin' Dice.

The song above is As the Years Go By by Montreal's own Mashmakhan and the mention in the novel is this:

On the bus, waiting hours to cross the bridge back into Canada from Buffalo, Cliff actually sat down beside Ritchie and said, why don’t we put the guitar solo back into “As Years Go By”? Ritchie said, “You serious?” and Cliff said sure, “Why not. The way it should’ve been.”

You'll notice right away I screwed up the title, leaving out the the. But I wanted to have Mashmakhan in the book. As the Years Go By is the only song of theirs to have really survived and it makes them seem like pop band but the rest of their music was a lot more psychadelic. They were, afterall, named for a kind of hash that was popular in Montreal in the late 60s.

The fictional band in Tumblin' Dice is called The High and they had some minor hits in the late 70s and early 80s but then, well, here's what it says in the book:

Back in ’84–’85, towards the end of the High, instead of going hair metal and Poison and Cinderella, they’d gone keyboards and tried to hang on to the pop charts. Ritchie hated it, didn’t care that Van Halen was Jumping or the Stones had gone Undercover of the Night or Rod Stewart had his Infatuation, he just wanted to play guitar.

Another Montreal musician I wanted to have in the book is Michel Pagliaro.

Pagliaro wrote and recorded songs in both English and French and had a few big hits in the seventies. I wish he'd tour with Ringo Starr's All Star Band or something like that, it would be great to see him live again.

One Canadian band that's not mentioned in Tumblin' Dice is Max Webster.

I first saw Max Webster live at the Montreal Forum with RUSH, must have been '77 (now thanks to the magic of Google I can just look it up and see that it was, in fact, March 31st 1977) and at the time the Frank Zappa fans I was with were really there to see Max Webster. Today the lead guitarist and vocalist from Max Webster, Kim Mitchell, is the afternoon DJ on Q107 here in Toronto.

Max Webster isn't mentioned in the book because it's The High that toured so much in the late '70s with RUSH.

Made him think of that line, Geddy screaming it out. Shit, Rush, those guys still getting along, still having fun. Shit, playing high schools from St. Catharines to Oshawa, the High and Rush in the ’70s.

That line, something about if you choose not to decide you’ve still made a choice.

Ritchie laughed, thinking only fucking Neil Peart could make a rock’n’roll lyric out of that and only Gary Lee Weinrib could sing shit like that and get twenty thousand people singing along.

After that it's pretty much all American and British music.