Thursday, February 06, 2014

John McFetridge

Reviewers have frequently referred to Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos when talking about the Toronto series by John McFetridge, but as I read the 4th in the series, Tumblin Dice, it occurred to me that the series deals with a transitional period in organized crime, in the same way that the first three seasons of The Wire did. As Stringer Bell struggled to bring the drug business in Baltimore into a sustainable business model, so do the gangsters and bikers in McFetridge's books, which, rather than having a single main character are focused on a rotating and evolving group of cops, gangsters, and more or less innocent bystanders.

The cover copy for Tumblin Dice highlights one of the book's plotlines, concerning members of a Canadian rock band called The High on a revival tour (mostly playing at casinos across North America) who decide they could make more money by robbing the loan sharks hanging out in the casino parking lots. But the story is much broader than that, with threads concerning the bikers (who are now more like the mafia than the hell's angels), various Toronto cops (along with a few Mounties and U.S. police), a casino manager with gangster ambitions, and, in particular, the guitarist for The High (not one of the ones robbing moneylenders) who is struggling to grow up after all these years and the former flame who's now an assistant to the casino manager/would-be gangster (who also happens to have been the not-so-honest manager for the band, back in the day).

All of these folks spiral around one another, most of them only aware of what's going on under their own noses, and the reader slowly pieces together the whole picture, as it unfolds in a natural (never contrived) way. The characters' speech is natural (one of the comparisons to Leonard and Pelecanos) and the plotting takes sudden turns away from the predictable into the chaotic progress of real life. One of the late plotlines that seems to be a complete distraction from the action ultimately ties together some of the other plots in a twisty way, while some of the plotlines that seem destined to produce big things end rather suddenly (but always in ways that push forward other aspects of the story).

There's a lot of rock 'n roll throughout the story, but it's a shame, in a way, that the book's blurb leans so heavily on that aspect of the plot. The rock band blows into the vipers' nest of gangs, hangers-on, and police with interesting results, but it's not a book about a has-been band on a revival tour, not primarily anyway. It's a book about organized crime in various aspects, as well as how the crime organizations pull others in and the fascinations that the criminals have for cops and civilians (in different ways). I'm anxious to see McFetridge's new series, shifting to Montreal and to a more straightforward (apparently) police procedural format will develop, beginning with Black Rock, coming out this spring.

ECW Press, McFetridge's publisher, makes an interesting offer at the back of the book. If you buy the actual book, they'll send you a digital copy. I wouldn't have thought, even a few months ago, that that sort of flexibility in formats would be of any use to me, but actually it was good to be able to go back and forth from tablet to paper, back and forth, as my ageing eyes, the convenience of tablet, the appeal of paper, and the available light dictated.


col2910 said...

This one sits waiting on the pile - later this year hopefully. I do like him.

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