Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Little More Free by John McFetridge

It's a funny thing about Canada. Although it's probably different for those in regions abutting our northern neighbor, in general Americans don't really know much about it. Or at least they don't if I'm a representative example, which I think in many ways I am. Although we share much more of a common cultural history than we do with Mexico, we don't really study Canada much in school, or at least didn't the last time I checked. And, over my long career at the bookstore, where part of the time I looked after the history section, I really don't remember many books specifically on Canada coming through at all. As our main buyer was actually a Canadian, I'm pretty sure that this wasn't a lack of interest on her part, but had more to do with the American publishing industry believing that books on Canada wouldn't really sell to the general public. In some ways, I think we tend to feel we already know about Canada, and so don't have to bother learning more.

But Canada has just as interesting a history as the U.S. does, and in many ways they are linked. That's why it's been so interesting to read about the period of history that I came of age in through Canadian eyes. Specifically through the eyes of one Constable Eddie Dougherty, who makes his second appearance in this book. I reviewed Black Rock over at Escape Into Life a while ago, but you don't necessarily have to read it first. There are references in this book to some of its incidents, but I don't think they are particularly of a spoilerish quality.

As was the case in Black Rock, the story starts off with a historical event, a tragic nightclub fire in Montreal that killed 37 people. Eddie Dougherty, having done a stint with the Morality Squad which didn't work out, is back to driving a squad car, and so answers a call that takes him right to the scene of the carnage.

The year is 1972, and as McFetridge tells us in an afterword, this horrific fire was eclipsed by an event that consumed Canadian consciousness--a  hockey match between the Canadians and the Soviets, which Canada initially saw as an easy win. Montreal also knew that it would be hosting the Olympics in 1976, so the hostage situation at the Munich Olympics that unfolds in the background of the novel is not simply a tragedy watched from afar. And on top of all this, there's a murder right on Dougherty's turf.

This death takes Dougherty into another area of Canada's history, that of Americans fleeing the draft. As Dougherty tries to decide what he thinks about war resistance, he becomes involved with a woman in the movement, and they sidle up warily to each other. The very fact that they find themselves fraternizing is a symptom of a larger phenomenon--whatever cohesiveness the counterculture had is now fracturing and people are going their own way again. "Self-actualization" is a key term.

I'm struck as I was reading Black Rock with the similarities to Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series, in which a young policeman also remains in a police force where he's something of an anomaly. Eddie Dougherty isn't as cynical as Duffy is, yet. But finding that he doesn't progress up the ranks as he thinks he should and not understanding why, he may headed on a similar journey. I look forward to the next book in the series to find out. 


  1. These are outstanding books. I, too, saw a comparison with the Duffy series, though I wonder if Duffy is more inclined toward cynicism because of the Irish Troubles element to the story. Of course, that may account for why he's more cynical from the get-go. That, and he's a more experienced cop who's seen a lot more than Eddie Dougherty.

  2. Yes, I'd really like to get the word out on this series because I think it's great.

    It was a little strange to read the opening scenes after the Paris night club tragedy, and to realize that these deaths became sort of forgotten by history. I think one theme that comes through in both books is, why do some deaths matter and not others?

    More from Black Rock, you realize that there was a period of very scary bombings in Montreal too, so in some ways the experience does connect to that of growing up in Belfast.

    Yeah, I don't think Eddie will ever be quite wisecracker Duffy is, but the dissent from the prevailing point of view is very similar.