Monday, November 23, 2009

Review of Dirty Sweet by John McFetridge (Harcourt, 2006)

Roxanne Keyes is a real estate agent who’s in a bind, her credit over-extended and afraid of losing her unaffordable life-style. Then one morning she witnesses a murder – a man shot dead in traffic in broad daylight – and an opportunity presents itself to work herself free; an opportunity that has high risks given that the driver of the getaway car is a Russian gangster, Boris Suliemanov, who runs an upscale strip club and smuggles women, high-end cars and drugs to and from Eastern Europe. All she needs to do is lie to the police and find a safe way to blackmail the Russian. Then Vince Fournier, who rents out space in one of Roxanne’s buildings where he runs an online porn business, not only provides a safe route to the Russian, but also a means to make all three of them a lot of money. The only problem is that the police don’t believe Roxanne’s initial witness statement and a rival gang have their eye on Boris' business.

There’s a lot to like about Dirty Sweet. The characters and plot were entirely plausible. The dialogue was mostly excellent, although I did lose the thread in a couple of places. The moral ambiguity of all the characters, including the police, was realistic. McFetridge's knowledge of Toronto shines through and the story comes with its own soundtrack. And yet, what had the potential to be a five star review fell a little short for me. I think there are two main reasons. First, because the three main characters were morally dubious, self-centred and shallow, and there was nothing much appealing about the police officers, there was no-one to root for or will on. Second, the pace and tension remained relatively sedate, instead of being gradually ratcheted up. Whilst this was probably true to the story it meant the book never quite became the page-turner, edge of the seat read that it could have been. That said, McFetridge writes well and hooks you in early, and he does a good job of exposing the moral ambiguities we all face – how people get themselves into trouble, in spite of their best intentions, and then slide into another life on the promise of a quick solution; how greed, ambition and the frisson of risk provide fresh temptations from which it’s difficult to backtrack. A lot of promise here and the short, teaser excerpt of Everybody Knows this is Nowhere at the end of my copy does its job - I'll be keeping an eye out for it.


Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. It sounds like a fast-paced, interesting novel with some very interesting characters in some complex situations. I'll have to look for it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting book, but I don't think it is for me. Thanks for sharing this review.