Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review of Black Rock by John McFetridge (ECW, 2014)

Montreal, 1970, and the city is on the frontline of bombs and hoaxes by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a somewhat anarchic terrorist group.  Constable Eddie Dougherty is the son of a French mother and an Irish-Canadian father, and has only been a cop for a couple of years.  Somewhat out of place amongst his French speaking colleagues, Dougherty works as a patrolman out of Station Ten, responding to bomb alerts and trying to keep the peace.  Also at work in the city is the ‘vampire killer’, who has murdered three women.  When a fourth woman disappears in Dougherty’s old neighbourhood he is drawn into the periphery of the investigation.  As more and more cops are pulled into the task force to deal with the FLQ, the murder investigation stalls and Dougherty steps in to fill the gap determined to try and bring the perpetrator to justice. 

There’s much to like about Black Rock, a historical police procedural set in Montreal in 1970 -- attention to historical detail, the sense of place, the intersecting story lines, and the characterisation.  McFetridge bases the story around two real cases -- the ‘vampire killer’, a serial killer operating in the city, and the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a separatist terrorist movement that left hundreds of bombs across the city before moving on to kidnapping two high profile officials -- placing his central character, rookie cop, Eddie Dougherty, on the periphery of both cases.  Dougherty is still trying to work out his place in the city, and on the force, both of which are increasingly dominated by Francophones.  He’s a regular cop, competent but not exceptional, but since he knows the family of the fourth 'vampire' victim he becomes determined to try and help solve the murders when the investigation is put on the back burner to concentrate on capturing the key members of the FLQ.  His problem is he only has one clue to go on, the sighting of a white car with a black top that was seen near to where the latest victim was discovered.  It’s a slim lead and he’s not really sure how to pursue it.  By focusing on Dougherty and his stuttering, hesitant investigation and not one of the lead investigators of either the murders or FLQ actions, McFetridge stifles the potential tension somewhat, the story simmering along without ever really boiling over, but that’s actually one of the reasons I liked the tale so much.  The story focuses on the everyday, mundane policing in exceptional circumstances; on trying to grind out a result with limited resources and experience.  Moreover, McFetridge does a great job of placing the reader in Montreal in 1970.   The result, is a slice of social realism that I imagine would translate into a great television series.

1 comment:

seana graham said...

I've had this one on my list for awhile, but still have one more of the Toronto books to read. I'm particularly interested in the portrait of Montreal in that era.