Friday, May 12, 2017

Review of One or The Other by John McFetridge (ECW Press, 2016)

Montreal, 1976. A year of discontent. The Olympics are due to take place in the summer and after the terrorists attacks in Munich the authorities are taking no chances. Public sector unions are threatening industrial action. A Brinks truck is been hijacked and the police keep shaking down criminal gangs in the hope of catching the thieves. The suspicion is the stolen money is being used to flood the city with drugs. Eddie Dougherty is also out of sorts. He wants a permanent appointment as a detective but always seems to be seconded on an interim basis and to the fringes of a case. He’s thinking of popping the question to his girlfriend, but can never find the right time. When a teenage couple are found on opposite sides of the river he is paired with a francophone port cop to investigate. The pair are soon marginalised, however. Neither is happy with the outcome, especially when it’s ruled a murder-suicide rather than a double murder. Defying their bosses, the pair keep unofficially plugging away at the case over several months.

One or The Other is the third book in the Eddie Dougherty series set in Montreal in the 1970s. In this outing it’s 1976. The two big events in the city are a major armed robbery and the Olympics. Dougherty is at the fringes of both, but is out of sorts at work and home. He wants to be a detective but is only ever temporarily assigned and the case he’s working – the death of two teenagers – is taken away from him and in his view mis-investigated, and his relationship with his girlfriend seems to have reached the point where they make a longer term commitment. The tale is stretched out over the year, tracking Dougherty’s unofficial investigation undertaken with a port cop of the teenage deaths. In many ways, this is a bold move. The armed robbery and the Olympics would have been much bigger hooks, but both are largely skirted. Instead McFetridge concentrates on the mundane – everyday policing and the slog of office politics, the ordinariness of crime and a potential miscarriage of justice in a case that is little cared for, and a slightly unsettled home life. On one hand it gives a kind of hyper-realist account of policing, and on the other it leaves the tale somewhat flat and insubstantial. The result is a book that feels like a bridging tale, a filler-episode, as Dougherty’s life transitions. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting police procedural of a case tangential to the key action in the city.

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