Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Review of Black Rock by John McFetridge (ECW, 2014)
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.