Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Waterloo

John McFetridge

This week I’m giving a reading at the Princess theatre in Waterloo, sponsored by Words Worth books, with Linwood Barclay and Robert Rotenberg. I’ve met both guys a few times and it should be fun.

Linwood Barclay was a columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper and wrote some non-fiction books, one a memoir called Last Resort about growing up at the summer resort his parents ran in Ontario, a political satire called Mike Harris Made me East My Dog (Harris was the very right-wing premiere of Ontario for eight years that felt like eighty) and Father Knows Zilch, about, well, the title says it all.

Linwood also wrote the Zack Walker series (Bad Move, Bad Guys, Lone Wolf and Stone Rain), which I really like. Zack Walker is a sci fi novelist who lives in the suburbs with his wife and kids and gets involved in murder mysteries. I like the attention to detail in the sci fi stuff (Star Trek models play an important plot point), the humour, the mysteries but most of all the family dynamic. In some ways these books are like the TV series Castle and come to think of it, they’d make a great TV series.

But then Linwood wrote a stand-alone thriller. I guess that’s the plan for just about everyone writing a first person detective series these days and I guess the reason why is because of what happened to Linwood: No Time For Goodbye was a huge, freakin’ international hit. USA, Canada, the UK, lots of countries I’ve never even heard of.

It’s a really good book. A teenage girl wakes up one morning to find her family has disappeared.

So, the flip side to the story we hear too often about the teenager going missing. From there the action picks up years later with the girl now grown and telling her story to a reality TV show. It’s smart and clever and like the Zack Walker books the family dynamic is the best part.

What’s weird is that Linwood has followed up that high-concept thriller with two more books in as many years that are just as good (clearly Linwood is buying the beers on our little outing here), Too Close to Home and the new one, Fear the Worst.

Robert Rotenberg was also involved in journalism as the editor of Passion, the english magazine of Paris and also T.O. The Magazine of Toronto. He was also a criminal lawyer in Toronto and all these experiences come into play in his debut novel, Old City Hall.

Old City Hall came out around the same time as my novel Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and covers some of the same ground in Toronto (physically and thematically) and I’m not bitter at all that Old City Hall was universally acclaimed, a huge hit in hardcover and paperback in Canada and the USA and lots of other countries and has been sold to a bigtime producer to be turned into a TV series.

Not bitter at all.

Really, I just want to tell all those people (lots and lots of people) who bought Old City Hall that Everybody Knows... would make a nice accompaniment.

They do have a lot in common. Both books start with a dead body on the top floor. In Everybody Knows... the body comes falling off the roof onto the hood of a car in Parkdale and in Old City Hall the body is in the bathtub of a penthouse condo on the lake. Of course, the police get involved. Both books have a Jewish homicide detective which may or may not have to do with the fact that until he retired recently one of the Toronto police homicide detectives we saw on TV a lot was a Jewish guy. In Old City Hall it’s Ari Greene, a single guy who’s taking care of his widowed father, a Holocasut survivor, and in Everybody Knows... it’s Teddy Levine, a married guy I based loosely on an old friend of mine, Allan Levine (hey, at least I changed his first name).

Both books are ensemble stories with big casts that get into lots of different neighbourhoods in Toronto and Old City Hall even gets out of the city up to a ski hill and small towns. Robert’s experience as a criminal lawyer comes through in big and small ways. There’s a little thing I really liked where a cop meets with a guy who’s been planted as the cellmate of the suspected murderer to see if the guy will talk. When it’s time for the plant to return to jail he stubs out his half-smoked cigarette and slips it another another smoke into his sock. There’s great stuff like that all through the book.

In my introduction before the reading I’m going to say that when I started to write novels I didn’t realize I was writing crime novels – I was just writing about what was going on in my city. My books don’t have clues, there isn’t a single crime (much less a single murder) that drives the story and there isn’t much justice served in the end.

I was always worried that my books would fall through the cracks, niether fish nor fowl, that kind of thing, so I’ve been thrilled with the acceptance from the “mystery community” and I’m very happy to be sharing the bill with these guys.

Check 'em out:

Linwood Barclay

Robert Rotenberg

And if you're anywhere near Waterloo, Ontario then Words Worth Books looks pretty good.

One last thing. It's Remembrance Day in Canada and some other countries and Veterans Day in the USA. I'm going to take a couple of minutes at 11:00 to reflect. My Dad was in the Canadian navy from 1938-45, serving mostly on Corvettes taking convoys across the north Atlantic. He didn't talk about it much, told a few funny stories if the occasion called for it like the time he was constipated for days and guys on the ship had a betting line for when he'd, "get over it," but he didn't say much about the boat getting torpedoed out from under him, spending the night hanging onto debris and then a month in the hospital in Glasgow with pneumonia. One of his jobs during the war was dropping depth charges on U-Boats and it's trite to say he never got over the taking of lives, but he never did. My Dad died in 1985 at 65 and I have no doubt his service took years off his life.

It's also somewhat fitting that this day of Remembrance is happening around the same time we're seeing so much attention given to the 20th Anniversay of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I know my Dad would have been pretty happy to see that, and maybe especially to see Lech Walesa there for the celebrations. My Dad was also in a union for a long time (42 years) and he had a tremendous amount of respect for Walesa and the Solidarity movement.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wish Waterloo was closer. I've been there on the way to Niagara on the Lake, I think. Isn't it Kitchner- Waterloo. Have great fun.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, Kitchener-Waterloo. Formerly Berlin, Ontario.

The evening went really well. David who runs Words Worth Books was fantastic (he'd actually read all the books) and so was his staff. They even sold a few books.