Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's Good to be Back

By John McFetridge

First of all, thanks to the DSD folks for allowing me to return.

And where was I, you ask? Time traveling.

I spent the last year and a half living in 1970. At least that’s what it feels like. I was writing a novel that takes place mostly in 1970 and I was a little obsessed there for a while. Books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows – everything from 1968 to 1970.

My novel is called Black Rock and it’s about... well, here’s the publisher’s first blurb-like copy:

Montreal 1970. A man known as the “Vampire Killer” has murdered three women and a fourth is missing. Bombs explode in the stock exchange, McGill University and houses in Westmount. Riots break out at the St. Jean Baptiste parade and Sir George Williams University. James Cross and Pierre Laporte are kidnapped and the Canadian army moves onto the streets of Montreal, Constable Edouard Dougherty, the son of a French mother and an English father, a young beat cop working out of Station Ten finds himself almost alone hunting the killer.

Set against the actual Montreal events, including the hunt for a serial killer, Black Rock is not just a police procedural, it’s also a gaze into the Two Solitudes and a coming-of-age story for Constable Eddie Dougherty.


Well, that sure seems Canadian. Maybe too-Canadian, but oh well. You can read the first chapter here.

I find the early 70s a very interesting time. I turned 11 in 1970 so my memories aren’t much for a crime novel, but the research was fun.

One book that really set the stage was Mark Kurlansky’s, 1968. As it says on the flap:

To some, 1968 was the year of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet it was also the year of the Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy assassinations; the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; Prague Spring; the antiwar movement and the Tet Offensive; Black Power; the generation gap; avant-garde theater; the upsurge of the women’s movement; and the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union.


In the bigger context Montreal was just one of many cities in the world with bombs and kidnappings and riots. And murders.

I also spent the last year reading some very good books set decades before they were written that used actual events. A few of the best were Adrian McKinty’s, The Cold Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Street, David Peace’s, 1972 and Charlie Stella’s, Johnny Porno.

So, it’s good to be back in the here and now but I am thinking about writing another book with Constable Eddie Dougherty set in 1972. I’m not really nostlagic, I don’t think, and I’d never refer to those years as “simpler.” In fact, I think what interests me are the similarities. In the introduction to another good book I read recently, 1973 by Andreas Killen (does every year have a book written about it?), the question is asked: Will the seventies never end? Killen makes the claim that the 70s were, “the incubator for many of the developments that now define our contemporary political and cultural zeitgeist.”

I’m not much for politics, but I’m a sucker for zeitgeist.

A few things that exploded into the mainstream in the 70s were cults and deprogramming, conspiracy theories (Watergate helped there), reality TV (PBS aired An American Family), Roe v. Wade, the Pentagon Papers, the oil crisis and recession, some great movies and novels and TV shows and some very bad fashion.

So, what are some of your favourite books, movies, TV shows or whatevers from the 70s?


Jay Stringer said...

Can't wait for this one.

I loves me 70's crime films. The French Connection. Pelham. Hickey & Boggs.

It's an era I'm interested in writing about, certainly given all the civil unrest, racial tension and pub bombings in the Midlands back then, but I'm not that writer yet.

Declan Burke said...

Right now my favourite book about the early '70s is Black Rock. I read it in m/s last month and it's a terrific piece of work.

Al Tucher said...

In the New York area especially, 1977 may have been the lowest point in western civilization since the 10th century. The Son of Sam terror and the blackout were only the highlights (lowlights?) I'm not sure I have won enough distance from that period even now.

Al Tucher said...

P.S. Welcome back, John.

Steve Weddle said...

My grandpa used to tell me some great stories about the 1970s.

And welcome back.

John McFetridge said...

Jay, the French Connection shows up in the book a little, Montreal was where the heroin entered north America. Busy port, Montreal.

Thanks to you, Declan, the book now has a much better opening.

Al, I spent New Year's Eve 1979 in Times Square - quite different than it is now, that's for sure. By the way, if youhaven't read Charlie Stella's, "Johnny Porno," it's a great book set mostly in Brooklyn in the early 70s about the bootleg showings of the movie "Deep Throat." Really captures the era, I think.

Steve... grandpa, ha ha, I get it...

seana graham said...

John, good to see you back at Do Some Damage.

I just finished Swap, so I'm a little behind, but I'm looking forward to Black Rock. I'm sure that. Unlike young Steve, I'm sure that I will find all that seventies stuff very resonant.

Jay Stringer said...

John, I really think a couple of writers should pitch a TV show set in Canada that touches on some of the aspects of the French Connection case as part of a much larger multi national plot that.....wait.....I'm saying this out loud, aren't I?