(Editor’s note: This review was penned by Canadian crime fiction author Sam Wiebe)
John McFetridge is the unsung hero of Canadian crime fiction. His Toronto novels, including Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, offered smooth, Elmore Leonard-inspired prose, and characters with a workmanlike (and workwomanlike) approach to crime and crime fighting. The books in his newest Montreal series, Black Rock and A Little More Free, follow the career of Eddie Dougherty, a rookie officer working the divide between Anglo and French Montreal. The first in the series, Black Rock, takes place during the FLQ bombings. Dougherty has a street’s eye view of the panic and commotion of a city under terrorist siege.
A Little More Free finds Dougherty a few years removed from the bombings, his career stalled, struggling to understand both the protest culture and the government’s response to it. He’s first on the scene to the murder of a young American draft dodger, who has connections to protestors, to criminals, and to the city’s elite.
Since Dougherty is a beat cop, we not only follow the main case, but also witness other crimes, from art theft to arson. Some of these are based on real events, such as a nightclub fire that claimed thirty-seven lives. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Canada-USSR hockey exhibition, which goes much rougher than the Canadians expect, highlighting how little we know about the people we’re told are the enemy.
Dougherty becomes involved with student activist Judy McIntyre, and while there’s tension between Eddie’s straight-laced, working-class take on society, and Judy’s political crusade, the fundamental struggle is within them. As Judy says, “Democracy’s hard and it’s boring. And slow.” It’s a world where people are starting to substitute the self for the community, personal status and wealth for equality.
And this might be the point McFetridge is making—about how the civil rights movement dispersed into self-actualization and self-interest, how the protests stalled out, how a generation that fought for peace and the rights of African-Americans could fail to get behind other causes—gay rights, for instance.
Montreal is a fascinating city. The seventies are a fascinating time. John McFetridge’s Dougherty series are the best Montreal crime novels since Trevanian’s The Main, offering engrossing crime stories with social commentary–about today, about Canada, about us. A Little More Free is a captivating read, and the Dougherty series might be the best work of McFetridge’s career. Pick up a copy of A Little More Free here, and find John online here.
SAM WIEBE’s debut novel, Last of the Independents, won an Arthur Ellis Award and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and was nominated for a Shamus award. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, subTerrain and Spinetingler, among others. He lives in Vancouver.