Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Gritty City Lit, Canadian Version

Invisible Dead /Sam Wiebe
Toronto: RandomHouse, c2016
320 p.

A gritty, noir novel, the first in a series to feature Dave Wakeland, a 29yr old ex-cop, now PI who is only truly interested in dead cases. (actually his age is the only really unbelievable thing in this story; he seems much older). Set in Vancouver, it features many local sites and many local references -- Dave is working a case trying to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of Chelsea Loam, a sex worker who vanished 11 years previously. Her foster mother is dying and wants to find some closure before she passes.

Dave's search takes him into the shady life of drug dealers, sex workers, biker gangs and more. He has violent encounters that he somehow manages to survive, and faces up to some truly nasty people. He's laconic but dedicated to truth -- the classic noir detective.

This novel takes on some big issues: missing and murdered Aboriginal women, violence in the sex trade, gang warfare, and the involvement of the rich and respectable in all of these things. It's a bit more gritty than my usual fare, but I thought it was well done, and could see it as a tv series -- it moves quickly, with a devious plot, and has some great characters, from Dave himself to his love interest (an old school friend with addiction issues of her own), his business partner, and some of the people he gets involved in through his investigations. It's well structured, and the writing flows, keeping you flipping those pages quickly. While it's not really my own favourite thing, it's a great example of noir Vancouver, and will most certainly appeal to readers of classic noir or modern Canadian crime.

Open Season / Peter Kirby
Montreal: Linda Leith, c2015
360 p.

Set across the country, in Montreal, this mystery features Inspector Luc Vanier in a race to uncover the truth about two cases, which of course have links he is unaware of.

Both of these threads are fascinating; in the first, Guatemalan journalist Sophia is kidnapped right off the streets of Old Montreal. In the second, a young Ukrainian woman, Katya, thinks she's found work as a nanny in Canada only to discover that she's fallen into a human trafficking ring.

Both of these cases expose a lot about Canada's responses to these kind of social issues, and how our legal system fails victims of trafficking, and those seeking asylum (especially women). Both RCMP and lawyers come in for some criticisms here.

Overall I did find this book interesting, in the themes that Kirby is exploring. But unfortunately, I found Vanier himself really unlikeable. He breaks all the rules in his quest to find the bad guys and punish them -- and I really agree that the bad guys need it, but to go about it so far outside the rule of law just makes Vanier a bad guy as well, for me. He's like someone pretending to be a tough guy, whose character I just can't believe. So I don't think I'll be investigating any Vanier mysteries in future.

Also, this book could be a great contender for the Bad Sex Award for a scene between Vanier and his coroner girlfriend. Eye-rolling at the unnecessarily descriptive & gratuitous outdoor sex scene!

Others who like gritty mysteries may enjoy this one, but it just wasn't for me.


  1. I haven't tried either of these writers/series and I'm not exactly a grit-lit reader either; sometimes one catches me just right, usually when there's a lot of attention paid to characterization or when the setting is of particular interest, but it's not a natural fit for me either. However, it's a popular niche, isn't it!

    1. Exactly - I thought I'd take a look at a few to see what the appeal was, and have some idea of some new titles. Not for me, but at least I have a better feel for this kind of book now. Kind of a professional responsibility, I think! :)


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