(review published at Crime Fiction Lover's website)
In music, I like bands and singers who explore not only different themes and styles, but also try different sounds and voices. Same with writers. As some of them will tell you, everything has been said already, you just need to take a new approach, keep things fresh, and tell your story honestly.
After four books in his “Toronto Series”, John McFetridge decided to take his show on the road. Sort of. In “Tumblin’ Dice”, the story centers on a music band from the ‘70s called The High. They make a comeback tour playing gigs in casinos where money can be made in more ways than one. The band wants to get their fair share, especially Cliff, the singer, and Barry, the drummer, who both feel they’re owed money by their former manager, Frank Kloss. He is now entertainment manager at a casino where the band stops for a show but he has other fish to fry, so to speak, as there’s a war going on in the criminal underworld. The Saints of Hell, a gang of bikers, is plotting against mobsters from Philadelphia for the right to run the casinos. Sex, drugs, money and rock’n’roll abound. Dead bodies too.
Meanwhile Ritchie, The High’s lyricist and lead guitarist, gets reacquainted with former lover Angie, who happens to be working for Kloss. There’s a large cast of cops, detectives and special agents from Canada and the US who are working together, exchanging info and interrogating murder suspects. Business as usual for them. But as they’re trying to make sense of the events unfolding in and around the casinos, especially the case of “Boner”, a guy who never seems to be able to kill the right person, they also work other cases. One of these is the suspicious death of Amaal Khan, a teenage girl who might have been the victim of an honour killing.
All the additional plotlines could have slowed down the pace of the main story but I found instead they added depth to the novel, giving it more juice. If you’ve read John McFetridge before, they’ll fall right back in and enjoy following the familiar faces and places. Plus, you’ll probably notice the new rhythm. McFetridge has decided to go with a simpler, less detailed narration, giving it a clipped tone not unlike a musical beat. It’s definitely catchy –like a good rock song, with a touch of the blues.
For those who haven't read him before, I’d say his style would appeal to readers of Willy Vlautin or Richard Lange for the character-driven narration, and of George Pelecanos for the depiction of police work. Tumblin' Dice is as good a place to start reading the series as any other book.
In the world he presents, McFetridge never makes the mistake of judging the characters; he shows you who they are and what they do, as an observer would, without taking sides. He possesses a good eye and ear for the world around him and he conjures it convincingly, as much in the way people think and talk as in the way they behave. McFetridge is Canada’s best-kept crime fiction secret, and now would be a good time for the rest of the world to take notice.
You can visit John McFetridge on his website/blog or on Facebook.