Montreal 1970. 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 at Sir George Williams
University. James Cross and Pierre Laporte are kidnapped and the Canadian army
moves onto the streets of Montreal.
A young beat cop
working out of Station Ten finds himself almost alone hunting the serial
killer, as the rest of the force focuses on the FLQ crisis. Constable Eddie
Dougherty, the son of a French mother and an Irish-Canadian father, decides to
take matters into his own hands to catch the killer before he strikes again.
Set against actual
historical events, Black Rock is both a compelling page-turner and an
accomplished novel in the style of Dennis Lehane.
This is the third novel I have read by Canadian crime
fiction author, John McFetridge following on from Dirty Sweet and Swap aka Let It Ride. McFetridge’s books have been compared in
the past to both Elmore Leonard and Ken Bruen, both favourites of mine, so
it was pretty much a no-brainer that he would make it onto my reading radar at
Black Rock takes
us back to the early 70’s in Montreal and a time of social unrest not just in
Canada; but worldwide, with protests in the US and Europe mainly against
America’s involvement in Vietnam, but also race riots, student riots and a
more prolonged period of unrest in Ireland.
Being of an age where I would have been 6 when the events
described within Black Rock happened and having no knowledge of the political
situation in Canada at the time, I was happy to get myself a bit of an
education. The Front de libération du Québec was a terrorist organisation
committed to seeking independence for Quebec from the rest of Canada. In the
late 60’s and early 70’s there were a multitude of bombings, riots and
eventually kidnappings for ransom with safe passage to Algeria or Cuba demanded
for the perpetrators as well as $500,000 in gold bar.
Black Rock is set
against this back-drop where police resource and attention is diverted away
from investigating crime to chasing around after the FLQ and reacting to the
bombing campaign. Our focus in the book is Eddie Dougherty a young patrolman
who is frustrated in his duties and wants to make a difference. For Eddie
making a difference will be catching the Vampire Killer who so far slain three
women. Eddie gets the attention of a homicide detective when a local girl in his
childhood neighbourhood disappears, a suspected victim of the elusive killer.
Dougherty is a well-drawn character with depth to his
persona. We learn about his upbringing, his childhood and education, as well as
run-ins with his peers in the neighbourhood. There’s the previous conflict with
his father over his choice of career, his on-going relationship with his
parents and the continuation of family squabbles, this time between his parents
and his younger sister Cheryl. Family drama is realistically portrayed. Eddie now
a man has reconciled with his father and after a degree of separation is back
in the family fold having attained a measure of equality with his dad, now more
tolerant and accepting of his son’s choices.
Eddie under the tutelage of Detective Carpentier progresses
the investigation. Along with his girlfriend, Ruth and her studies and interest
in the killings and her theories on progression, Eddie moves closer to catching
An interesting book, with McFetridge expertly weaving fact
and fiction together to produce a satisfying read. Some enjoyable pop culture
references, even though I wouldn’t claim to be a big fan of Joplin, Hendricks
I still have a few
McFetridge books to get to. Below the
Line, Everybody Knows This is
Nowhere and Tumblin’ Dice await
me, hopefully later this year. (Potential Canada Challenge?)
4 from 5
Another Net Galley read. Black Rock is published by ECW
Press in May, 2014.