Friday, October 3, 2008

CATCHING UP #8: DIRTY SWEET by JOHN McFETRIDGE

I am not a fan of reading series books out of order. Thankfully, there was only one book in the Toronto series prior to Everybody Know this is Nowhere so I wasn't ridiculously behind, but if I'd read them in order Everybody Knows probably would have read a little smoother, certain events wouldn't have seemed so out-of-the-blue. In other words, don't make my mistake: read Dirty Sweet then Everybody Knows.

And I'm not advising this simply simply because it makes the characters easier to distinguish. No, it's because Dirty Sweet is an easier way to enter McFetridge's vast world simply from a storytelling perspective. Dirty Sweet is more like classic Elmore Leonard while Everybody Knows plays out more like Clockers (okay, so despite the last few pages of Everybody Knows which were jarringly cute and tidy in a Get Shorty sort of way). But this is not to suggest that Dirty Sweet isn't as smart or exciting as Everybody Knows, not by a longshot.

Down-on-her-luck real-estate agent Roxanne Keyes saw a man shot in the head right in the middle of downtown traffic. Guy just gets out of the passenger seat of a car and pops a fellow motorist three times in the fucking face. Cops Price and Loewen question her and it's clear that she knows more than she's fessing up to. They're right: She knows who the driver of the murderer's car was, a Russian strip club owner named Boris Suliemanov. Roxanne figures she can use this knowledge to her advantage, coerce Boris into taking some real estate off her hands.

But then she meets internet porn entrepeneur Vince Fournier, a charmer with a secretive past and a bright idea for how to launder money for Boris through his web operation. There would be percentages handed out, naturally...

From here the cops and the Mounties breath down all of their necks and the motorcycle club boys try to edge in on Boris's small-time operation and, of course, murder and mayhem ensue.

As with Everybody Knows, Dirty Sweet has a massive cast of characters and doles out seemingly authentic lore left and right about Toronto, police work, porn, money-laundering, organized crime and many other topics that have rarely been covered in crime fiction so intelligently. The scam at the center of Dirty Sweet is much more complex and realistic than any I've read in quite some time.

But the real kicker here is how complex McFetridge's characters and their respective arcs are. There are no good guys and bad guys, in a sense you're rooting for just about everybody on all sides. Even the "romance" in the novel is touching and quite achingly sad. Roxanne and Vince seem to hit it off in the manner that they would in a Leonard novel, but then takes a realistically melancholy turn later in the book as their dark secrets are slowly revealed to the reader.

I hope that McFetridge keeps writing in this police precinct/Toronto underworld series. It has such a rich cast that I could see McFetridge's Toronto growing and growing to become something as wonderful as Pelecanos's D.C.

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