Sunday, September 28, 2008


"He was thinking, if this really was one of that guy's movies, this scene wouldn't be here, it would be in that restaurant on top of the Tower, the 360. [He] would look out over the lights of Toronto stretching off in three directions as far as he could see. He'd look south to New York state, right there, and he'd say something like, "I own this town.""

That passage comes late in John McFetridge's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and it is the most important passage in the whole novel. I picked up this book because I had heard favorable comparisons made to Elmore Leonard (also, it didn't hurt that the title comes from one of my favorite songs from my all-time favorite artist). I can see where such comparisons come from. Everybody Knows is driven by sharp dialogue delivered by solid characters involved in a large scam. Classic Leonard, right? But this book is so much more complex, so much more ambitious in its scope, it is more like an episode of The Wire than Killshot (which is not to take a shot at Killshot, a great book in itself).

In fact, I would argue that Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere should be the basis of an HBO series. McFetridge's Toronto is just as interesting as Simon's Baltimore and shit, everything's shot in Toronto anyway so why the fuck not?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The passage above spells out what this strange and wonderful book is about: the reality of cops and criminals in a constantly changing urban environment named Toronto. The story begins with a man falling onto the hood of a car from twenty-five storeys above. This brings detectives Armstrong and Bergeron on the scene, only for them to find that investigating the players surrounding the crime interferes with a narco investigation of a grow room operation within the building the deceased jumped from. Or is it that narcotics is trying to cover up their knowledge of the grow room?

Also thrown into the mix is Richard, a motorcycle club member from Quebec looking to expand his already vast operations even further in Toronto. Then there's one of his underlings, Sharon McDonald, who runs the grow room in the building, who is visited by a strange man named Ray who has a plan to rip off Richard and the club big time.

But all of this is revealed extremely gradually and in a very subtle manner. This novel takes its time introducing the many, many players and then slowly revealing their place in this vast world. Also, don't expect big action scenes and violence. Almost all the violence and "action" happens off camera, so to speak. This can be frustrating, but you learn quickly that McFetridge is not interested in telling the same story you've heard a million times before the same way you've heard it. He's trying something new and damn, is it exciting. There is no hand-holding in Everybody Knows, just a steady stream of events (and great dialogue on every page) that you trust will cohere into a bigger story (Don't worry, it pays off, just not always in the way you think).

Along the way, we get seemingly authentic dirt about marijuana grow rooms, Toronto real estate, the movie business, the rising influence of motorcycle clubs in organized crime (something that Sons of Anarchy has failed to illustrate in its cliche-ridden storyline), and much more. This guy knows Toronto and its cops and robbers (and those in-between) inside and out. There is a scene late in the book where a group of cops are discussing the elephant in the room without ever actually saying the elephant's name that should be handed out to creative writing students everywhere.

I think that for paperback run, the publishers should try to appeal to fans of Pelecanos and Price instead of the new noir writers. Yeah, it sort of fits on the shelf alongside The White Trilogy or Pistol Poets , but Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere would be much more snug between The Sweet Forever and Samaritan.


Barbara said...

That's where I'd shelve it. Maybe near Elmore Leonard, too. Brilliant book.

John McFetridge said...

Thanks, man, I really appreciate this.

I just put a free e-book of short stories and flash fiction up on my website