Review: Black Rock, by John McFetridge

Murder mystery characters lack depth

Book cover provided by ECW Press

Whiney teenage girls. Strippers. Hippy college students who are political around men and flirty when alone. Dead women.

Black Rock by John McFetridge is packed with women, but their personalities are flat and stereotypical.

As the cops run around in 1970s Montreal to find bombs and kidnappers, the protagonist Eddie Dougherty is searching for the murderer of five women, all who are suspected sexual deviants, prostitutes, or drug users. His search leads him to packed bars, strip clubs, and the neighbourhood he grew up in.

While the novel touches on feminist topics like women in the workforce, specifically the police force, there isn’t actually a woman police officer in the novel.

Even the love interest, Ruth—who Dougherty refers to as different from other women—really isn’t that deep. She only cares about discussing murders and having sex with him.

Beyond the characters, references to a 15-year-old’s cleavage and “dykes” make this an uncomfortable read. It’s hard to understand why Dougherty feels like he was supposed to be looking at his server’s ass when eating at an A&W drive-in, and it’s pretty awkward when Dougherty’s dad asks how long it will be until his teenage daughter’s friend is knocked up.

The male characters in Black Rockaren’t that developed, either.

We don’t learn much about Dougherty, besides that he likes to talk to his childhood bully now that he’s a cop (it makes him feel powerful).

Before you can get past the lack of original characters, you must get past the run-on sentences, often containing more than one character’s dialogue. Dougherty does not have enough of a distinct voice to set him apart from other characters.

Despite it being confusing, the style works for a 1970s cop mystery. It becomes easier to read as you adjust to paragraph-long sentences.

For most of the book, the plot seems worth trudging through.

Wanting to know who committed the murders was enough suspense, but the reader also becomes curious as to why the murders were so different, why the murderer wrapped torn bed sheets around some of the victim’s necks, and what the murder of a man had to do with the plot.

In the end, these questions were either left unanswered or a letdown that seemed like a cheap way out.

If you can get past the lack of diversity in the characters, it’s a good read when you need something trashy to kick back with but want to learn a bit of Montreal geography and history.

Hear a reading of Black Rock from John McFetridge on Sept. 20 from 3-4 p.m. at the Park Theatre. Admission is $5.