There's just something quintessentially Canadian about authors from the Great White North. Call it a sense of subtlety or a flair for understatement, but I find that even when dealing with fantastic subjects, their tales are often more grounded and - dare I say it? - literate than their peers from around the world. That's not a complaint or a knock against other authors, just an observation, and one that occurred to me again while reading David Rotenberg's A Murder of Crows.
Here we have a hero who is able to 'see' whether a person is lying or telling the truth. It's a fantastic ability, but one that is portrayed through the simplicity of a haze of squares (truth) or squiggles (lies). Other than that, he's an entirely normal guy, more embarrassed by his talent than motivated to use it for personal, professional, or altruistic gain. His awkward relationship with the CIA agent tracking his movements is your standard adversarial relationship, with quirks that are grounded, everyday, and banal.
The plot here is a strange one, multi-layered, with what feels like a climax coming at the halfway point. Each chapter is titled as a countdown to the real climax (T minus this and that), but there's no sense of rushing towards a big event. Instead, the story is told quite leisurely, putting human emotions and motivations at the forefront. Whereas many authors would make a spectacle out of the graduation ceremony explosion that kills hundreds, playing it to the hilt, and glorifying every grotesque detail, Rotenberg jumps directly from planning to aftermath - and even then omits anything more than the most minimal detail regarding the carnage.
More than anything, this is a solid mystery tale, one that just happens to have a few speculative elements. The language is sparse and economical, with very little written or said that doesn't advance the story. There are no grandiose descriptions of places or events, and no minutiae of detail regarding facial features or clothing. Internal dialogue is kept to a minimum, and the POV only strays from Decker when we need to understand something integral to the plot. The character relationships are exceptionally strong, filled with pain, sorrow, and an (at times) almost crippling sense of loss.
There was a point where I really wasn't sure what the point of the novel was, or just what the central plot entailed, but that's just fine. I was more than willing to play along, to see where Decker was leading me, and to find out precisely what was happening, and how all the myriad layers meshed. A thoroughly enjoyable tale, and one that I would recommend to sci-fi / urban fantasy looking for a little realism, or to mystery fans eager for a taste (just a taste, mind you) of the fantastic.
Published March 19th 2013 by Simon & Schuster Canada
Paperback, 336 pages