A Gift for the Little Master
Reviewed: August 16, 2002
By: John McLachlan Gray
Publisher: Seal Books
410 Pages, $9.99
not sure what I was expecting from John MacLachlan Grayís first novel. Gray is
still probably best known for those musical commentaries he used to do on the
Journal, though he is the author of a number of successful plays (Billy Bishop
Goes to War) and writes a regular column on cultural politics for the Globe and
I guess I should have expected social commentary, seasoned with satire. Wrapping
all this around the uncovering of a serial killer in Vancouver, Gray has spun a
quirky tale of murder, mystery and mayhem.
The story begins with Delores Gunn, nightcrawler (non-union television reporter),
and her crew of two, attempting to entrap a john with a fake hooker come-on.
Delores has looks and some sense of what a story ought to be, but the burning
desire to parlay some air time into a steadier job has her working with the
sting comes off badly and the spin-off from that is that we meet another
viewpoint character, a hard-nosed, tough guy detective name Turner. He is a bit
of a rogue, a Dirty Harry kind of fellow, actually quite honourable, but given
to outbursts of politically incorrect physicality.
Delores, attracted by her on-screen persona, is Eli, a bicycle courier who
seems to want people to think he is dumber than he really is. He hangs out with
a character named Sponigal, who has a past he wonít discuss. He seems
determined to kick-start Eliís intelligence.
are the good guys, all of which come across as damaged goods in need of repair,
or at least a wake-up call. You get intrigued by them, but itís hard to like
any of them.
them together is the plot which involves the serial killer, an unidentified man
who appears, every few chapters, having a continuing dialogue about the works
of Nietzsche. Eventually we realize that the two are discussing the murders,
which appear to be random acts chosen for the purpose of illustrating
one picks up on this, of course. Itís way too obscure for normal people.
Besides, one of the early victims is the wife of a former jock broadcaster with
a roving eye and the media decide very early on that he would be the best
suspect. In fact, they have him covered like O.J. Simpson before he even
realizes that his wife is dead, trailing him all the way home in a convoy and
staking out his property like a film set. heís tried and convicted
a disgusting example of media manipulation and echoes some of the ideas that
Gray has editorialized about in his columns over the years.
course, itís Delores who begins to realize that something is wrong, though she
is rendered temporarily impotent by emergence of her very first heavy breathing
telephone stalker and has to deal with that first.
Turner who confirms her intuition with his own reading of the evidence. Lots of
fingers may be pointing at the hapless ex-football player, but he canít
possibly have carried out all the mayhem thatís been going on, and once Turner
connects the dots on some seemingly unrelated incidents, he knows he has to
look somewhere else.
And Eli? Eli finds himself on the run from a stalker in a 4-Runner who seems to be
connected to the whole mess. He takes his story to Delores, forging the
beginning of the connection which causes him to be around for the end of the
Iím not quite convinced by this novel. I picked it up because I heard Gray talk
about what he was trying to do with it, but Iím not sure the execution matches
his intent. Some of the situations seem to be set-ups for the clever dialogue
between his pairs of characters. Some of the plot developments seem convenient
in the way that movies and television shows often are, but novels shouldnít
appear to be.
Finally, the ending comes upon us so quickly that I was left unsatisfied, with the brief
romantic coda at the end failing to assuage that feeling. I guess I didnít feel
that Iíd been given quite enough to work with. Itís about the right length, but
there are parts of the book that didnít need to be there and some other parts
that could have stood a bit more development.
all the way through it I was reminded of other peopleís work. The tone, though
not the content, is reminiscent of books by science fiction writers Neal
Stephenson (Snow Crash) and William Gibson (Virtual Light), both of whom
practice a kind of punk-noir style that is part Raymond Chandler and part Tom
Wolfe. Iím not sure it works here. There might be too much irony for a murder
thriller. Itís Grayís first novel, though, and I would be more than willing to
take him up on another one sometime.