My home town is in this novel! That’s right folks, Dryden, Ontario makes a brief cameo appearance, in all its Boréal glory. Alright, since I’ve already mentioned Dryden, I should start out by saying there are two things that bothered me about this book (pet peeve sort of things, not hugely important, but they got under my skin), and it’s better to get them out of the way before dealing with the more important parts of the novel. The first thing is distance. There’s a fictional Ontario town in The Killing Circle called Whitley. Judging from the landmarks (West of Thunder Bay, with Dryden being the next town on the Trans-Canada, etc), it should probably be roughly where the real-life town of Ignace is. Pyper describes this town as about a half a day’s drive from cottage country. Double that, and he’d be closer to accuracy. Folk in Southern Ontario ought to glance at a map every so often. Toronto to Dryden, assuming reasonable traffic and actually getting out of the car to eat (but not stopping to sleep) should be between 22 and 25 hours of driving. I know this, because I’ve made the drive many, many times. And Dryden is only something like an hour up the road from Ignace/Whitley. Northern/Northwestern Ontario may not have a lot of people in it, but it’s absolutely vast. You could fit Southern Ontario into it several times over with room left over. Okay, so the second pet peeve thing is about the weather. Toronto’s winter weather, and I can say this after having lived here for a couple of years now, is so mild it’s a joke. I literally snorted when I read this:
Tuesday brings a cold snap with it. A low of minus eighteen, with a wind-chill making it feel nearly double that. The talk-radio chatter warns everyone against going outside unless absolutely necessary. It makes me think—not for the first time—that I can be counted among the thirty million who voluntarily live in a country with annual plagues. A black death called winter that descends upon us all. (p. 41)
I’ve lived in Southern Ontario since 1999 (with two of those years spent in Sudbury, which where I’m from is considered the northern-most edge of Southern Ontario), and in all that time the weather hasn’t once been severe enough to make me take my winter coat out of mothballs. Back home I wore it for six months of the year, sometimes longer. There’s a scene later on, and I won’t explain the context because it will spoil things, wherein a radio announcer in Whitley gives the same caution as the “talk-radio chatter” in the above quotation, because apparently a low of minus twenty was expected that night. In the twenty years that I lived up North, I didn’t ever once hear that sort of cold weather warning. Schools were not closed, events were not canceled, nobody stayed indoors. I myself pumped gas outdoors in weather that was in the minus forties, the windchill on at least one occasion bringing it down to minus fifty-four. If northern communities stayed indoors every time it got below minus twenty, everything between October and April would be a complete write-off. Okay, enough ranting.
The Killing Circle was great. Pyper’s writing is just as good as many of his more capital-L Literary counterparts, and it’s a shame that, as Mr. Beattie points out, some people dismiss his work because he writes thrillers. If handled well, and I believe Mr. Pyper has succeeded in this, any subject matter can be the foundation of strong fiction. Margaret Atwood writes (bad) science fiction, Michael Ondaatje writes soppy romances; I see no reason why Mr. Pyper should be penalized because he calls his thrillers by their proper name. And The Killing Circle is quite the thriller indeed. Mr. Beattie has already dealt with The Killing Circle‘s satirical elements far better than I could, so I will pass over them here. Patrick Rush, failed journalist, plagiarist, widower(ist?) becomes embroiled (did I seriously just write embroiled?) in the activities of The Sandman, a serial killer stalking Toronto’s wannabe literary community. Whether it’s because of the gruesome stories told by William, a terrifying hulk of man, a disturbing presence in Rush’s writing circle, or the dark shapes in the alleys, broken locks and open windows, this book scared the bejeezus out of me. I wanted to put the book down so I could sleep at night, but I also didn’t want to put it down so that I could be sure that my favourite characters—and I, by extension—would be safe until morning. Honestly, if that’s not enough for you, then you might want to get a proctologist to see about removing that stick before your eyes turn brown. Pyper is also deft enough to both exploit and undermine the conventions of the thriller. There were several plot twists that I was able to guess correctly (many more that I was not), but those subsequent chapters always made me doubt those guesses, so I was more surprised when I was correct than when I wasn’t. I can’t wait to read another of his books.
Next up is William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses.