Monday, December 01, 2008

by Peter Fergus-Moore
(Eolipile Publishing, 2008)

If you've clicked the link in my sidebar to see Black Pete's responses to my "Lines" each day at his blog Red Wine & Garlic, you may already know that he recently published a little noir story called The Demon Dragonfly & the Burning Wheel. Black Pete is a blog-friend, you should know that, and we met each other at his home in Thunder Bay last June when I spent a week at the lakehead. Black Pete partly makes his living teaching people to read, so it seems somehow appropriate that he writes in his spare time.

Some people will call The Demon Dragonfly a mystery, and there are elements of the mystery genre about it. Some people might call it an action-thriller, and there is action and it is thrilling. Some might think Black Pete a fabulist and, yes, there is plenty of fabrication here. Black Pete himself calls it a spy thriller. I would call it the prose equivalent of film noir, with a dark and bitten narrator/protagonist, Laurence Speke, who tells a dark and bitten story set in pre-war (1936) Port Arthur/Fort William, Ontario.

There are Nazis entwined in this plot, out to do Speke in; and there are Ojibways involved, out to mend Speke after his untoward encounter with the Nazis and a waterfall called Kakabeka. There are hi-jinx in high places, and you know the hero must survive his encounters with evil, the story being told in the first person and all.

I am the fellow who says, "Life is too short for fiction," but I relent for Black Peter's tale is short enough for life. And the dark and bitten Speke has a dark and bitten voice that compels one to keep reading. I think I digested the book in two long sittings.

I like the local elements in the story, the locale that underlays the telling, and the cultural elements which make it believable. Some might dismiss this as a "regional" mystery, yet in truth all writing, if it's any good, is regional. Everyone has to be some place, if they're to come to life, and these exist in the region that is now Thunder Bay. And I am pleased with the character of the character, Speke, who now - with the revelations at the end of the book - may be asked to become something else. This is the mythic hero's journey through a noir landscape to re-birth. The shape of the story is what I tell my students is "The Last Lap" story-shape. You start close to the end of the action, then tell how you got into this predicament, and end by telling how you get out of it. A mythic telling and a classic story-shape, in well-written and interesting prose, I'm pleased to say.

Yet it is too big a story to end at the end. There is a sequel already in the works, with a different narrator, a woman who has come to Port Arthur looking for Laurence Speke. I have no inside word about the mythic content of the sequel, nor about its story shape, but if it's anything like The Demon Dragonfly & the Burning Wheel, it will be well worth reading, too.

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