Sunday, March 02, 2014

Gary Ryan. The Lucky Elephant Restaurant (2006)

     Gary Ryan. The Lucky Elephant Restaurant (2006) Ryan lives in Calgary, and makes that city the setting for his books. This is a police procedural with a social conscience: D.I. Lane is gay, and has an extensive social/family network, which to some extent interferes with his police work. His partner Arthur’s sister is dying of cancer, so they will have to adopt her son Matt. Jay, the prime suspect's brother, has been hiding from her, but finds a substitute family in the Vietnamese community. Because Matt is enrolled in minor hockey, Lane becomes a ref, and tangles with a hockey parent who’s a jerk. And so on. These vignettes extend the story to book length, and plotwise delay the action enough that it takes some time for Lane and sidekick Harper to close the case. They also intersect with the actions of the prime suspect, who is attempting to get the case closed quickly, and if possible eliminate Lane as well.
     Plot: a man and his daughter are found dead in the foothills bush west of Calgary. There are “anomalies” that suggest murder. The ex-wife/mother is a suspect early on. It’s pretty obvious that she done it, so the plot turns on how Lane and Harper will get sufficient evidence to make the case, and whether they'll be able to do so before she does more damage. In the end, she over-reaches, attempting another arson, but is caught in the act, and shot when she attacks the police who are guarding Lane’s house.
     Ryan handles the various levels of ignorance and knowledge, lies and truth, past and present skilfully enough that the narrative tension keeps us reading. In style and structure, the novel is cinematic: chapters of varying length, jump-cuts and montage-like snippets of scene, miscellaneous information, dialogue, sidelights on character. It wouldn’t take much to turn this book into a script; I think it would make a good series. Like many late 20th/early 21st century crime novels, the mood is elegiac and dark. There is hope and joy in family life and friendship, but these treasures must be jealously protected from attacks by bigots, egotists, jerks, power seekers, and other social riffraff.
     All in all, an above average example of the genre.**½ (2012)

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