Stephen Maher. Deadline. 2013: A first look
February 11, 2013
I’ve followed Stephen Maher’s career since I discovered his columns and news stories from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald online at National Newswatch four or five years ago. He has since moved to Ottawa as a columnist for Postmedia News and become half of the team who broke the Robocalls scandal. This morning when Newswatch carried a teaser about Deadline, his new novel, I downloaded it to Kindle and had a look.
The initial buzz will undoubtedly come from Parliament Hill, CBC, CTV, Signals Intelligence and Ottawa Police types looking to see how they are portrayed in the book. I’m most impressed by his bang-on impersonation of Peter Mansbridge. Stephen Harper is played without affect. Another character might reflect a grudge on former CBC broadcaster Krista Erickson. But there is a large cast of others and the game of the week will no doubt be the jotting of well-known names above the generic monikers Maher uses in the novel.
That’s the inside baseball interest. For general readers, the tome is an interesting and amusing spy novel set in Ottawa. I’ve read straight through the Kindle edition today. Most mysteries don’t carry me past the first chapter.
First chapters are important to me. My rule of thumb is that as soon as I come upon a dead body, I return the book to the pile. Very few mysteries pass this hurdle. But Maher’s jogging nurse makes an early-morning leap into the shallow water of a drained lock to rescue a drowned man. This impressed me as one of the best initial chapters I have read.
The plot advances with the usual intrigue surrounding the retirement of the prime minister and the subsequent leadership race. Maher is in his element in recounting misinformation schemes of the staffs of competing cabinet ministers. His hard-boiled main character, journalist Jack Macdonald, nurses a hangover through the back alleys, bars and bedrooms of downtown Ottawa.
Macdonald follows a lead to Fort McMurray where he encounters a subculture of fellow Newfoundlanders. Maher describes what the massive oil sands project looks and smells like before he returns to the narrative and a city of lonely men from the Rock with too much money in their pockets while Chinese oil interests lurk.
One of my objections to most of the mysteries my wife brings home from the library is that the characters are cutouts and the resolution of the plot is as predictable as the body in the first chapter. Not so with Maher. In fact, the most memorable Maher catch phrase is the unique: “A transition period is the period between two transition periods.”
Perhaps the only truly corny part of the novel is the gratuitous chase scene on the frozen canal, but what Ottawa writer can resist its appeal?
No, Maher’s plot doesn’t follow the expected arc, and I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it that if you have kept up with Canadian newspapers for the last four or five years, you’ll enjoy quite a few AHAH! moments in the dark irony of the last quarter of the book. Maher is clearly not a fan of the Senate.
Radio Canada International ran an interview in which Stephen Maher spoke about the writing of Deadline: