Ajarn Doyle during his professorial days in Thailand
Robert Doyle has taken his own background of living in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Canada and crafted a protagonist into his own altered image in his latest novel, Ghosts in the Brothel. Detective Sergeant Tara Street is “A not-yet-over-the hill 42 year old with a bit of distinguished grey in her hair and a shitload of experience in a copper’s job.” She’s an extremely likable, believable and well written character, a good fit for the left leaning politics of Justin Trudeau. If I had to guess I’d say she’s probably a Fidel Castro fan to boot. Like the author she took a life transfer from Australia. She now works for the Toronto Police Department. Wherever she goes there she is, along with the types of characters she thought she had left behind in the Lucky Country. Male authors writing believable female protagonists is not an easy calling. Colin Cotterill gets it right with his female characters and Tim Hallinan has his moments but few other authors come immediately to mind. Doyle hits it deep out of Rogers Centre with Tara Street
I was a bit concerned early-on with a rather clunky and crass metaphor involving the c-word as Americans refer to it or “cunt” as Brits say six times before lunch, but it was merely a setup by another detective for Tara to be properly disgusted. That’ll work.
Doyle has put together a layer-cake of a murder mystery, which gives the reader a taste of Australia, Toronto, Canada, Thailand, and the supernatural, with plenty of icing on top. I have long been a fan of Aussie slang and think my knowledge in that area is the duck’s guts, but I learned a few new ones along the way and appreciate the glossary at the back. Repetition is the key to learning.
“True Friends Stab You in the Front.”
Oscar Wilde, 1854 – 1900 (Heading of Chapter 26 in Ghosts in the Brothel)
Robert, depending on your point of view, has either the good fortune or misfortune to follow Elmore Leonard in my reading schedule (La Brava). Robert is not as good as Elmore. Who is? I’m not as good a book reviewer as Paul Dorsey but there is no reason why we shouldn’t take our swings. I’ll let Robert take some swings at this review later on if he chooses; it’s only fair. Coming in at almost 400 pages I think Ghosts in the Brothel could use a 100 page trim. The characters and settings are top notch. Some of the narrative comes across as forced and doesn’t add to the story, which is a good one. Each Chapter, as the one noted above, also starts with a quote. Some of them quite lengthy. I found myself skipping them as they diverted my attention to a place I didn’t want to go from a place I was happy to be. Stephen King offers good advice about killing darlings and there are many darlings worth sacrificing for the sake of story in this mystery tale.
Kurt Vonnegut, likewise, offers good advice regarding literary criticism:
“I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”
I agree with Vonnegut 100%. Robert Doyle has written a three scoop treat of a novel in Ghosts in the Brothel. My belly could use less ice cream, these days, is all. The mystery has great insight into the political and policing scenes in Toronto along with the gangster lifestyle. Tara is no stereotypical female found in most crime fiction written by seasoned crime writers. She’s intelligent and independent yet maintains her human sensibilities and frailties in believable fashion. Ghosts in the Brothel is the second in the Tara Street Crime Series. If the third one doesn’t come out soon I’ll be backtracking Tara’s footprints to spy in on her first caper.
Just remember, Robert: you only need to hit 300 to get into the Hall of Fame. Best of luck with the sequel.
The Author Robert Doyle at the age of innocence