In his second novel, Sointula author Bruce Burrows sprinkles enough local names — fictionalized, of course — and places to give North Island readers a point of reference.
But The Fourth Betrayal is a political thriller that takes the reader to the mean streets of Ottawa and the oil patch of Alberta before returning to the comforts of the West Coast.
Writing in the style of an old-school, hardboiled detective tale set in the modern day, Burrows weaves a tale of love and loss, of friendship and fierce loyalty, and of corruption, conspiracy and, yes, betrayal in the halls of power.
It is a tale told with a mix of humour and social/political commentary, rich in metaphor and wry observations of Canada’s people and institutions.
Burrows’s protagonist, a Sointula-raised fisherman named Ollie Swanson, is propelled east following the disappearance in Ontario of his lifelong best friend, an investigative journalist named Dougie Tarkenen. After uncovering hints into the story Tarkenen was working on before his disappearance and presumed death, Swanson is thrust into a viper’s den of politicians, oilmen and fixers, and puts his own family at risk as he blunders through the mystery.
The author sets the backstory of the two friends through a series of flashbacks in the novel’s early chapters, all set in familiar North Island locales. But about the time you think the entire story is going to be a volley-and-return between their teen years and the present, Burrows leaves the past behind and sends Swanson away from his wife and two young children to chase a series of fleeting clues into his friend’s disappearance.
Much of the fun of the novel is joining Swanson in his unlikely transition from West Coast family man and fisherman into gumshoe and general hardcase upon hitting the ground in Ottawa.
More fun is had in the early flashback chapters, which set up the close bond the friends share through hijinks both mundane and audacious.
Along the way, Burrows uses a dry but astute wit to take jabs at a number of North Island — and governmental — institutions. Even the North Island Gazette, for whom Burrows once wrote, is not exempt from these digs.
In his first novel, The River Killers, Burrows took on the fishing industry. The Fourth Betrayal tackles big oil and, if there is a weakness to the novel, it’s the manner in which Burrows races to the denouement in the oil fields of Alberta, and the unlikely — if temporary — resolution to the concern of oil being piped to a West Coast terminal for shipping in our waters.
Still, that is a small quibble. The Fourth Betrayal is not about a destination. It’s about a journey, populated by colourful characters and dialogue, that may determine what the future holds for all of us.
And it’s definitely a ride worth hopping aboard.
The Fourth Betrayal is published by Touchwood Editions, touchwoodeditions.com.