CAUGHT by Lisa Moore (Anansi), 317 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Give Lisa Moore some credit. The winner of Canada Reads (for February) sure knows how to change things up.
Though she's explored deep tensions in relationships as well as traumatic loss, she hasn't often embraced characters determined to live a life of crime.
Caught's protagonist, drug runner Slaney, has just escaped from prison and can't wait to make the next deal. He hooks up with his old partner, Hearn, who dispatches him to Mexico, where he's supposed to snap up $2 million worth of weed and bring it back to Canada by boat.
On his tail is the intrepid detective Patterson, who has a foolproof way of making sure Slaney fails - until a hurricane destroys the signal he's using to track the shipment.
Moore's prose is as vivid as ever, evoking the highways Slaney haunts while he's on the run and the gorgeous Mexican vistas where he buys the contraband. And more than ever, she delivers a tension-filled narrative in which the wary Slaney imagines disaster at every turn - the sequences just after he escapes will leave you with white knuckles - even as he pursues his goals in profoundly delusional ways.
But the story has a fatal flaw in that we're never quite sure of Slaney's motivations. What drives him to escape from prison determined to do another deal? Why does he go back to Hearn, who let him take the rap for the last disastrous escapade? Is it a man crush or what? Moore pushes their connection right to the end, but never satisfactorily explains Slaney's blind loyalty.
Her last novel, February - about a woman who loses her husband on doomed oil rig the Ocean Ranger - has a story laden with pain and loss that grabs you and won't let go. By failing to convey what propels Slaney in Caught, Moore denies us an essential emotional through line.
Moore reads from Caught as part of Luminato's literary gala on June 20 at Toronto Reference Library. For more info, go to nowtoronto.com/books.