Ball Park by John Farrow
Detective Émile Cinq-Mars is transferring from the Night Patrol—the notoriously tough department of officers in charge of watching over the city as it sleeps—to the day shift. His old superior has seen to it that he’s assigned to partner Yves Giroux, another ex-Night Patrol detective some say isn’t on the “up and up.”
Getting in a house is easy for thief Quinn Tanner. The stress comes in getting out clean. On finding her getaway driver dead after her latest heist, she goes underground.
For his first case on the day shift, Émile is sent to the property that Quinn has just visited, and their paths are set to cross. But has she stolen something more valuable than she realizes . . . and who is hunting for her now?
The Big Thrill caught up to prolific author John Farrow to gain some insight into his latest thriller, BALL PARK: You originally wrote crime fiction to help you survive as a writer, but why do you still write crime fiction now, apart from earning your livelihood?
Writers are meant to explore the world and life in all its facets. Sure, crime fiction, thriller fiction entertains, and the writer is free to bend any and every constraint on reality, but that should not release writers from the opportunity to explore human experience in a real way. This is especially true given that crime fiction provides a platform where people are at the mercy of extraordinary trauma and hardship. How love survives amid the stink of humanity’s villainy is not only a tale worth telling, and worth the devotion of one’s life’s work to tell, but it’s also necessary. I don’t believe that a book changes a life (if it does, something was probably amiss in the life), but reading does. Reading alters who we are, and it’s damn necessary to help the art of reading to persevere in our culture. That’s done by endeavoring to write damn well.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
Setting, as I was born into this one. “Park Ex,” as it is known (Park Extension), was the toughest neighborhood in Montreal back in the day, and is where I grew up. The district was recognized as having the highest incidence of juvenile delinquency in Canada, so it was inevitable that I create a character (Quinn Tanner) to represent that subset. She’s 17, sassy, smart, the daughter of a safe-cracker and, although she’d argue the point, an innocent despite her occupation: thief. I don’t arrange plots ahead of time: I allow my characters to become embroiled in situations that are dire and cooking and see how it all works out.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
To keep competing gangs (this time, mainly Mafia and Eastern European) and competing generational forces within those gangs, pitched against a police department which is (back in the day, certainly) corrupt, while at the same time managing my moral detective and my whippersnapper main character who become drawn into a whirlwind of violence and deceit, is a challenge by itself, but one that becomes far greater when the aim is not merely the thrills and chills of the chase but the exposition of characters, and the exposure of their grace under fire. The biggest opportunity continues with this latter remark, for people never know themselves until they are in the trauma of crisis, and must think on their feet and, while turning on a dime, act with their hearts. That’s a blessing, to show that.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
Coming from a literary background as I do (seven literary novels, all with major publishers), my approach has always been, and continues to be, to write the finest novel that the story can be. Some writers are proud that they can knock off a novel in 200 hours; I’m proud that I would never give a novel less than 2,000 hours, and that’s for a shortish book. Which is to say that I want the key elements of a novel to make a contribution to the genre: the writing is meant to be fine, not hackneyed; the story rises out of the lives of the characters, as all stories do in the real world; and I seek to show humanity’s face, even when the portraits are drawn from an underworld.
Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?
At certain critical moments, I wanted to work with conversation. There’s a bias against “talky” books, and mine isn’t that. Nevertheless, a dialogue between weathered combatants, that veers back in times and evokes decades of scar tissue, can be illuminating, especially if it’s concurrent with the fluid action of the novel. An old cop (not Cinq-Mars) and an old Mafia boss negotiate terms while their warring underlings battle on, and it’s that engagement with heightened talk that I wanted to see given time and space.
What can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
There are many sad stories in the culture of old Quebec that have bled into our times regarding the mistreatment of orphans. A true story is deployed in this tale about orphans who were raised in a convent and given only numbers, not names. They were shabbily treated, due to the fact that their families had declined to have them baptized as infants. Ball Park shines a light on this dark episode in Montreal history.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.