Cross the writing of Henry Miller with Douglas Coupland and the result is Byron Rempel’s exhilarating first novel, True Detective. Set in Montreal’s flourishing alternative scene, the story details the adventures of a sex-obsessed prairie expatriate who puts off getting a real job by enrolling in a mail-order private detective course. Hoping to create the perfect slacker gig for the ‘90s, our hero finds himself working harder than expected to solve various mysteries — including, to his alarm, the deeper mysteries of the human heart.
EXCERPT FROM TRUE DETECTIVE:
A finely tuned neck makes me a jellyfish. Add dark skin, and I wash up on shore. A neck holds up the head, and the head is where all the thinking is. Sometimes, thinking doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is what supports all that thinking. There are a whole lot of nerves and veins and muscles in the neck. I’m not a doctor. I don’t know the names of them. But I know enough to realize that all those neural impulses have to go through somewhere to get to the rest of the body. They all have to channel through this cervical vertebra. It just happens to be one of the most beautiful aspects of the human body. Cut the neck and what do you have? Much blood, for one thing. Plus a severed spinal cord, which makes you unable to walk, or move, or have sex. Plus you don’t have any connection to your body anymore. A head without a body is useless. There are stories in our mythologies about headless horsemen, but they’re usually so pissed off about not having a head that they’re no good to anybody anyway. If you’re a headless horseman, who gets the neck? The head or the body? It doesn’t matter much at that point, I suppose. In eastern Burma, the women of the Padaung tribe coil brass rings around their necks, stretching them more than twelve inches. It’s a good idea, for starters, but you can’t even see the neck under the rings. It’s like those tribesmen who elongate their cocks, till they hang below their knees. Okay, it’s long, so now what do you do with it? Can you get an erection? No. If the Paduang women slept around, their husbands would take off their neck rings. Then their heads would flop onto their shoulders, a totally useless thing, like the head of a broken-necked chicken hanging over a chopping block. The muscles atrophy. Once you start playing around with the neck, anything can happen. There are two most wonderful parts to the neck. One is at the front. This is the bold, obvious part. The hollow at the base, where water collects if you’re lying naked on your back in the rain. Two large veins define it. It is almost untouchable, it seems so fragile. It is. The jugular is there. And the other part of the neck that is so wondrous is the back where it connects to the spine. This is the most kissable part on the female body. You can be squeezing yams at the supermarket minding your own business and feeling that everything is right with the groceries, when you spy an olive-skinned Quebecoise with a low cut sweater that swings down to reveal one black bra strap on her back. And then grocery shopping takes on a whole new meaning. I’m over that kind of thing now. I’m older. More experienced. I’m able to deal with my emotions, never mind my testosterone. But that was Montreal last year, and I was young, fecund, and prone to kissing strange women’s necks in grocery store line-ups. And that was how I ended up meeting Mathilde.
She was my first mystery.
“Rempel handles the cultural baggage with aplomb, making pointed reference to the travails of a generation that longs for the heady excitement and idealism of the past, but understands it no better than a Humphrey Bogart drawl or a Hardy Boys mystery.”
– Quill and Quire
True Detective, by Byron Rempel, is an off-beat detective novel in which the hero’s sensibility is far more interesting than the case he sets out to solve…As Bushman’s friend Reefer Jones observes: “Conclusions are rare. Life isn’t about endings, or even beginnings. It’s about middles, and we just can’t deal with the fact that life is one big middle.” Rempel writes about this “middle” with energy and candour. And, by making Roger a character who, despite his devil-may-care persona, actually thinks, he creates a portrait of a Gen X-er that transcends caricature. After all, who can resist a character who can focus his attention for an entire page on the hollow at the base of the neck, “where water collects if you’re lying on your back in the rain”?
– Books in Canada
“There’s a dick, there’s a dame, there’s a delivery. There’s a dash of violence, some sex, and lots and lots of questions…Every chapter of exciting plot leads to one in which Roger Bushman pulls back to investigate his morals and those of his circle. For a book in which drugs and sex are the characters’ jobs and ambitions, this hypnotically recurring emphasis on morals is surprising. True Detective is a moral, metaphysical mystery…a pursuit into the fog of love, into the mysteries of the human soul.”
– The Georgia Straight