Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: "The Code" by G.B. Joyce

I blasted through "The Code" by G.B. Joyce, who you may know better under the name 'Gare' which he uses as a journalist covering mainly hockey.  (No, I'm not aware of the reason for the change.)  It's an easy read, with a pretty straightforward plot, decent characters and combines hockey with crime fiction.  What's not to love?

Here's an excerpt, the opening paragraphs from the first chapter:

Understand that the league is a systemic organization of hatreds. You might know a lot about the game but you'll know nothing about the league until you accept this. It's true of all of them: the players, the coaches, the general managers, the executives, the agents, and the owners. It goes from the high and mighty, the commissioner and his ilk in their plush Madison Avenue offices, right down to the lowest ranks, the scouts who sit next to me in arenas great and small.
No man is above the blackest animus. Could be a ref you jawed with. Could be your linemate who maybe knows your girlfriend better than he says. Could be the agent who rounds up his cut every time he thinks you're not looking. Could be the massage therapist who rubbed you the wrong way. Could be the goalie farting in the whirlpool when you're next in. If you are or were in the league in any capacity, even for the briefest time, somewhere somebody hopes that the next breath you draw will be your last. And guys won't give up hating you when you're dead. At that point the hate crosses over and they'll draw the same exquisite satisfaction from your demise that they'd take from raising the Cup.
Hated and Hated By: They should be listed on a hockey card, right below the height, weight, position, and hometown. They're a lot more important than your hometown, that's for sure.
I've got my hates, too—not many, but deeply felt. The number-one slot is reserved for Lavery, the guy who kneed me and shredded my ACL. I think of him when it rains. That's my Arthur, which has me popping Celebrex in the A.M. and hobbling whenever I have to climb two flights of stairs. I'll probably end up with plastic where there's bone, but for now I'll put off the repair work. Once I seize my chance to run Lavery off the road I'll see the surgeon and my conscience will be clear.

The book is the first of what is already described as a series centering on Brad Shade, a cop's son and former NHL journeyman who now toils as an amateur scout covering the CHL for the NHL L.A. team.  Shade is described as a defensive specialist who ran through the league, suffered through some reversals in his personal and professional life, including divorce, run-ins with the star system in L.A., financial setbacks, and injury, but also lived the dream of winning the ultimate prize, lifting the Stanley Cup as a MontrĂ©al Canadien in 1993(!), during which final he played a pivotal role by going up against Wayne Gretzky.

Therein lies one of the strengths of this book, in that Mr. Joyce doesn't reveal and explain everything about his main character in this first novel.  He doles out hints here and there about his life, delves in some areas in some detail, but leaves a lot to be discovered in future installments, a hook which is probably effectively set for this reader.  So we find out that Brad Shade 'shut down' Wayne Gretzky, and some knowledgeable fans still remember this exploit, but mostly he's a fameless and nameless veteran who plugs in at Old Timers' games as a last-minute substitute when the real former stars can't make it.  And we never hear the whole story about his Cup win.  Suspense.

Another strength of this book is that the plot works.  It doesn't go on ridiculous twists and dead-ends like a CSI episode or the abysmal "The Killing".  It becomes clear who the suspect is and the way Brad Shade investigates makes perfect sense, in that the crime is tied in to a prospect he's covering in anticipation of the coming NHL draft.

The fact that Brad Shade is the Sherlock Holmes in this story adds up, in that as a scout it's his job to ask questions and get background information on people.  Joyce gives him some grounding in policing through his experience with his father's occupation, but also through the fact that Shade played NCAA hockey instead of major junior, and took Criminology as his major at Boston College.  Shade often relies on knowledge he learned in Crim, and relates it explicitly.

Another interesting point is that the novel is a bit of a 'roman a clef'.  There's the former goalie-recovered alcoholic now turned GM.  There's the former scrub who is now a douchebag TV personality who covets a job in the league (Pierre McGuire?  P.J. Stock?  Bit of both?).  There's the stuttering, slovenly, broken down reporter who faithfully covers Junior hockey and is amply punished for his efforts.  There's the junior hockey coach who acts as GM and local hero and leader of young men, but has a few blemishes that those who know him see all too clearly.

A final thought that occurs as one gets to the last page is whether Brad Shade will remain a scout for a few more books, or will he quickly rise through the ranks, and work in a team's front office or behind the bench.  There have already been allusions to him being promoted or recruited.  In a way, it would be interesting for him to remain a scout a while longer, there are probably lots of stories to tell, and as Joyce explained in a CBC Radio interview, the hockey scout/private eye combo is a natural fit.

A nice quick read, if you're still looking for your beach read this might be the one.

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