After reading Anne Metikosh's Underurrent, you'll find yourself wrought with specific symptoms: embarrassed laughter, deep ennui and guilt. Not what one expects from a book purporting to pull its reader swiftly into conspiracies and fascinating intrigues from beginning to thrilling end. Unfortunately, Undercurrent proves to be as swift and thrilling as an episode of Global's dull Train 48. It seems like Metikosh has come down with a bad case of what the cynical might call the cancon condition.
The book follows conservation officer Charlotte Meikle, commonly known as Charlie by the townsfolk of Geddes Lake. She scoffs at the superfluous ways of city slicker women and loves nothing better than an ice cold beer, but appreciates the finer points of black and white Bogart films and Placido Domingo. When checking up on her old friend, Jim Griffith, she discovers him suspiciously face down in the drink. It's up to Charlie to sniff out the guilty culprits. Clues are cantankerously discovered in an illegal toxic waste dump in Finger Lake and then a connection to a Toronto-based eco-terrorist group. In true film noir style, Metikosh frames it all in an all too stereotypical setting, rounding up the regular Canadian stock characters. There's Les, the old curmudgeon of the town who continually insults Charlie as a government flunky and takes issue with her unladylike ways. There is also Les's foil: cute, elderly Mrs. Creighton who takes afternoon tea each day and refers to Charlie as "young lady." Of course, the arch-villain of Undercurrent is the time-warp hippy Frank Dennison, leader of the Save Our Planet extreme activist group, complete with a black pony-tail liberally sprinkled with grey, and, fringed leather vest. Finally, there's the spunky, 11-year-old Neil whose dialogue comes by way of Nintendo, Freddy Krueger and other pop culture references which invariably is awesome!
The dull, ill-made sketches of the secondary characters in Undercurrent is equalled only by Charlie's droning first person narration. Perhaps trying to be reminiscent of Bogart-esque world weary gumshoe of genre's past, the narrative bursts with what are meant to be clever anecdotes. Intead, it reads as a series of starts and stops between finding clues which move the story along and long sections of Charlie spouting woodsy wisdom about hunting and fishing. She often subtly alludes to an abusive husband Nick, belying a scarred past, although not even this is clearly discussed. However, there are frequent asides about Monday mornings and bad cups of coffee. The pinnacle of such artificial writing is the girl talk between Charlie and the deceased's fiancée Laura, over why Charlie prefers hot chocolate chip cookies to sex.
It is frankly too bad. Metikosh wants very badly to give prairie publishers, like NeWest and local writers all the support she can give. It's not a good feeling one gets from bashing local culture, nor does one respect those who do. Rather, one should encourage those prairie authors who seek to genuinely and creatively eke out a unique culture for Canada, for example Lee Gowan's The Last Cowboy rather than throw the baby out with the bath water.