James M. Cain was once quoted as saying he wanted to write about “the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices, and even the gutters of his country.” It seems Montreal-based novelist, playwright, and poet Rana Bose, with his new novel, Fog, has set out to do the same, in a way that reinvigorates the neo-noir genre for the 21st century.
Bose’s “average man” is Chuck Bhatt, a part-time desk clerk at a courier company, described by another character as “a sincere Indian dude with some Armenian mix.” In the novel’s first chapter, Chuck is ambushed by two thugs in his own apartment in Montreal’s Main district, beaten to a pulp, and thrown off a fire escape. Initially, the motivations for the beating are unclear. Eventually, we learn the assault is connected in some way to a plane that crashed under mysterious circumstances over northern Quebec, causing the death of a famous painter named Linda St-Onge. The rest of the narrative is spent guiding the reader through the twisted story of how everything connects, before springing and stalling toward its complex conclusion.
In true noir form, Chuck’s interest in the investigation begins with a love interest – a tempestuous beauty with a split personality named Myra Banks. Chuck states, “I confess that nothing remotely fascinating happened in my life … until this woman sauntered in and uncovered the plane crash story to me.” When it comes to Myra, Bose’s use of genre tropes can be a little too on the nose, such as when Myra shows up on Chuck’s doorstep wearing “large sunglasses” and “torn fishnet stockings,” looking like the dictionary definition of a femme fatale. “She was insane,” Chuck thinks. “Possibly dangerous.”
Myra’s connection to Linda St-Onge’s chiropractor husband and a memory Chuck has of a woman dropping off a courier package the day before the plane crash lead to Chuck’s obsession with solving the mystery, which he likens to sorting through broken pieces of china: “There was a design to all of it and I would fit them together.”
The plot is a touch convoluted at times, but never dull, and interludes late in the novel in Kolkata, India, and Kandahar, Afghanistan, are interesting in themselves but wind up disrupting the narrative flow. Nevertheless, Fog remains a fresh and thrilling addition to the neo-noir domain.