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Not That Kind of Place

by Michael Melgaard

Michael Melgaard (P. Lindsay)

Based on a brief description, a reader might think they know what to expect from Not That Kind of Place, the stunning debut novel by Toronto-based writer Michael Melgaard. The background is simple, but harrowing: in the spring of 1997, 18-year-old Laura McPherson disappeared while on a run on a country road close to her family’s home in Griffiths, a fictionalized town on Vancouver Island. “Since Laura had joined the basketball team in grade ten, three nights a week she would jog slowly to the gravel pit, then do a series of sprint reps up to the gate and back.” Her younger brother David and her father search for her, to no avail, their route constrained by “the Crown land that went on for a hundred miles of mountains and creeks and forest, an endless nature that only ended at the ocean on the west coast.” Her body is found several days later; her murder is never solved.

Now, almost 20 years later, David, who is living in the basement of the house where he grew up and reeling after the death of his mother, is forced to again confront the loss of his sister when a reporter, working on a new story about her unsolved murder, arrives in town.

Not That Kind of Place is set in the contemporary world of true crime podcasts, anniversary coverage of tragedies, and the commodification of trauma: “the story stuck around and became part of the shared consciousness of the province. Laura’s graduation portrait was as recognizable as the photo of the toddler in Victoria who went missing decades earlier, or the undetailed police sketch of the man who had murdered a family of four in Nanaimo and disappeared without a trace.” It’s a familiar world. All too familiar.

Rather than embracing that world and creating a familiar crime novel, Melgaard, to his considerable credit, digs more deeply. Not That Kind of Place is not so much a crime novel as it is an exploration of lives lived in the wake of crime and tragedy – and the communities that nurture such crimes. The title should be approached ironically: this IS that kind of place; they all are. The idea that “it can’t happen here” is a fairy tale – these sorts of crimes can – and do – happen anywhere.

While that may seem like a truism, and something that doesn’t bear much explaining, Not That Kind of Place utterly captivates; Melgaard unravels David’s gradual realization about his hometown, its culture of violence, racism, misogyny, and substance use, even as he focuses on David’s character and the roles of his now-dead parents. It’s a personal story, but one suffused with both intimate grief and a societal darkness – the shadows under the glossy surface of the bucolic small town.

Part of the novel’s power comes from its sense of place: Melgaard develops Griffiths and its surroundings with a keen, and at times merciless, eye. The town will be familiar in the abstract to anyone who has lived in a small town, but readers familiar with Vancouver Island will be stunned by moments of recognition, despite the fictionalization (the mention of the missing “toddler in Victoria,” a clear reference to the 1991 disappearance of four-year-old Michael Dunahee, is chilling).

David’s journey to understanding is low-key, almost laconic, but this approach only adds power to the narrative, leaving it to the reader to carry the weight of his new understanding. It’s a brilliant approach and a brilliant novel.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: House of Anansi Press


Price: $22.99

Page Count: 304 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-48701-117-8

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: August 2023

Categories: Fiction: Novels, Reviews