When an aggressive crime is wrongly pinned on one of their own, TV journalists from CKCF Television decide to undertake their own investigation. They quickly discover the Mafia’s involvement, police corruption, anti-Anglophone sentiment, and odd behavior among their own co-workers.
After 29 years in the news business as an anchor for Montreal’s largest English language television station, Bill Haugland pays homage to his professional past in this first novel. The book is not at all autobiographical; rather, it is informed by an insider’s view of the media in Montreal in the late sixties and early seventies.
The truth is, there’s something remarkably ordinary about Mobile 9. The main characters, Ty and Jason, are basically regular guys. Journalists, they go to some not-so-great lengths to help their friend Greg, whose misery after being suspended from the station on suspicion of assault is very much reduced by his girlfriend’s generosity. It’s hard to feel empathy for a character who loses his job but quickly gets back on his feet thanks to his lover’s determination to see him working and well again. It’s just not that dramatic.
As calm, rational men, they make non-life threatening decisions within their own very human limits. These are incredibly clear since the enemy they’re going after is the all-powerful Montreal mafia in the midst of a leadership war.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with realistic characters in normal settings, but the writing must be strong to compensate for the lack of intrinsic drama. In Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, for example, the simple day-to-day chores of an ordinary farmer are made intense and awesome by the author’s storytelling.
Haugland’s storytelling skills are good enough to keep you in the story, but they don’t leave you asking for more. The TV journalists in Mobile 9 are good at what they do, but what they are good at is finding a catchy headline and editing newsreel; it doesn’t come across as very glamorous or fascinating.
The Montreal Haugland describes is one of boxing clubs, news studios, police stations and Mafia meeting spots. While the streets mentioned actually exist, and the francophone-anglophone polarity is true to the city’s past, there isn’t much in the story that makes you feel like you’re in Montreal. You’re in a big town, for sure. But it could be anywhere.
Boxing is a very dramatic sport, but Mobile 9’s boxing scene lacks intensity or rhythm. Like a journalist, or maybe even a commentator, the author presents every scene, whether boxing, investigation, or dialogue, with a contextual introduction and various elements to make the story understandable. Alas, nothing in this novel really gives the reader a reason to love it.
There is, in the end, nothing technically wrong with Haugland’s capacities as a writer. But a book needs more than the clear depictions of a linear series of events.
Joseph Elfassi is a freelancer journalist and photographer. You can visit his blog at http://www.elfassi.ca/wordpress.