Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


A Writer to Remember

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There is a writer I want you to know. He writes edgy, tough-minded, bitingly ironic novels about crime—serious crime like theft, kidnapping, extortion, murder. His novels are filtered through a sardonic anti-hero, Monty Haaviko, an ex-con who is determined to go straight.

Monty lives in Winnipeg, of all places. It’s not the city you’ll find in the tourist brochures, but it’s a city that his creator, Michael Van Rooy, loved intensely, and invested in as an artist.

Michael has stolen the hearts of a lot of readers with his three Monty novels. An Ordinary Decent Criminal was first out of the gate, and established Michael as a writer with grit and speed. That first novel was followed by Your Friendly Neighborhood Criminal, and most recently A Criminal to Remember. Readers in the US are now discovering Michael’s intelligence. They’re also discovering his Winnipeg.

Stories about crime are wildly popular, and they have been for a long time. I suspect it’s because they incorporate some of our big terrors (injustice, humiliation, death) while piquing us with the clandestine thrill of rebellion and anti-social power. At the same time, they sketch out a moral universe where right ultimately triumphs—or where wrong at least is exposed and judged.

I suspect there’s an even deeper pleasure: death becomes a plot feature, a complication that a character like Monty has to negotiate. Death is tamed down to a trick of narrative—it loses its sting.

Michael Van Rooy, the wonderful novelist and slightly more wonderful human being, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of January. He was only 42. For all of us in Michael’s community, this loss has been a tsunami—it’s impossible to brace yourself against such a huge and impersonal force, impossible to make sense of the devastating aftermath.

It’s also a blunt reminder that we like stories that diminish death precisely because it is so unbelievably potent. We face it as best we’re able, but it remains inconceivable. We cannot understand it because it is beyond us.

I miss Michael. Like all artists, though, Michael had a secret power of his own. In telling great stories, he has tricked death by leaving tracks that outlast him—novels that are well-built and subtle and engaging at a very deep level, novels that are aware of the complex demands of doing right in a morally ambiguous world. Like the man himself.

I’m so glad I knew him. I’m so glad you have a chance to meet him still.

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