Not That Kind of Place by Michael Melgaard

The emphasis in the title of Michael Melgaard’s latest is on the second word. Imagine the following conversation.

“What kind of place is it?”

“Not that kind.”

“What kind?”

“The bad kind.”

“You mean it’s nice?”

“It’s not the kind of place where, you know, bad things happen.”

Except they do, of course. Murder, teenage prostitution, drug dealing bikers, colonial land theft, neglectful fathers, mind-numbing retail jobs. The list goes on. Didn’t think it could happen here? Didn’t think it has always been happening here? Think again.

Griffiths, British Columbia, is the place in question, a small town (fictional) on Vancouver Island. A settlement built up around a railway station, constructed by a prescient entrepreneur, as the colonial power was opening the land to resource extraction, Griffiths has become the home of Victoria-bound commuters at the dawn of the 21st century. A quiet, sleepy place to grow up, it seemed, until in May 1997 Laura McPherson, a perky 18-year-old, went for an evening run and didn’t come home.

What happened? For 20 years, it has been a mystery. People had their theories, sure. A documentary was made, giving voice to police whispers about a local loner. Then a true crime podcast regurgitated the stories. Laura’s father thought the police whispers were right. Laura’s mother didn’t. Laura’s younger brother, David, blocked it all out, got a job at Walmart, and continued living in his parents’ basement well into his thirties. Which is where we catch up with him.

Twenty years after Laura’s unsolved murder, a new journalist arrives in town. David still doesn’t want to talk about it, but then his mother dies. His father had passed years earlier. A case of arrested development, thirty-something teenager David starts to confront details that had been in front of him all along. Griffiths is not the town he thought it was. He takes stumbling steps out of entitlement, towards enlightenment.

This is not a conventional who-done-it. David is about as passive an investigator as one could reasonably be and still make incremental progress. The new journalist keeps calling. David keeps avoiding him. New leads open as David starts to see his environment as if for first time. No need for a spoiler alert. I’m not going to give away the ending, except to say it’s satisfying. The publisher is marketing Not That Kind of Place as “a literary anti-mystery.” I’ll buy that. The hunt here isn’t so much the search for the murderer, as the revelation of the collective malaise. We don’t live where we think we live. We are not who we think we are.

For what it’s worth, Buffalo Springfield tapped this vein in 1967: “Stop, children, what’s that sound? Everyone look what’s going down.” It ain’t nice.

MICHAEL MELGAARD is the author of the short story collection Pallbearing. His writing has appeared in Best Canadian Stories anthology, as well as JoylandLithub, and elsewhere. He is a former book columnist for the National Post. Originally from Vancouver Island, he currently lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Aug. 29 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487011172
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487011178