BOOKS Dark in­spi­ra­tion came from school graf­fiti

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - ERIC VOLMERS

Nov­el­ist Garry Ryan was teach­ing at For­est Lawn High School in 2001 when some­one de­cided to dec­o­rate the school walls with a mes­sage to Mus­lim stu­dents.

It was not long after 9/11 and the school had a num­ber of Mid­dle East­ern kids, mostly Le­banese, at­tend­ing. The some­what cryp­tic graf­fiti read “YOUR BLOOD: AN UN­QUENCH­ABLE THIRST.”

“I just came to work and there was paint spilled on the ground and foot­prints in it,” says Ryan, in an in­ter­view from his Cal­gary home. “The guy put a colon inside the ‘D’ and we made a joke about it. Your BLOOB? What the hell is he try­ing to say? That was, I thought, a re­ally good way to han­dle it.”

Per­haps. But the mo­ment stayed with Ryan right into re­tire­ment and also makes it into his lat­est novel, Glyc­er­ine, com­plete with the con­fus­ing colon in the D.

It may of­fer a brief mo­ment of lev­ity in the sev­enth Cal­gar­y­based mys­tery in his De­tec­tive Lane se­ries, but the book con­tin­ues Ryan’s hall­mark of filling his tales of death and may­hem with top­i­cal is­sues and a dose of so­cial re­al­ism.

In par­tic­u­lar, the book deals with fun­da­men­tal­ism of var­i­ous shades. The ripped-from-the­head­lines premise has the in­trepid Lane — first name still un­known — in­ves­ti­gat­ing the death of a mi­grant worker. This leads him and his ar­ro­gant new part­ner, rookie Nigel Li, to a north­ern Al­berta com­mu­nity run by John A. Jones. He’s an un­holy mix of Al­berta’s late fun­da­men­tal­ist Christian eco-ter­ror­ist Wiebo Lud­wig and Jamestown cult leader Jim Jones and is sus­pected of bombing oil and gas pipe­lines.

On top of that, the bru­tal “hon­our killing” of a young girl in the city has ramped up anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment in the city just days be­fore the Cal­gary Stam­pede, which is soon tar­geted by ter­ror­ists.

“It’s about a Cana­dian way of deal­ing why a fun­da­men­tal­ist who has turned vi­o­lent,” says Ryan. “It’s that idea of fun­da­men­tal­ism and vi­o­lence and the dam­age it does but also the way peo­ple can han­dle it. Right now we are try­ing to deal with that after what hap­pened in Ot­tawa: Live in fear or move on.”

It wasn’t just the high-school graf­fiti that proved dark in­spira- Garry Ryan will give a read­ing at Pages on Kens­ing­ton on Fri­day at 7:30 p.m. tion for Glyc­er­ine. Ryan says he of­ten walks his dog past a neigh­bour­hood Christian church that puts mes­sages on its out­door sign that seem di­rected at Is­lam, a “war of words” that the au­thor claims re­cently carry less-than-sub­tle com­mu­niqués along the lines of “My re­li­gion doesn’t pro­mote vi­o­lence, why does yours?” He also at­tempted to read a book about the Shafia Fam­ily “hon­our killings” that took place in 2009 in Kingston, Ont., although ad­mits he couldn’t get all the way through it be­cause it was too de­press­ing.

But the book’s point seems to be that re­li­gious ex­trem­ism can arise from both Christian and Is­lamic faiths.

“It’s ba­si­cally mysogin­is­tic and it’s vi­o­lent,” Ryan says. “There’s al­ways th­ese con­nec­tions to th­ese type of events. I don’t see a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween the two fun­da­men­tal­ist points of view.”

All of which could prove con­tro­ver­sial in cer­tain quarters. But Ryan has al­ways used lessons he learned as a teacher to fuel De­tec­tive Lane’s Cal­gary in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Ryan re­tired in 2009 after a teach­ing ca­reer that placed him in both ju­nior high and high school. He decision to make Lane openly gay was a re­sponse to bul­ly­ing he had wit­nessed of gay stu­dents dur­ing his time as a teacher.

And the in­spi­ra­tion keeps flow­ing. Ryan says he is writ­ing his 10th De­tec­tive Lane novel.

“I keep com­ing back to ‘or­di­nary peo­ple who are ex­tra­or­di­nary,’” says Ryan, when asked about the ap­peal of his Cal­gary hero. “He’s just an ur­ban hunter, a guy who has a nose for track­ing down peo­ple who do things like this. He has a par­tic­u­lar skill set. He’s just an or­di­nary guy, but he has this ex­tra­or­di­nary skill.”

For the Cal­gary Her­ald

Au­thor Garry Ryan likes or­di­nary peo­ple with ex­tra­or­di­nary skills.

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