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2006 10 17
Imagining Toronto | A Review of Vivian Meyer’s Bottom Bracket
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The familiar setting of Toronto's Kensington Market hosts fast paced intrigue in Vivian Meyer's highly readable new mystery novel, Bottom Bracket (just released by Sumach Press, 2006). In Meyer's novel, the double meaning of 'bottom bracket' (referring to the lowest socio-economic echelon as well as to the axle and bearing casing on a bicycle) comes vividly to life in the person of Abigail Faria, a bike courier and advocate of the dispossessed whose curiosity about a violent death in the Market brings her into contact with a heroin-addicted hooker and her murdered pimp, good and bad cops, corrupt developers, and an eclectic assortment of Kensington Market characters whose underworld and upper class connections, computer hacking skills, excellent coffee, and local solidarity combine to uncover dark deeds and bring their doers to a uniquely Kensington Market justice.

Abigail Faria isn't your usual sleuth. She's a hard-riding thirty-something bicycle courier with an appetite for good food and generous lawyers. Her tiny Kensington Market flat has a room reserved for her collection of ten bikes, including lovingly restored antiques and a $6000 road bike she's still paying for. Similarly, Bottom Bracket isn't your usual mystery novel. Vivian Meyer deftly turns the conventions of the genre on their head, inverting gender and class dynamics and narrating the bottom bracket as having the capacity to harness the resources of the wealthy and powerful to their own ends for a change.

In Bottom Bracket, Abby's dark-alley encounter with a hooker who has just witnessed the murder of her pimp leads the courier into a conspiracy that spirals around a crooked developer's desire to plant high end condominiums in Kensington Market. Abby hides the hooker, a non-status immigrant named Anita from the Czech Republic who had been sold into the business, and while trying to help her get status and secure a rehab spot, uncovers a dark scheme involving arson, blackmail, murder, and plenty of ill-gotten money. Abby's job as a courier brings her into fortuitous contact with the very developers she is investigating, giving her the opportunity to peruse documents (and borrow a few of them) and glean intelligence from imperious but gossipy receptionists. With this illicit information, Abby employs her own skills and those of fellow Kensington Market denizens to infiltrate a developer's network and covertly tape a blackmail-in-progress an an upscale Don Valley country club. She shrugs off a death threat and someone's attempt to run her down in an alley, her confidence and daring unchecked until trapped in a construction trailer with the blackmailed developer, trussed up by a bigger shark who plans to drown them both in concrete. Unlikely allies, the pair cut themselves loose and the conspiracy unravels in a confusion of double agents and gunshots and produces an unusual series of solutions to some of the Market's poverty, drug, and housing problems.

Bottom Bracket is an essential read for anyone familiar with Kensington Market. It joins a solid collection of novels set in and around the Market, including Sarah Dearing's Courage My Love (Stoddart, 2001), Dionne Brand's What We All Long For (Knopf, 2005), and Cory Doctrorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (Tor, 2005). It's also the first Toronto novel I have read that focuses on city bike couriers' lives, which while not necessarily as dramatic as Abby's life, offer plenty of intrigue and risk nonetheless. I like Bottom Bracket for a third reason, too: like Rosemary Aubert's Free Reign (Bridge Works, 1997) and Pat Capponi's Last Stop Sunnyside (Harper Collins, 2006), it offers a sensitive portrayal of a corner of the city's underclass and narrates its members as capable and multifaceted. If I may offer a single criticism, it is that the novel's text employs too many overused cliches and worn-out adjectives that jar against Vivian Meyer's otherwise deft and confident writing. On the whole, though, Bottom Bracket is a highly engaging read and a welcome addition to the city's literature. As an enthusiastic reader of Toronto literature, I look forward to more work from Vivian Meyer's pen.

Imagining Toronto contributes reviews of new, classic, and evocative Toronto works every second Tuesday.

(The above photo was taken by Lex in the City and is used under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.)
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 10/17 at 11:19 AM

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