Red Snow by Michael Slade
Penguin Canada, 336 pp., $24
It's always fun to read a book that's set in a place you've lived or visited, to recognize the buildings and personalities that are described within. And though the familiar pristine slopes of Whistler are stained crimson in the pages of Red Snow , the most recent nail-biting novel from author Michael Slade, there are many other insider references that are sure to evoke a chuckle or two from anyone who is familiar with the community.
Slade has clearly done his ski bum homework, dropping terms like "puking" and "schralping" and even sharing the age-old mantra: "friends don't have friends on powder days." Even the ubiquitous "pro hos" make an appearance.
"As North America's blue-ribbon resort, Whistler had always been the haunt of beautiful yuppies. But now the whiff of real money - endorsement money - had gold diggers like these three polishing their velvet claws."
Of course, a few folks (namely, those at unnamed tourism organizations) might take exception to the portrait of the community that Slade paints.
"...This was Whistler, the mecca of casual sex, where high-rolling jetsetters from around the shrinking globe gathered to get royally fucked."
An interesting aside: Michael Slade is actually the pen name of Vancouver criminal lawyer Jay Clarke, who has published 14 novels, of which Red Snow is the 13 th and most recent in the Special X thriller series. Clarke has acted for the defence and the prosecution in more than 100 murder cases, many of which involved issues of mental capacity and insanity. And according to Clarke's biography, he also studied history as an undergraduate, a fact that becomes clear with all of the historical tidbits woven into the text of Red Snow .
Clarke's criminal law background and historical expertise lend a bit more credibility to the sometimes far-reaching plot of Red Snow , which sees the maniacal villain, Mephisto, exacting revenge on return protagonist, RCMP Chief Superintendent Robert DeClercq. But that's not all - Mephisto is also out to teach taxpayers and corporations a lesson about greed, teaming up with international terrorists to launch an all-out attack on an unprotected Whistler just two months out from the Olympic Games.
"If a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda wanted to attack the Olympics with sarin, mustard gas, anthrax or ricin, or with a 'dirty bomb' of radioactive waste, the target would be Vancouver, not Whistler. That's why all but a few of the Olympic defenders were now on a test run in Lotusland. In tough economic times, hard choices had to be made. Until security ramped up for the actual games, still two months away, Whistler had let down its guard."
A chilling thought for any year-round resident, and a possible scenario that I have been willfully ignoring until now.
Mephisto isn't working alone, of course; he's enlisted the help of a mysterious, sexy siren to pick off targets one-by-one and recruited a team of winter mercenaries - "Icemen" - to blow the bridges to the south and north of Whistler and cut the power, effectively cutting the community off from the outside world.
A terrifying thought indeed, especially when you throw in the threat of biological warfare.
"Nowhere on earth is more than twenty-some hours away by plane. Nothing gathers an international crowd like the Olympics. If a bioterrorist were to release Grof's supervirus at Whistler in February - or at Sochi in 2014 - he'd essentially create thousands of human time bombs, people carrying a potential airborne pandemic to all four corners of the globe."
Um, is it too late to rent out my place and get the hell out of dodge?
Slade has successfully tapped into some very real fears and compounded them with the psychotic (and slightly over-the-top) character of Mephisto. Still, he has managed to produce a page-turning novel of suspense coupled with elements of mystery, and one that makes the $900-million Olympic security budget seem worthwhile.