Book review: Caught by Lisa Moore


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The Independent Culture

David Slaney is a Newfoundlander. Some may think him a typical Newfie. A (printable) British equivalent might have it that folk from that rugged and isolated Canadian province are “thick of arm and thick of head”. Like that other N-word, it can be either an ethnic slur or a badge of pride, depending on whose lips utter it.

When Moore’s book opens, 25-year-old Slaney, a convicted drug smuggler, breaks out of the jail. Not that Slaney is a mindless career criminal, too stupid to realise his own inadequacies and limitations, destined for a lifetime of failure and incarceration. He was a prize catch for the police who captured him red-handed trying to smuggle two tons of Colombian cannabis into Canada, a record haul, after getting lost in Newfoundland fog, half-a-mile from shore, safety, and financial security. That fact rankles and Slaney is determine to put right that failure by making one more “big” drug run together with Hearn, his partner-in-crime, who escaped justice after jumping bail first time round.

So far, so typically crime genre, but Moore is anything but typical. Slaney’s jail break has been staged and his progress across the country is followed, sometimes competently, sometimes haphazardly, by the detectives who stage-managed it in the belief Slaney will lead them to Hearn.

Slaney does not disappoint and together with Hearn he is soon in the thick of a plot to smuggle millions of pounds worth of cannabis from Colombia to Vancouver packed into the hull of a yacht –an idea which stretches credulity as the area around Vancouver enjoys a reputation for growing the finest home-grown drugs in Canada – the equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle. When detectives place a satellite tracker on the boat you know it is all going to end badly.

At this point, with so much of the plot laid bare, ordinarily one would put down the novel and start another, more promising prospect. That it wasn’t left on public transport somewhere or dispatched to Oxfam is a testimony to Moore’s writing. With an eye for detail, the narrative toys and teases, so that what might otherwise seem obvious and inevitable becomes less so the further it progresses.

Moore vividly captures Slaney’s youthful hopes and fears during his flight from incarceration to freedom, after four years inside a cell much has changed on the outside and everything is seen through his fresh eyes. Mistrusting and doubtful yet eager to find the lost love of his life who abandoned him after the trial, Moore’s complex portrait of her protagonist, contrasted with an equally compelling picture of his police pursuer, makes for a mesmerising narrative that more than compensates for a plot line that would in different hands act like a dragging anchor on the tale.