Book Review: The High Road by Terry Fallis
I read a lot of speculative fiction, as my past reviews clearly show – books about space zombies, ghosts, Russian mythological figures, and more. However, The High Road is speculative fiction of an entirely different sort.
It’s about an honest politician!
I mentioned Terry Fallis once on this blog a few years back when I bought his copy of The Best Laid Plans. The High Road is the sequel to TBLP and it picks up soon after where the first one left off.
Note: this review contains spoilers. Also, it will make more sense if you’re familiar with Canadian politics.
Mere months ago, maverick engineering professor Angus McLintock pulled off a stunning upset victory in the riding of Cumberland-Prescott, long a Conservative Party stronghold. However, election time has come upon Canada again due to a non-confidence vote from the House of Commons and Angus, now a Liberal MP, has decided to throw his hat into the ring once more.
This time, though, the guns are out for Angus, as long-time Conservative Party spin manager Emerson “Flamethrower” Fox has decided to turn the riding Tory blue yet again. Known for pioneering negative campaigning in Canadian politics, Fox will do anything to win. Angus himself has sworn to take the high road and avoid doing any mudslinging, but Daniel Addison, his trusty campaign manager, and Muriel Parkinson, a canny political veteran, have a few tricks up their own sleeves.
There are some books that it takes me nearly a week to get through. There are some books that take me several weeks to get through (cough cough, The Terror, cough cough). Then, there was The High Road.
I read it in less than a day.
This was both because I needed a break from the sci-fi and fantasy stories that make up my typical literary diet, and because the book is fun and compelling, yet easy to read. THR proved to be a wonderful palate-cleanser. There are several things to like about this book.
For example, Daniel Addison, our narrator, is clever enough to be likeable, yet neutral enough to offset the sheer charisma that author Terry Fallis imbues Angus McLintock with. As with its predecessor, this book showcases Fallis’s deep knowledge of Canadian politics – and also, perhaps, much of his frustration with it.
As befitting the sequel to The Best Laid Plans, there are plenty of funny movements, although they tend to be more of the slapstick rather than the intellectual variety. Put it this way: the opening pages feature a naked man accidentally locking himself out of his house during sub-zero temperatures. THR also gets substantial mileage out of the unruliness (and food-sticking-to-it-ness) of Angus’s beard.
However, this doesn’t mean that it’s without flaws. The book’s biggest problem is that it has to live up to the legacy of its predecessor without completely repeating the plot.
The whole purpose of The Best Laid Plans was to chronicle Angus McLintock’s unlikely yet integrity-filled campaign. Since making another long-shot campaign the sole focus of the sequel wouldn’t add anything new to the situation, Fallis understandably chooses to extend the book past the election – I’ll give you two guesses as to who wins. However, to heighten the drama, the plot demands that the election be a close call anyway.
In some ways, Fallis’s machinations to raise the stakes of the campaign work, but in other ways they fail. In particular, the nasty, knock-down-drag-em-out fight that readers anticipate between Angus and Emerson Fox turns out to be a non-starter. Whatever negative campaigning there is is drawn in broad strokes. Granted, this is a comedy, so that’s expected, but Emerson turned out to be a surprisingly toothless character.
Anyways. As I mentioned before, the book doesn’t stop with Angus’s campaign. Immediately after the election (literally hours after the votes have been tallied), an important commuter bridge collapses in downtown Ottawa. Angus, with his background in engineering, is hand-picked by the Prime-Minister-elect to investigate the causes of the collapse.
Angus being Angus, he takes his job seriously and ends up butting heads with several other politicians over the importance of infrastructure reform. Thus, the last major portion of the book manages to mix serious political commentary – the fact of Canada’s degrading infrastructure – with hijinks.
Ultimately, Angus’s crusade leads to increased infrastructure funding – see what I said about this being speculative fiction? – so at least the novel ends on a high note. It’s just that the book walks a fine line between wildly differing tones, especially at the end.
Up next: Westlake Soul by Rio Youers