Review by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Caught by Lisa Moore creates a world where anxiety and suspicion are paramount. It begins with David Slaney escaping on foot from prison, and the story follows him as he continues to run from the police. Starting from Newfoundland, he travels across the country evading the authorities, and meets up with Hearn, his friend and co-conspirator in Vancouver. Slaney and Hearn were arrested trying to smuggle marijuana into the country, and now that Slaney has escaped, they’re going to try again.
Slaney takes a sailboat down to Columbia, where he picks up a boatload of drugs and makes a second attempt to smuggle them into Canada. But it’s always hard to know who is on his side and whom he shouldn’t trust. Interspersed between Slaney’s tale is the story of the police officer that is chasing him. Staff-Sergeant Patterson has been tracking Slaney since his escape, and wants to catch him in the act of smuggling drugs into the country.
The story alternates between Slaney and Patterson’s perspective, sometimes even in the same scene, though it heavily favors Slaney’s side of things. Slaney is a criminal but he grabs the reader’s affection from the very beginning, because he is kind and loyal and smart, almost too smart to be living the way he is. He can read people and assess situations with uncanny skill. Patterson, on the other hand, comes across as somewhat desperate, as arresting Slaney is his last chance at making the promotion he’s wanted for years. These characters become especially interesting when the two men meet. Though they are oppositional forces in the novel, the story somehow elicits sympathy for both.
Caught is very much a Newfoundland book, though almost the entire story takes place outside of the province. Slaney seems to carry the place with him so that the presence of Newfoundland is continuously felt in indirect ways.
The writing is superb. Moore draws life from stark, crisp lines, and renders unique images that are instantly knowable. She uses Slaney to explore and articulate complex emotions, and navigates them with exceptional skill.
The story, which is laid out as a planned journey from Newfoundland to Vancouver to Columbia, can sometimes seem a bit predictable. “Caught” is a term that’s repeated often, and even though there are instances when Slaney seems to have the upper hand, we understand that for him being caught is a continuous state of being – when he is indeed physically caught at the end, the story can appear somewhat uncomplicated.
The final section of the book works as an epilogue, as it takes place twenty years in the future, but it feels slightly unnecessary. Continuous movement drives the book forward, and the last section stalls that momentum. It doesn’t give us any additional insight into Slaney; rather, it replaces the energy felt throughout the book with something sad and stagnant. While this could be the intention, given his return to prison, it seems to take something away from the rest of the story.
The majority of the story, however, drives forward at a running pace that mimics Slaney’s journey. We desperately want him to succeed and not get caught, but by the end we learn that the entire thing has been a farce: Slaney never really escaped because the police were always watching him, letting him go so that he would lead them to Hearn.
It’s heartbreaking to find out that his freedom was an illusion. But there is some redemption in the knowledge that he at least took the chance and ran for it.
Caught was published in 2013 by House of Anansi Press.