Books

Konkel's law

Brian Bethune September 25 2000
Books

Konkel's law

Brian Bethune September 25 2000

Konkel's law

There is a smooth plot transition in Chuck Konkel's new thriller, Evil Never Sleeps, in which Mexican police officer Miguel Fuentes recognizes a connection between two characters by the merest hint of a look between them, “a metered expression of social acquaintance.” A core skill for a cop, agrees the author, who in his day job is Staff Sgt. K. G. E. (Kazimierz Gerard Edward) Konkel, a high-ranking Toronto police officer with a highly unusual résumé. “I arrested someone in Hong Kong, one of my first heroin busts,” recalls Konkel, 49, of his time in the former Crown colony’s police force, “just on the look in his eye as he passed me.”

Fuentes’ deduction is the sort of detail that gives Evil Never Sleeps (HarperCollins, $33) its thread of gritty authenticity. A cop’s life and a cop’s attitude are woven right through its page-turning plot—even if, as Konkel insists, the character who says politicians have “dog piss for brains” is speaking entirely for himself. Konkels police experience, coupled with a gift for vivid imagery, turns his tale of corruption, murder and an attempted coup d’état in contemporary Mexico into a highoctane thriller. Not that the author provides any inside information on actual crimes or the inner working of the federales, the Mexican national police. For

one thing, he doesn’t have any. His work against international crime has taken him to Eastern Europe as well as Asia, but not to Latin America. Besides, the whole point of writing fiction, Konkel laughs, “is that the plot can go as far as your imagination can take you,” making it a relief from police work, which “always asks you to prove it.”

Evil Never Sleeps is the story of Miguel Fuentes, a police officer of such integrity, so much an “altar boy”—as Konkel, a practising Roman Catholic, refers to dedicated cops—that it is surprising he hasn’t been murdered. Instead, it’s his career that has flat-lined. The once upand-coming Mexico City officer came too close to exposing official corruption. For his sins,

Fuentes is in exile as the novel opens, the chief of a tiny force of incompetent bribe-takers in a Sonora desert town. “I like characters who struggle with crises with integrity, and who don’t necessarily succeed,” explains Konkel, who isn’t much interested in happy endings for his quixotic heroes. When an explosion destroys a local motel, Fuentes’ dogged investigation sets off a trail of carnage that kills off almost

A cop's life and attitude are woven right through the thriller's pageturning plot

every character—good, bad and animal.

Fuentes’ downward spiral bears little resemblance to Konkels own career path. Born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to a Polish Second World War veteran and his Dutch schoolteacher wife, Konkel immigrated to Hamilton with his parents in the mid-1950s. Although he left there in 1974, he retains a strong loyalty to his beloved Ticats football team. On Canada Day, 1999, having entered the winning bid in a charity auction, he was the team’s coach-for-a-day. Konkel proudly displays the game ball from that match in his office at Toronto police headquarters, along with artwork by his nine-year-old daughter, Laura, and such career mementoes as an order of merit award from the Senate.

Konkel left Hamilton to go to Hong Kong, an experience that changed his life. “I couldn’t find a job after I finished my MA in international relations,” he says. “Then I saw an ad where the Royal Hong Kong Police were looking for university-trained applicants.” His time there gave him a vocation, another language—Cantonese—to add to an already impressive collection (Dutch, Polish, French and German), and material for his first novel. Returning to Canada in 1977—two years before he married automotive entrepreneur Robin Devine— Konkel spent four years writing The Glorious East Wind late at night after completing his shifts as a Toronto constable.

The thriller came out to good reviews and strong sales in 1987, but Konkel essentially abandoned writing for a decade. “My daughter was born,” he says simply, “and raising her seemed more important than any sequel.” But now, Konkel is ready to do fictional battle against evil again. His next novel, he says, will be set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, and his hero will take on Nazis, Soviets and the Western Allies. As quixotic as ever.

Brian Bethune