A New West crime story
New Westminster spent more than 20 years trying to shed its image as an decaying urban war zone where crime lurked in every shadow.
Now that the city has become the darling of planners and real estate promoters, Renko Styranka is bringing the grit back. In the pages of his new crime novel, Char Broiled.
Styranka is a 48-year-old author whose varied career has taken him from a Zen temple in Toronto where he covered the rent by running nightclubs and hosting fetish parties, to the pounding surf at Tofino where he rode the waves and managed a campground, to the blood and mayhem of the caged octagon covering mixed martial arts for a gambling website. It’s the kind of resume that’s put him in contact with all sorts of characters, many of them less-than-upstanding citizens.
So when he sat down at the keyboard to write his first work of fiction, he had plenty of fodder upon which to build his protagonist, Char Sadao, an Afghan war vet and mixed martial arts fighter of Japanese and German heritage who’s recruited by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate the gang underworld. But where to set him?
Styranka wanted a location where a bad ass could blend in, could come and go with relative ease and convenience. He wanted alleys and street life, nooks and crannies.
“Publishers are always looking for New York or Boston or L.A.,” says Styranka. But a visit with his girlfriend to New West gave him everything he was seeking.
“You can be in a different world in each part of town,” says Styranka. “It’s like a house that has a lot of rooms that have secrets. It has an edginess and tenseness to it.”
The city’s location in the centre of the Lower Mainland allows his characters to move easily between the big city and the suburbs.
The Fraser River and busy rail yards provide access to the world beyond the city limits, where the bad guys move their drugs, weapons, and people. Even New West’s classic black-and-white police cars are an allure because, says Styranka, “they look like police cars should look.”
Char Broiled is the first of a trilogy, says Styranka, and New West’s re-emergence as an urban destination will have a role is the subsequent books.
In fact, he became so enamored with the city as he was researching Char Broiled he moved here in September.
“It’s inspiring,” says Styranka. “As I live here, I’ll see things I didn’t see before.”
Becoming the backdrop for a hard-boiled crime saga may, in a way, be another touchstone in New West’s revival.
“It’s a badge,” says Styranka. “People can see the things they know and are familiar with. There’s beauty in the grit.”
Char Broiled is published by Xyster Multimedia Art and is available through Amazon and other booksellers. A percentage of royalties will be donated to programs benefitting fallen soldiers and their families.