A Novel Cop: Brent Pilkey takes readers on a tour of Toronto’s toughest ’hood
Pilkey spent 15 years as a beat cop in 51 Division, a jurisdiction that includes Moss Park and Regent Park. It’s an aptly gritty setting for his debut thriller, which follows a rookie cop on the hunt for a murderer.
Sorry, but we have to ask: how much of the novel is based on your own experience? Jack Warren, the protagonist, is definitely me, and a lot of the scenes are inspired by true stories. At one point, Jack goes on a medical call and finds a guy in a tiny room. It looks like he hasn’t left the apartment in years. His toenails have grown so long that there are cockroaches nesting under them. I was on that call.
Do you ever get used to seeing stuff like that? Believe it or not, yes. I was thrown into the division straight out of college. When I finally transferred out six years ago, I was like, “Oh yeah. Not everyone is a criminal.”
It’s obvious from the book that balancing your work with your personal life wasn’t easy. I saw the worst of humanity, and at the end of the day it was hard to take off the uniform. My wife and I broke up a few times because of the job. We’re not together anymore.
Did you set out to write a social novel about the problems in Regent Park? My first aim was to write an entertaining story, but I’m glad readers will get a glimpse of a neighbourhood they wouldn’t otherwise see. I also wanted to show there’s more to being a cop than eating doughnuts and writing tickets.
What authors have influenced your writing? Stephen King says a good description should start in the writer’s mind and finish in the reader’s. I like that. His novel Bag of Bones is my all-time favourite.
What’s the story behind those tattoos? The blade on my left arm has the Gaelic word for “friends” in it. The other one has the name of my first German shepherd, Royce. He was a loyal dog.