In an unnamed city in the not-too-distant future, a bomb-wielding terrorist storms the set of KiddieFame—a reality show for wannabe child stars—and takes dozens of hostages. Strangely enough, the only person he’ll speak with is Thom Pegg, a disgraced investigative journalist whose career was ruined after he was caught fabricating sources, and who now works at a trashy celebrity tabloid. That’s the premise of The Blue Light Project from Timothy Taylor, whose novel Stanley Park was a finalist for the 2001 Giller Prize.
With the hostage-taking as a backdrop, two other characters meet and connect. Hometown hero Eve, who won Olympic gold in the biathlon years earlier, jogs through the streets at night, looking for her long-lost brother and a new identity after her win. Eve is drawn to Rabbit, a street artist at work on a hidden art installation that aims to network the entire city. Meanwhile, on the darkened set of KiddieFame, Pegg meets with the terrorist, who talks about the power of what he calls “anti-fame”: the thrill of secret identities and acts. We never learn the terrorist’s real name.
Touching on themes like celebrity, art and technology, Taylor’s book echoes the work of another well-known Vancouver writer, Douglas Coupland. Taylor is adept at finding new ways to say some familiar things, but he tends to overreach at times: the subplot in which Eve looks for her brother feels extraneous, as do excerpts from a book Pegg later writes about the hostage-taking.
Even so, The Blue Light Project is an enjoyable read, with memorable characters and a few beautifully written scenes, like the one when Rabbit’s massive art project finally comes to life. Taylor’s incisive questions about the world we live in, and where it could take us, will resonate with readers after the book is done.