Linden MacIntyre drew from journalism career for new novel about 'violence, memory and shame'

Best-selling author Linden MacIntyre says 'no good book is without an early death,' including his latest work, The Only Café.

Former journalist's memories of atrocities during Lebanon civil war helped inspire new book

Canadian author and journalist Linden MacIntyre says his new book, The Only Cafe, explores a son's 'obsessive curiosity' with his father's mysterious death and links to the civil war in Lebanon. (CBC)

Ask best-selling author Linden MacIntyre about his new book and he might tell you about something he calls "the Charles Dickens formula." 

"No good book is without an early death," MacIntyre, the Giller Prize winner and former CBC journalist, told a crowd gathered in Calgary on Wednesday to hear a reading from his latest novel, The Only Café.

"This is a book about violence, memory and shame," MacIntyre told CBC Calgary News at 6. "A man who is troubled by the violence in his past and he's ashamed of some of it, and he wants to purge some of it."

MacIntyre says the book's mystery begins when the protagonist's father disappears after meeting a ghost from his violent past and the civil war in Lebanon — a conflict MacIntyre reported on while a journalist with the CBC.

"I had covered that up close and personal," MacIntyre told The Homestretch about the civil war and a massacre in Beirut. "Having written it journalistically and put it on TV, I never really … took it anywhere else and I thought maybe it was time."

'You have to write what you know'

Drawing upon the violence he saw in Lebanon during in the '80s, MacIntyre tells the story of Pierre, a Toronto lawyer traumatized by his past, and his son Cyril, who struggles to learn more about his distant father.

"You have to write what you know, and I knew that particular debacle," MacIntyre said of the war in Lebanon. "It was a civil war that went on for like, 25 years. People would argue that it's still going on."

Author and journalist Linden MacIntyre says his new book, The Only Cafe, explores a son's 'obsessive curiosity' with his father's mysterious death and links to the civil war in Lebanon. (CBC)

MacIntyre says the book, which takes place in Canada and in the Middle East, explores Cyril's "obsessive curiosity" with his father's violent youth and sudden death — a curiosity that leads him to The Only Café in Toronto and the same mysterious man from his father's past.

MacIntyre said his memories of Lebanon stuck with him over years and served as an "eye-opener" to the violence of the 20th century.

"The worst part of it isn't all the people that are killed, horrifying as that might be. The worst part of it is the effect it has on the people who survive. People who witness. People who loved the people who were murdered. That's where the peril for the rest of us, and for the future, lies."

One of the challenges MacIntyre faced while writing The Only Café was "exploring the thinking of somebody in their early 20's," the author said.

"I made a mistake in this book… I had people in their late teens and 20s emailing — isn't that awful?" MacIntyre said with a laugh. "Some young editor said, 'They don't do that anymore.'"

Before retiring from journalism in 2014, MacIntyre won 10 Gemini awards and an international Emmy for his work on CBC's Fifth Estate.

He is the author of several books, including The Bishop's Man, winner of the 2009 Giller Prize.

With files from CBC News at 6 and The Homestretch