Mystery Books for Sale

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by Colin Harrison
Sarah Crichton Books/FSG, June 2017
336 pages
ISBN: 0374299471

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Paul Reeves is a man of ordinary appetites. He enjoys sex, a glass of wine, all of that. But he is deeply passionate, even obsessive, about one thing and that is maps, especially antique maps of his own city, New York. But these can been extremely expensive to buy and sadly, Paul is only wealthy but not, according to his girlfriend Rachel, "'rich' in New York terms, but wealthy enough. Secure. Somewhere between five and ten million all in." At thirty-eight, Rachel's biological clock is about to run out and in the beloved cliche of books and television, she is desperate to have a child and needs to find a father for it.

Paul is an immigration lawyer (and since he does not come from wealth, one must wonder exactly whom he represents in these matters to have become merely wealthy, if not rich). He lives in an condo luxe enough to have only two apartments per floor and on his live Ahmed and Jennifer Mehraz. Ahmed is an Iranian-American business man and rich; Jennifer is his gorgeous young wife from a humble Texas background. Paul admires Jennifer but is under no illusions about his prospects there. He is both older and poorer than her husband. But they enjoy each other's company and so one day Paul takes Jennifer to a map auction where they each have an unexpected encounter. Jennifer is accosted and then embraced by a strapping Texan wearing camos; Paul by the agent for a mysterious client who wishes to sell the map that Paul has lusted for all his life.

Very quickly then Harrison establishes that obsession will be at the centre of his tale, as it so often is in noir fiction. But if this is noir, it is a very 21st century version. Although Paul is marginally less reprehensible than the other men in the book, he hardly qualifies as a man of principle. The women cannot be taken seriously; they are so much the victims of their own desires that they can't qualify as femmes fatales. And it has to be said that in this New York, there aren't a lot of mean streets for anyone to wander down.

YOU BELONG TO ME is at its best in the half-rapturous, half-sardonic riffs on the city itself that frequently interrupt the plot. It is definitely at its worst when Harrison deserts the shining world of the highly successful and attempts to penetrate that of undocumented immigrant criminals, especially when they speak an almost incomprehensible Spanglish. Ahmed's Iranian connections, though a bit more comprehensible, still are rooted in the usual stereotypes. And then there is a foray into down-home Texas, which is so wholesome one's teeth hurt.

Now and then through all this are scenes of truly shocking violence, all perpetrated by persons outside the glittering world of rich and really rich. There seems no particular political or social point intended here, beyond generating a frisson of fear at the suggestion that no one is truly safe in a city that presents some spectacular opportunities for murder.

All this said, you will very likely sink into YOU BELONG TO ME as I did, carried along by Harrison's rich talent for description and social observation. It's not an easy book to put down, which makes the resolution, while tricky, sadly disappointing.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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