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by Giles Blunt
Random House Canada, October 2008
288 pages
$29.99 CAD
ISBN: 0679314318

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Max Maxwell is an elderly, outsize, British-born, failed Shakespearean actor and jewel thief who specializes in robbing Republican Party fund-raisers (that‛s where the money is). With a talent for both accents and disguise, he confidently exposes himself to party-goers and security cameras alike, certain that he will never be recognized. He is accompanied by his eighteen-year-old grandnephew, Owen, whom he is apprenticing to the trade and whom he has raised since Owen‛s parents were killed in a road accident when he was ten.

Max may be a thief, but he believes he is an ethical one, robbing only from those who can afford to lose their jewellery (and whose politics he considers dubious), and, though he brandishes weapons in the course of his raids, he is careful to load them only with blanks. He has a big if sentimental, heart, which leads him to offer protection to the twenty-year-old daughter of another thief, now dying, who is seriously in need of it. Predictably, Owen falls hopelessly in love.

All is not without complication, however. Though Max and Owen never attract the suspicions of the police, there are signs that a dangerous and frightening legendary group of criminals are on their trail. Called The Subtractors, these men specialize in relieving thieves of what Max calls their swag and they are by no means committed to Max‛s non-violent principles. But perhaps even more troubling, Max is fast developing symptoms that may indicate senile dementia. These make him alternately frightening, infuriating, and pitiable.

Blunt is most celebrated for his series featuring John Cardinal, that police detective from northern Ontario whose continuing story put North Bay on the mystery map. Readers (and they are legion) who were deeply moved by the last, sad, affecting chapter in Cardinal‛s biography, BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, may be a bit dubious when they discover that Blunt has followed up with a comic caper novel. They need not fear.

While NO SUCH CREATURE is certainly very funny, it is no cartoon. The characters are all three-dimensional, with the principals in particular occupying a considerable space in the reader‛s imagination. Max‛s penchant for Shakespearean quotation, while at times irritating, is a clue to the larger concerns of the book. Max imagines himself in the role of King Lear, or at least Prospero (to whom he does have some affinities in the illusion department), but whom he really plays is Falstaff to Owen‛s Prince Hal and we know how complex a relationship that one was.

At once road novel, coming-of-age story, and playful examination of the boundaries of reality and illusion, it is the characters in NO SUCH CREATURE that will stick in the reader‛s mind long after the book is finished. Just as the delicate and compassionate investigation of human relationships made the John Cardinal series something far more than police procedurals with blackflies, the warm, sympathetic, yet unsentimental treatment of the inevitable unravelling of the connection between this quasi-father and substitute son reassures us that though Blunt may have left his series in the far north, he has retained all those qualities that sustained it even as he moves to the sunny southwest.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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