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by Josť Latour
McClelland & Stewart, February 2009
320 pages
$29.99 CAD
ISBN: 0771046596

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Elliot Steil, that Cuban refugee who delightfully channels the spirit of a Raymond Chandler private eye, is now fully at home in Miami. He is managing the import business left behind by his late benefactor, Ruben Scheindlin and happy with his partner, Fidelia. A comfortable conclusion to a very eventful start in the United States for a middle-aged former English teacher, one would think.

Wrong. Elliot is simply not destined for the quiet life. One morning his mail contains a DVD that begins, "I, Jennifer Scheindlin, an infidel, have been captured by a unit of the Islamic Army of Canada." Unless her captors receive ten million dollars in unregistered Eurobonds immediately, her life will be forfeit.

Jenny Scheindlin, former fashion model, is the daughter of Elliot's late employer, Ruben. In his life in the US of A, Elliot has demonstrated a surprising talent for dealing with criminals of one sort or another, often sailing very close to the line himself and sometimes well over it. He also is intensely loyal and immediately sets about rescuing Jenny with the help of his friend Tony, a shady cop, his partner, Sam Plotzher, and a couple of Mossad operatives.

What ensues is a suitably complex and ingenious plot, involving two cities, Toronto and Miami, a pair of gay male fashion photographers, and enough inventive twists and turns to fuel a couple of lesser novels.

The publishers announce this as Latour's first novel since his immigration to Canada and it is interesting to see his take on his new city and country. Emigration has by no means affected his mordant sense of humour, his cool-eyed vision, or his noir sensibility. But there is a change here - earlier books in the series (OUTCAST, COMRADES IN MIAMI) had the additional attraction of providing a poignant commentary on the contrast between Cuba and the United States, and a sympathetic one. That element is largely absent here, and though of course Latour needs to go forward, its absence is felt.

The other problem I had with the book is the amount of "research" that seems to have gone into it. Latour acknowledges the aid of those familiar with the rag trade in providing the factual details of life on the runways and in the fashion houses. I'm pretty sure he gets his facts right, but it is all a bit second-hand.

Several characters, both male and female, are gay and here too, Latour seems to be writing at a remove and sometimes comes perilously close to stereotype. All the same, the author has not lost his original charm, and readers who enjoyed previous encounters with Elliot and his cohorts will welcome him back with open arms.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, February 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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