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MISS MONTREAL
by Howard Shrier
Vintage Canada, June 2013
$19.95 CAD
ISBN: 0307359581


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When Jonah Geller and Sammy Adler were twelve years old, they met at summer camp, where Jonah taught Sammy how to swing a softball bat and tagged him with the semi-ironic nickname that followed him into adulthood - "Slammin' Sammy." Now, more than twenty years later, Sammy is dead, his body found in a back alley, beaten savagely and bearing a Star of David carved into his chest. The implication is that Muslim extremists are to blame.

Jonah is hired by Sammy's dying grandfather to find out what actually happened and who was responsible for his grandson's death. And so Geller travels to Montreal, accompanied by Dante Ryan, his contract-killer-turned-restauranteur sidekick. The two are recently returned from Boston, still hurting from the rather spectacular violence that ended that particular episode in Geller's career as a PI.

At the end of BOSTON CREAM, which details the events of that adventure, Jonah is physically damaged and mentally distressed. Although he is a man willing to take action when required, he does not see himself as a violent man. Rather, though he is far from religiously observant, he takes seriously the Hebrew injunction to repair the world, tikkun olam. His recent US cases have left him questioning whether he can really say that's what he's been doing lately. He decides to hide his passport and keep his "peace-loving self at home. Because that is what non-violent men do." Stay in Canada, where at least there are fewer guns.

Well, maybe not. There are a lot of guns in MISS MONTREAL, many of them the property of Dante Ryan, who is in a vile mood thanks to his wife's leaving him, no longer willing to put up with the stress of living with a not-altogether-reconstructed hitman. As the two drive to Quebec, it transpires that Dante is packing serious heat, which is worrisome since his temper is at a constant simmer. This makes him a threat to any driver who might cut him off and endanger his brand-new Dodge Charger. In Montreal, this means that two out of three drivers are in mortal danger.

Their investigations lead them pretty much the length and breadth of Montreal and even on a brief jaunt into the Laurentians. It is a very political city that they experience - nationalism of several stripes (Québec, Muslim, unadulterated anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant). Everyone, including Ryan, seems about to fly off the handle with deadly consequences and it is sometimes hard for Jonah to anticipate what the trigger will be. Trust is in short supply and communication difficult at best, though the language divide turns out to be the least of Geller's problems. Suspense mounts and culminates at the massive concert that caps Quebec's celebration of itself as a nation, the Fête Nationale.

Jonah Geller is from Toronto and has very much the same difficulty understanding the peculiarities of life in contemporary Montreal as any visitor might. But Shrier was born in this city and grew up on stories of the old days in Mile End. The very title refers to a long-gone but once iconic restaurant that flourished in the days before Montreal became a gourmet centre and business names in English became illegal. He inserts a lovely vignette of life in the poor Jewish community in that neighbourhood just after the Second World War. It's a sad story from a time that seems immensely distant, but it provides an historical perspective on the somewhat chaotic events occurring in the present moment. It was my favourite part of the book and so I was very pleased to discover that Shrier's next venture will let Jonah rest for a while after his exertions. While Jonah recovers his strength in Toronto, Shrier's next book is to be set in Montreal of the 1950s when it was Canada's City of Sin, glamourous, corrupt, and darkly attractive to the entire country. I am really looking forward to it.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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