With three cracking good novels already under his belt, Canadian
author Howard Shrier has delivered a fourth that will not disappoint his many
fans. His debut novel, Buffalo Jump, garnered an
Arthur Ellis Award in 2008, and a year later he repeated that achievement with Jump’s sequel, High Chicago. Born
and reared in Montreal, Quebec, Shrier began his career as a crime reporter for
the Montreal Star in 1979. Maturing as one of recent crime fiction’s shining stars, his latest effort, Miss Montreal (Vintage Canada), takes him back to the place of his youth for a story that will resonate with anyone who knows the city, and will earn Shrier many new followers.
Sammy Adler was not a natural athlete: as a 12-year-old at
camp, he was the bane of every baseball coach, his peers scrambling to fill the
lineup with other boys. But another camp kid, Jonah
Geller, took Sammy under his wing, coaching him in the proper batting
stance, how to read a pitcher, the proper swing. Sammy tried to take it all in and
adjust his game, but there’s a limit to what one person can teach another. Sammy’s
seminal moment came when he hit a line drive into the first baseman’s glove for
the game-ending out.
By all rights, Sammy should have been consigned to the Hall
of Shame, the subject of cruel jokes that would follow him for the rest of his
life. But somehow all of that doesn’t matter when, decades later, Jonah Geller–now
a private eye working out of Toronto–suddenly receives a call from Sammy’s grandfather, Arthur
Moscoe, telling him that Sammy is dead. He’s been bludgeoned to death, a Star
of David carved into his chest.
So opens Miss Montreal, a real corker of a tale.
Although they’d drifted out of touch over the years, Jonah
Geller was Sammy’s closest childhood friend. The 83-year-old Moscoe, dying of
cancer and unconvinced that Montreal’s finest will bring Sammy’s killers to
book, now hires Jonah to investigate Sammy’s murder. Because Jonah can’t turn
for help to his usual partner, Jenn Raudsepp–who remains in Toronto, recovering
from bullet wounds suffered during their previous case–he instead calls in
Dante Ryan, a reformed hit man who travels from Boston to give him a hand. Volatile
at the best of times, Ryan is especially unpredictable as he tries to cope with
his wife having left him and taken their son with her; but he shows up,
bringing with him a small arsenal of weapons and an attitude to match.
The police probe into Sammy’s death is not helped by
the fact that one of the detectives on the case is a staunch Francophone who
refuses to cooperate with Jonah. As a journalist, Sammy had made his share of
enemies. Recently, he’d been working on two stories: the first one about how
Afghan immigrants were adapting to Quebec. Jonah questions a young Afghan woman
Sammy had interviewed for his story, but she’s evasive. Jonah and Dante leave her
company having learned little. When they meet her again, this time away from
her father’s shop, they find that they’re being tailed by a couple of Syrian
The second story Sammy was pursuing focused on an
influential right-wing nationalist politician, Laurent Lortie, who seeks to
keep Quebec for the Quebeqois–the French-speaking people who comprise the
historical core of the province, and who feel that their language and culture
are being threatened by the wave of immigrants. That tension dates from the
original conflict between the two founding peoples, the French and the English,
and persists even 200 years later. Lately, though, the tensions have been
ramping up, with threats, beatings and fire-bombings.
How might Sammy’s two story leads have figured into his
death? Jonah and Dante must weave their way through the troubled waters of
multiethnic Montreal, aided only by a detective who hates Anglos, to thwart a
plot with explosive consequences.
With its evocative back-story about two adolescent
boys struggling to fit in with summer camp life, Miss Montreal had me
hooked from the start. Shrier deftly sets up the reader for the poignant news
of Sammy’s demise, and uses that hook to lead us effortlessly into an atmospheric
tale that captures glimpses of Jewish Montreal in the 1950s and carries us
forward to the changing face of the city today. As James Lee Burke does with Dave Robicheaux and
Cletus Purcel, Shrier offers up a good cop/bad cop team in Jonah Geller and
Dante Ryan. He combines that here with a topical plot full of twists and
virtually nonstop action. All in all, Miss Montreal is the strongest entry
in an already very strong series, and leaves this reader looking forward to Jonah
Geller’s next outing. ◊
Jim Napier is a crime-fiction reviewer based in Quebec. His book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian papers as well as on such websites as Spinetingler Magazine, The Rap Sheet, Shots, Reviewing the Evidence and Type M for Murder. Napier also has an award-winning crime-fiction site, Deadly Diversions.