Leo Desroches is a man who has lost everything thanks to his gambling addiction. His wife, his kids, his career, and he even spent time living on the streets. What gets him off the streets is a strike at Edmonton's biggest daily newspaper. Leo follows the time-honored tradition of walking across the picket line and becoming a "scab." Since Leo can write, and is actually a pretty good journalist, when the strike is over, he's hired on permanently.
His latest assignment involves a young Native prostitute found dead in a farmer's field. When Leo is able to get an inside scoop, his editor tells him to run with the story. Put a face and name to the dead girl. Give her a voice. Which Leo does - but not without ticking off a whole lot of people in the process.
I have this sick weakness for mystery/suspense protagonists that are seriously messed up. The more screwed up they are, the more I tend to like them. It tends to feed into my romantic ideals that anybody can be a "hero," and that often times the "hero," is the one guy in the room you would least expect to be one. Leo is a guy who has fallen hard, and done so in spectacular fashion. I spent most of this book not all that sure I even "liked" him, but I couldn't help reading on to see if he got his answers and he kept his butt out of the casino.
This isn't a fast-paced, or "thriller" style of suspense novel. If anything, it reads very much like a procedural, but instead of a cop as the main lead, we have a reporter. The pace of this story is very deliberate. The mystery of the dead prostitute is the glue that holds all the other stuff in the story - Leo's demons, his fractured relationships, his past - together. It works extremely well. On one hand I was reading for the mystery, and on the other I was reading to see if Leo was going to screw everything up again.
This all being said, have you ever finished a book and not been entirely sure how you felt about it? That's kind of where I am with this one. First, Leo is so screwed up that he finds that he has to get his "kicks" some other way now that casinos aren't an option. A gambler is a gambler is a gambler. This aspect of the story strained for me, but it was just screwy enough that I was able to roll with it somewhat. Also, I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. Oh, the reader gets answers - but it's how those answers are dealt with. It left me feeling unsettled, for lack of a better word. However, I suspect that's exactly how the author wanted me to feel, so kudos for him. And hey, I still can't stop thinking about it - so there you go.
I see this book appealing to a wide variety of readers. Certainly it will appeal to suspense fans, but I also think it will appeal to general fiction folk who don't necessarily read genre fiction. The characterizations are extremely well done, the author writes about addiction with brutal honesty, and the sense of place (Edmonton Alberta Canada) is vivid. I did find it a bit of an unsettling read, but generally speaking, unsettling in a good way. It's not going to flip every reader's switch, but hell - it's memorable. I'll give it that.
Final Grade = B
Release date is March 29, 2011