McLennan’s debut novel tells the story of Johnny McPherson, an organized crime boss in Boston, and Riley Donavan, a young woman who’s drawn into Johnny’s world by chance and circumstance.
The book’s first section describes Johnny’s upbringing and his early life, including a stint as a circus worker and time in prison for a bank robbery. His story culminates in a decision to return to crime: “He’d follow his true calling and he’d have the money to keep everyone in style.” The second section follows Riley, whose mother’s tragic death is the catalyst for her move from the suburbs to Boston. There, she begins studying taekwondo and meets a kindly old man on the beachfront where she practices every morning. That old man is Johnny, who’s never anything but a perfect gentleman to her. With money and a few words of persuasion, he even secures her a job: “A girl’s coming in for an interview today. Her name’s Riley. You need to hire her,” he tells one employer. In the story’s third section, their two lives become even more entwined. Riley remains ignorant of Johnny’s criminal machinations, even as they destroy her family, and Johnny feels an unaccustomed remorse for ruining Riley’s life. As they grow closer and Riley’s life spins out of control, their bond cracks. What will become of their friendship when Riley learns the truth of who Johnny is and what he’s done? McLennan ably handles her characters and their crises, though her skill as a writer is most evident in the novel’s third part, when the plot keenly unfurls. With moral ambiguity and questionable intentions, the cast lends a disconcerting air to McLennan’s solid debut.
A dark, violent story with a heart.