Horatio Alger meets Batman in Messier’s novel about an entrepreneur who discovers a new mission late in life: vigilantism.
The story begins in the 1930s and follows the life and times of Johannes Barcelo, a young man of Portuguese descent living in Maine. He has a hard childhood that includes incest and other abuses, and has a lack of social skills and physical charm. Despite these obstacles, he grows into a successful businessman, using his tire recycling business’s cash to finance other successful ventures. However, his success draws competition from the mob. Barcelo sees the Mafia as just another obstacle to overcome, but his restless nature and personal demons eventually subvert his accomplishments, leaving him an elderly, drunken shell of a man as the new millennium dawns. Then, a chance meeting with a priest opens a door to a new occupation: hunting down members of a brutal pedophile ring. A lot happens in Messier’s novel, but the plot threads often coexist uneasily, and as the narrative goes on, the focus shifts repeatedly. The story sometimes makes causal connections: Barcelo’s facility in handling the mob’s attempts to muscle into his business, for example, lays the groundwork for his later vigilante activities. But other connections, such as how Barcelo’s incestuous relationship with his sister plays into his views on the pedophiles he targets, are missing or incomplete. Characters often have simplistic motivations, almost always based on vengeance. Barcelo’s back story, in particular, is frustratingly lopsided; his early experiences of abuse are dwelled upon excessively, while his adult history with women is sketched in just a few nondescript strokes. (Only his first and sixth wives get any significant mention, and only his first wife gets any dialogue.) However, the story’s unusual combination of plot elements is certainly interesting; the author confidently handles exposition and setting, creating a sense of momentum that overcomes many of the story’s flaws.
An intriguing, if underdeveloped, vigilante tale.