In LeBlanc’s debut crime novel, a young Canadian can’t escape the gangster life after fleeing to America, where he continues to attract Mafioso types.
Jean Paul Comeau’s teenage years in Kensington, Canada, are rife with crime. His best friend, Armstrong, leads him and others in a gang, but Jean Paul prefers academics to illicit activities. A blood oath keeps him loyal, however, and he even becomes the group’s accountant. But when a motorcycle gang thinks that Jean Paul stole something from them, he takes refuge in New York City with his uncle. Jean Paul works blue-collar jobs and makes a stop in New Jersey to visit Debbie, a girl he’d fallen for back in Canada. Debbie’s dad, Mr. Mancini, gets Jean Paul better work, but soon it’s markedly clear that the “errands” he has the young man running are for the benefit of the mob. Despite all the criminal activity, however, the plot focuses on more emotional, dramatic elements: Jean Paul buys groceries for his mother and little sisters, as his father’s excessive drinking has rendered the cupboards bare; he befriends an American bookstore owner, Martin, who assigns him reading material for later discussion; and he cherishes summers in Gondola Point in Canada, away from the crime-ridden projects where he lives. The book opens with gangsters’ violent attacks as they search for Jean Paul, and LeBlanc tells the first half of the story in flashback, building readers’ anticipation until the incident that puts Jean Paul in the cross hairs. Jean Paul seems to believe that he can leave his criminal past behind, although he misses the irony that his acceptance into the Mancini family has tied him to another “Family.” But LeBlanc makes his protagonist’s inability to break free from gangsters credible and shows how the boy’s own thuggish behavior, such as beating up a high school boy for spreading lies about Debbie, stems from his father’s prior abuse. Conversely, Jean Paul’s relationship with Debbie is less convincing; he rarely expresses his feelings for her, even to himself, and although he speaks rather eloquently with Martin, he sums up his romance with the phrase: “Wow. It’s been bitchin’. I mean, really, really great.”
A crime tale featuring a protagonist whose desire for normalcy makes him sympathetic and appealing.