This is the second Jonah Geller novel I have tried and I have NOT read them in order: I wanted to read the Canadian cities first and I was afraid that I might not like Boston or Chicago after being so enamoured with the Toronto location in Buffalo Jump which I reviewed here in December 2013 (check the archives). Miss Montreal did not disappoint one iota but I would recommend that you read Boston Cream before it just so you know what happened (also High Chicago) both of which I will read next.
This one starts out with a wonderful baseball story about two twelve year old boys, one of them being Jonah Geller, attending a summer camp:
“Sammy Adler was without doubt the least corrordinated, least athletic person, male or female in the camp. Tall, gangly, flat-assed, he ran like Frankenstein’s monster, knees knocking together, ankles weak, his feet slapping the ground like a bird headed for extinction. His height made him of occasional use in basketball or volleyball, but on the softball diamond he was what we then called a spaz. And still would. A glove on his hand was like a metal pan ready to clank. Balls hit or thrown to him caromed off his shins or bounced through his legs cleanly. To say he threw like a girl would be an insult to most girls in the camp. There was nowhere to hide him in the field, unless you needed a guy to turn and watch a ball sail over his head while everyone else yelled “Go!” And at the plate, he’d stand flat-footed, with the bat on his shoulder, and swipe at the ball, stiff as a turnstile, usually after it had crossed the plate.” So how did such a kid get a nickname like Slammin’ Sammy? It’s a great story and a very good opening to the events of the novel.
Here’s what Sam’s wife Camille tells Jonah about him:
“Sam was an observer of life. And a good one. He could be at the most fantastic party in the world, the greatest concert, the biggest gathering – like a Woodstock – and he’s be off to the side making notes, taking down the details, planning how he would write it in his magazine. …Sam was always somewhere else. Always in his head. His perfect night would be to eat dinner at home and watch a movie, or hockey….to get him out for something beside work, forget it.”
“Artie Moscoe was nineteen years old in the summer of 1950. Still living in his parents’ cold-water flat on DeBullion Street, the rent forty-two dollars a month, and still there were months when the family couldn’t pay. Cold months, winter months, when bailiffs piled their furniture in the snow at the curb and Artie had to check all the different clubs above shops on St. Lawrence where his father might be playing pinochle, to pry out that extra ten or twenty dollars his mother needed to pay the landlord. He was still sharing a room with his two brothers, Abie and Bernie. And despite being engaged to be married, still a virgin.”
Detail upon detail in Dickensian fashion, Shrier’s novels move quickly and are very cinematic. This is the first time I have met Jonah’s partner Jenn and although she plays a limited role in this story I am already looking forward to reading about her again. I am even drawn to his hit man Dante Ryan and his Hemi-powered Charger. Shrier ‘s main characters are drawn in sufficient detail that the reader accepts and trusts them as Shrier presents them.
The title comes from at least two references: When Artie Moscoe worked in Montreal’s fashion district at Dominion Dress Company,owned by his mother’s first cousin, one of the company’s higher end lines was called Miss Montreal. Artie had a serious relationship at the time with a woman named Micheline whom he called Miss Montreal sometimes. Their son is a character in the novel.
Shrier writes humour well too. While driving in Montreal with Dante Ryan, Jonah reflects upon the experience:
“I’ve been on some bad roads in my life. In Israel, for example, where you are more likely to die in a road accident than in any war or act of terrorism. In France where passing on blind-curves is a sudden-death national sport. Even in Ontario, where winter whiteouts make the tamest straightaways deadly.
Give me any of those anytime, day or night, over Montreal’s elevated highway: the Metropolitan. Narrow lanes, potholes the size of bomb craters, tailgaters, cars crossing double solid lines as if they weren’t there. Ryan was snarling like a Rottweiler by the time we exited onto Boulevard Marcel-Laurin and headed north into Ville St-Laurent.”
Anyway, enough said. Another exciting, fast-moving genuine adventure with a setting that inspires travel and characters that make good company. There are even some interesting social issues taken on in this one. If you haven’t tried a Shrier novel yet, I highly recommend the two I’ve read to date.