Clean Sweep, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Clark, and ECW Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon Michael J. Clark’s debut novel, I was eager to see if the story met the hype of the dust jacket summary. Winnipeg may be in the heart of the Canadian Prairies, but it has a seedy underbelly. With the Heaven’s Rejects as the most notorious biker-gang in town, the city is constantly buzzing as criminal activity lines the pockets of a few well-connected individuals. Pastor Tommy Bosco uses his homeless shelter and ‘born again’ nature as a front, allowing him to help those who wish to disappear with few questions asked. However, he may have met his match when Claire ‘Claire-Bear’ Hebert seeks his help. Hebert, a local prostitute, and Bosco’s ex, killed one of the gang’s higher-ups and is in possession of a ledger filled with pages of indecipherable numbers. Not only is the ledger a hot commodity, but the Reject’s want retribution for her act of self-defence. While Bosco tries to stay one step ahead of everyone, Robbery-Homicide Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski is looking to bring Hebert in for her crime. However, he’s also been tasked by an anonymous source to obtain the ledger and hand it over before the Winnipeg Police Service or anyone else can confiscate it. Torn, he must balance the pledge to protect the city with the knowledge that someone has him dead to rights. This faceless entity is trying to initiate one of their own operations, Clean Sweep, which could have dire effects. No crime story would be complete without a crime desk reporter—David ‘Downtown’ Worschuk—who wants his own shot at fame, no matter who gets burnt on the way to print . Clark offers an excellent debut novel that pulls on all aspects of the criminal element, putting Winnipeg on the map for all its less than shiny attributes. Those with an open mind when it comes to language and with an interest in a well-constructed crime thriller may find this to their liking.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was quite happy to get my hands on this book, to see how Clark would depict my hometown. Surely not the city I remembered, but definitely a story that mentions many of its landmarks, I found it easy to follow and paced well. Pulling out all the stops to highlight the criminality, Clark utilised many characters to depict the darker side of the ‘Peg. Bosco comes across as an interesting character who uses his ‘reformed’ front to serve him well, trying to steer clear of crime where he can, but still with a penchant to help those who can pony up the money. The character contrasts nicely with Detective Sergeant Miles Sawatski, who is trying to keep his nose clean but has been boxed into a corner with this nameless ‘Voice’ over the phone, appearing to pull his strings. Hebert and her fellow prostitutes pepper the novel with their unique style and racy language, bringing an element of reality to the story that Clark is able to capitalise upon throughout its progression. The story is somewhat unique, and not only for its location. There is a sense of cat-and-mouse to it, with the criminals seeming to be less problematic than those who are trying to snub them out, but there is still a sense that the law must prevail. Clark explores the criminal element from all angles and brings it to life on the page. To the story more generally and its delivery. This is surely not your rosy crime novel that simply explores some of the seedier aspects, but parachutes the reader into the middle of them. Language, descriptions, and some graphic depictions pepper the story, but I find them to be fitting and not gratuitous (though I am sure some will bemoan it!). It all lays the groundwork for some realistic writing and Clark seems to have the right delivery for it. Chapters are not too long and they flow nicely into one another, keeping the reader wondering and wanting to push on just a little further. Where I have some issue myself was with the ‘over-Winnipegisation’ of the novel. Yes, we understand that the novel takes place in Winnipeg and Clark is surely proud of his city (as I am of my hometown), but it would seem he chose EVERY opportunity to street or location drop, which creates a stop-and-go nature in the narrative. Perhaps it is because I know all these places too well, but the need not only to say that someone grew up in a certain housing project, but also cite the street on which it was located seems excessive. Cross-streets for coffee shops may be something intriguing once, but few readers want to hear the intersections each time (even if you were to include a street map pullout at the beginning of the novel). It would seem that Clark got a little too overzealous and editors gave too much freedom in keeping those bits in that would better be used to plug holes in the cutting room walls. Still, it’s worth noting to help him grow as a writer and with a solid story foundation, this can surely be polished for future editions and novels.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a great debut piece. I am happy to see something of such high calibre and hope it gets rave reviews, both within and outside of Winnipeg. I’ll be sure to let you know when I come to the ‘Peg and we can grab a Timmy’s since I never was a Sal’s fan, lol.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: