Mahoney’s Camaro, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

Michael J. Clark returns with another gritty Canadian crime novel, set in the heart of 1980s Winnipeg, where crack is as plentiful as mixed cassette tapes. When a tow truck driver is called to the edge of the Red River, he cannot believe what he’s seeing. A beautiful 1967 Camaro has been driven into the water and its owner is handcuffed to the steering wheel in an apparent suicide. After delivering the car to the impound lot, Steve Mahoney makes a play for the vehicle at auction, sure that it will help him restore his own Camaro. As Steve begins to use parts from the car, he soon realises that there is more to the vehicle than meet the eye. Now, Steve’s been sent on a mission to find a killer as he races through the streets of Winnipeg. Meanwhile, someone’s looking for him as well, hoping to silence any inquiries before they take flight. A nostalgic and humorous spin on the crime novel, Clark entertains throughout in this great piece of writing.

Steve Mahoney has dreams for himself in the summer of 1985. He wants to open his own mechanic shop, but does not have the money. Working as a tow truck driver, Mahoney trolls the streets of Winnipeg at night, waiting for calls to help unlucky motorists. When one call sends him to the edge of the Red River, Mahoney is shocked to see a ‘67 Camaro submerged in the murky depths. Pulling it out, Mahoney can only think about how this vehicle could be the answer to his prayers, or at least his parts dilemma of the Camaro he’s been trying to restore.

When the body of a young woman is found handcuffed to the steering wheel, Mahoney must wait for it to be cleared before he takes it to an impound lot. However, it would seem that the Winnipeg Police are sure this was a cut and dry suicide and they quickly release the vehicle. Mahoney snatches it up at auction, hoping that this will be a gift he never saw coming. What he discovers while removing parts will not only shock him, but really throw a wrench into things.

The ghost of Heather Price remains linked to the vehicle, more than the smell permeating from the seats. An accountant with some questionable practices, Price convinces Mahoney that she did not commit suicide, but was murdered for what she knew about a sketchy used car dealer. She vows to haunt the Camaro until Mahoney gets her the justice she feels is deserved. Turning into an amateur sleuth, Mahoney must piece things together in order to make sense of a crime that could have significant blowback, all while living life in the heart of Winnipeg. A great thriller that will entertain any reader with an open mind, Clark took me back to my childhood and memories of a simpler Winnipeg!

There’s something about reading a book set in your hometown, even more so when you can picture many of the locales. Michael J. Clark does a masterful job of bringing Winnipeg to life in the summer of 1985, adding a gritty story to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Without the need for complex legal or investigative analysis, Clark provides the reader with an entertaining piece of writing that never tries to be something it’s not.

As the title suggests, Steve Mahoney is the protagonist and has much to prove. While enjoying work as a tow truck driver, he aspires for more. The reader learns a little about him throughout the book, which provides a decent amount of backstory and some tidbits of character development. Mahoney is thrust into the middle of a mystery, all in the hopes of ridding himself of this apparition that has affixed itself to his Camaro. Now, he’ll have to face some of the rougher side of Winnipeg to provide justice to a woman who got caught up in it all.

Michael J. Clark has penned a few novels, all of which have made Winnipeg (or Southern Manitoba) their home base. While this may not matter much to most readers, being from the area, I found myself connecting with the narrative even more. Clark offers wonderful detail in his storytelling, such that the images from my youth re-emerged in my mind and left me feeling even more keen to move through the story. Gritty characters, many with their own backstories, offered a great flavour to the piece, giving the reader a variety of perspectives throughout. The story’s pacing and chapter lengths kept the momentum up throughout and left me feeling as though things were working to my advantage throughout the reading experience. I cannot wait for more by the author, particularly if he keeps close to home, being a Winnipegger.

Kudos, Mr Clark, for another great piece. I love the unique style and can only hope others will ‘get’ it.

The Truth You’re Told, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

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

Having read Michael J. Clark’s debut novel a few years ago, I was happy to return for another crime thriller. Set around my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, I can enjoy Clark’s writing not only for the genre, but also because it reminds me of things from my youth. When a woman settles down in a cabin to get the literary juices flowing, she comes upon an old family mystery that she never knew existed. How well did she know her father and the past he was said to have lived? Sam Hutchings and her teenage daughter begin poking around, only to learn that there is more to family folklore than meets the eye, including something with traces to the Cold War. A great piece that shows how well Clark can recount a tale and keep the reader enthralled!

Having spent the last number of years as a newspaper journalist, Sam Hutchings receives her walking papers and must reinvent herself. Choosing to live the cabin life outside Winnipeg, Sam decides to start a writing career, while balancing a summer with her teenage daughter, Meg. While they iron out the wrinkles and learn to live the simple life, they remember the stories of Sam’s father and his enjoyment of the area.

After a small accident opens new questions to the life Gerry Hutchings lived, Sam and Meg begin poking around a little more. Could he have been more than the accountant he claimed to be? If so, what did he do and how did it change the reality for their Hutchings family? Sam’s curious journalist brain goes into overdrive and Meg is happy to tag along, as best a teenager can.

With flashbacks throughout the novel, the reader is also pulled into the middle of the story and how Gerry lived a life about which few knew a thing, growing throughout the latter decades of the Cold War. It was only a matter of time before danger and risk met a brick wall of reality. However, the truth can be more painful than the familial fairytales that are told to calm others. Might a fake story be more appealing than the harsh reality that awaits Sam and Meg? Clark does a wonderful job throughout to keep the reader guessing, though somewhat informed as the truth is peeled back for all to see.

I always enjoy finding books that not only showcase great writing, but have a Canadian flavour. I am proud of where I live and enjoy when I can feel that much closer to the action. Michael J. Clark not only highlights the ‘eh’ nature of the humble Canadian, but also brings Winnipeg and surrounding environs into the narrative, allowing me to remember growing up in Manitoba’s capital and passing through some of the rural communities. I was tickled peach (or pink) throughout and could not help but smile, partially by these memories, but also because the book was so captivating. I just hope others feel the same when they give it a chance.

Sam Hutchings proves to be a great protagonist. Having been through a great deal over the past number of years, her backstory comes to light in this standalone thriller. Clark ensures there is enough of her past mixed into the present character development to keep the story moving and leave readers begging for more. Surrounding herself with great supporting characters, Sam is able to tap into her investigative nature while also fanning the flames of her own memories. While I know this is a single-novel experience, I almost want to see more of Sam in order to delve deeper into her life.

Canadian crime thrillers are surely plentiful if you dig deep enough, but I was pleased to have this one fall into my lap. Clark does well from the opening chapters to set the historic scene for a wonderful story. Weaving past and present into flashback narratives, the story moves forward effectively and kept me guessing as more truths surfaced. The characters were on point, infused with just enough Canadianness to assuage me (Canadians alone may understand what I mean here, eh), I was happy to see many locales that warmed my heart and left me smiling. With just enough twists to keep the story from being too easy to decipher, Clark makes the reading experience rewarding for all, from start to finish. I loved the debut, found this one intriguing, and will gladly add Michael J. Clark to my ‘authors to follow’ list for more Canadian (read: Manitoba) flavour in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a wonderful reading experience. I miss Winnipeg and area very much. You sparked some of the reasons why yet again. I cannot wait to read more!

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

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: