On this hot, hazy Sunday morning, I’m enjoying a cup of chai tea as I think about the awesome book I read this past week. Since we had a family dinner yesterday in honour of Mother’s Day, where I enjoyed delicious homemade Creme Brulee, I am not indulging in a yummy baked treat this morning, although a dish of fresh fruit awaits me on the kitchen counter.
I read a great book last week by James Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and member of the Order of Canada. Exceptional Circumstances, a quietly gripping spy thriller, tells the story of Luc Cadotte, a young Metis from Penetang in the late 1960s and early 1970s who, faced with social racism, struggles to prove that he is as worthy as any white guy. His ambition in high school was to go to Business College, marry his high school sweetheart, work in the office of one of the shipyards, and watch his children grow up. All that changes one day in his final year of school, when a relatively new teacher in town challenges his students with a history lesson that forces Luc to rethink his plans and steers him on a different, potentially more difficult path in life. He graduates and goes on to University of Ottawa, where he excels, due to his exceptional memory, and applies for a job at the Foreign Office. After a difficult interview, where his ideals are challenged, he is recruited and sent off to Colombia, where he meets many good people who do bad things as routine, and is instrumental in the deaths of at least two people he held in high regard. He is then sent off to Cuba, where once again, his expertise in Foreign Intelligence is put to use as he serves a dual role as Canadian Ambassador and CIA operative, gathering information on both potential FLQ connections and secret Russian missiles. Along the way he acquires a free-spirited wife, which adds complications to both his personal and political life. And finally, sent back to Canada to assist in the imminent FLQ attack in October 1970, Luc is put in a position where he must choose to act in ways that test his moral convictions, and he must decide whether to stand behind his own words, where he must determine what exactly constitutes “exceptional circumstances”. I describe this as “quietly gripping” because Luc is just an ordinary guy who wants to succeed. Like many young people who are entering the adult world, Luc wanted to do well. Faced with the additional challenge of being Metis in a white-person’s world, he was also motivated by his desire to make his family proud. And the way he was drawn into the maelstrom of questionable political activities and insidious plots was both unbelievable and all-too-real. Clearly this is a work of fiction… or is it? Based on Bartleman’s own experiences, we the reader are left wondering how much is true and how much is embellishment. The “conversation with the author” at the end of the book is worth reading, as he gives insight into the basis for the book, as well as his purpose in writing it. This book brought to mind not Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” novels, but rather John LeCarre’s books, particularly A Perfect Spy, or even Graham Green’s The Quiet American. I would highly recommend this excellent page-turner to just about anyone.
And I finished an audiobook last week, Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez, an international thriller that moves from South Africa to France to Egypt, Canada and Belgium, as the main character, Franck Sharko, a Paris profiler, explores the mystery surrounding the discovery of five bodies unearthed at a construction site, while also dealing with his own mental health issues. Meanwhile, Detective Lucie Henebelle is contacted by her ex-boyfriend, film-buff Ludovic, who, after watching an old, obscure film from the 1950sn his home theatre, loses his sight. (this brought to mind "The Ring" - awesome film, but watch the original Japanese version). Lucie gets him to the hospital, then watches the film herself to try to understand what happened. What follows is a thriller where murders are committed, bodies pile up, and question after question lead to no clear answers. This riveting thriller is a blend of police procedural and sci-fi story, on an international stage, with a bit of romance thrown in. While I thought the romantic subplot was a bit forced and unrealistic, it was still a fast-paced, riveting story that kept me guessing right to the very end. I guess this is part of a series, so there are some unanswered questions, such as what really happened to Franck’s wife and daughter, but I didn’t feel that this detracted from the story too much. And I just found out that this is going to be made into a movie. If they do a good job of it, it’ll be great to watch on the big screen.
That’s all for today. Happy Mother’s Day!
Bye for now…