Reviewed by Jim Napier
Contemporary hard-boiled crime novels are an endangered species. More often we find noir, or police procedurals, or simply crime thrillers on the bookstore shelves. But Toronto writer A. G. Pasquella has recently issued the third in his Jack Palace series, and fans of the genre will want to keep an eye out for it.
In the opening line of Season of Smoke, Pasquella lets us know we are going for a ride: “I sat on the beach next to the corpse and watched the waves roll in.”
Jack Palace, we soon learn, is an ex-con living in a trailer that has seen better days, near Orangeville, Ontario. He inherited the trailer and the land that went with it from an old friend and mentor known simply as The Chief, who had disappeared a decade earlier. In an effort to go straight and carve out a legitimate business, he sets up shop as Palace Security, offering his services to protect malls and jewelry stores. It is still a modest operation with few employees, and clients are thin on the ground. Jack shares his trailer with one of them, Marcus, and the other employees take their orders in a barn on the property.
Jack is an ex-alcoholic, and he struggles to make club soda his drink of choice. The decision had been made easier for the past year, when Jack was in jail charged with assault. But the charges were finally dropped, and Jack is now a free man, though he remains under the watchful eyes of the law.
Jack’s business takes a hit when one of his customers complains that the visible presence of uniformed security guards is hurting his jewelry business. He pulls the plug, leaving Jack without his biggest client.
Jack does his best to find a replacement, but to no avail. The next day he returns to his old stomping grounds in Chinatown, where he meets up with a longtime buddy, Eddie Yao. Before he’d gone behind bars Jack had occupied an office above Eddie’s restaurant, which was itself above an illegal casino in Eddie’s basement. Eddie had been – and remained – a good friend: Jack suggests he might need some security for his casino, but Eddie’s already taken care of that. And as Eddie points out, working in an illegal casino is hardly a formula for going straight. But Jack perseveres and lands a new client.
As he’s returning home, though, he spots a column of smoke in the distance. He arrives to find his trailer in flames, and it is no accident. For Jack, life just seems to keep going from bad to worse. In desperation, Jack finally decides that the answer is to make one last big score that will set him and his girlfriend Suzanne up for life.
Pasquella has a good eye for the desperate and the down-and-out, and his knowledge of the Toronto scene serves him well. Season of Smoke is rich in atmosphere, with plausible characters, and the author makes good use of the first-person voice. If it has a defect, it lies in its pace: the action seems to drag in places, and Jack Palace seems a bit too good-hearted for the genre. But the characters are engaging, and the plot is rescued by a surprise ending. All in all, Season of Smoke is an entertaining read.
Season of Smoke is published by Dundurn Press.
Jim Napier is a novelist and crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005, his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites. His crime novel Legacy was published in April of 2017, and the second in the series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in November of 2020. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.