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Buffalo Jump

by Howard Shrier

Contemporary Canadian crime writers are not exactly plentiful in number, and Toronto’s Howard Shrier is a welcome addition to their ranks. Shrier, a former broadcaster, knows his way around genre conventions: his protagonist, detective Jonah Geller, cracks wise at every opportunity about his tenuous employment with investigative firm Beacon Security and his slippery hold on relationships with women. Geller has tasked himself with “repairing the world, one asshole at a time.” He gets into a heap of trouble with his sidekick, a reluctant hitman, frequently ending up bloodied and bruised.

But Shrier adds welcome flourishes. Geller’s exploration of his Jewishness imbues the book with extra depth and resonance. Hitman Dante Ryan’s reason for teaming up with Geller – an outright refusal to kill his client’s child – has the whiff of contrivance, but becomes believable as the sparring duo conduct a clandestine investigation into cross-border pharmaceutical smuggling that also ties into one of Geller’s past cases.

Though the book’s first 50 pages are full of unnecessary expository baggage, the final pages roar with plot twists and devastating consequences. Geller is changed by the violence that occurs, all of it a result of greed mixed with sociopathic ambition.

Buffalo Jump (a code word for a smuggling trip to and from the upstate New York city) doesn’t break new ground, but it does introduce a strong, clear voice with a wry sense of humour. Geller’s description of a co-worker as having “the computer skills of an early hominid” or his belief that “one should never commit one’s premeditated murder without a nutritious breakfast” continue the tradition of Robert B. Parker and Robert Crais with a hearty and promising Maple Leaf twist.