It takes only a few paragraphs to be captivated by the comfortable cadence of D.R. MacDonald’s storytelling. From the first page, the reader is drawn into the vibrant portrait he paints of Lauchlin MacLean and the intrigue that arises in the sleepy Cape Breton town of St. Aubin when an outsider with soulless eyes starts causing trouble for the locals.
St. Aubin also provides the setting for MacDonald’s acclaimed debut novel, 2001’s Cape Breton Road, and though the two novels – happily – share other attributes, their respective main characters couldn’t be more dissimilar. Unlike young Innis of Cape Breton Road, who had his whole life ahead of him, Lauchlin is a fiftyish former boxer who now lives with his mother and runs the local general store. Curiously, for a balding guy with a bad ticker whose only claim to fame is the boxing career that might have been, Lauchlin is quite popular with the ladies. When his interest is piqued by Tena, who happens to be the blind wife of a friend, he finds himself involved not only with her, but also with her husband’s unsavoury business partner (he of the soulless eyes). When the husband goes missing, Lauchlin is there to comfort Tena and to track down the business partner – a prime suspect.
MacDonald’s skillfully crafted story hits a few sour notes: too much time is devoted to Lauchlin’s memories of life in the ring, meaning that it takes a while to get to the meat of the story. However, the strength of the novel on all other fronts makes this an easily forgiven flaw.
With a solid plot, a flawed but lovable hero, charismatic secondary characters, a bit of humour, and a dash of suspense, MacDonald’s second novel is well worth the six-year wait. One can only hope it doesn’t take another six years for his next one to hit shelves.