canada.com | 09 March 2008 | Bill Sass
Some people leave home and go off to college, others exit the nest to pursue a new career. In Capac Raimi’s case, it’s a bit of both, as he steps off a train in a large, unnamed city to be schooled in his chosen line of work as a gangster. His Uncle Theo has offered to teach him the ropes, guns, intimidation methods and, in a more mundane sense, the bookkeeping necessary for any self-respecting practitioner of the criminal arts. It’s an interesting premise — one worthy perhaps of Mario Puzo or Dashiell Hammett. But Shan’s book, first published in the U.K. in 1999 and rejigged for its North American release, quickly goes beyond the boundaries of such conventional “family” affairs when Capac’s uncle and most of his gang are eliminated by the mysterious crime kingpin known as The Cardinal. Capac is, literally, the last man standing after the slaughter of his uncle’s cadre — and almost immediately recruited by The Cardinal and set to work as … an insurance agent? Insurance sales are meant to teach Capac to read people and give him insight into human nature. The one person Capac has the hardest time reading is himself. His past is a blank slate. He’s unable to conjure up any childhood memories or even the place he lived before boarding the train brought him to his current destination. We are introduced to other odd things. Many of the principle players in The Cardinal’s organization have Incan names. A cult of blind men roams the nether regions of the city, appearing with a mysterious green fog. And people are erased — not in the sense of winding up at the bottom of a river weighed down by cement galoshes — but in the sense of never being at all. Capac sets out on a quest to find out what’s going on. The trip is revealing and tragic, and leads Capac to some brutal discoveries. This isn’t your ordinary cops-and-robbers mystery, but there is a page-turning yarn here with a startling, satisfying ending.
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