Once a powerful judge, Ellis Portal was convicted of a felony and disgraced. His life style has changed drastically. He is now living as a homeless peOnce a powerful judge, Ellis Portal was convicted of a felony and disgraced. His life style has changed drastically. He is now living as a homeless person in a ravine along a Toronto river. While working in his vegetable garden, he finds a ring with a black hand attached to it. Ellis recognizes the ring as one of five that was exchanged between himself and four other law school graduates (all of whom were white). When the rings were exchanged, they were accompanied by a vow that each of them would perform one favor, no questions asked, for each of the others. During the book, this favor is called in twice for Ellis.
In order to solve the mystery of the ring, Portal needs to go back into the civilized world. When he does so as a vagrant, he is treated without respect. When he goes through great lengths to appear “normal”, he is accepted. He first visits another street person, Queenie, who cannot help him but asks him to see how a young woman named Moonstar is doing. Moonstar is a prostitute who spent some time at a hostel called “Second Chances”. She is convinced that the well- to- do hostel is responsible for spiriting away several people, including newborn babies of some of the women who reside there. Although this seems implausible to Ellis, he agrees to look into it.
The main connection who helps in his investigation is a reporter named Aliana who treated him fairly during his worst ordeals. She is kind and helpful. She also serves a useful purpose in the story of being able to tap into information that Ellis needs to investigate Second Chances and the other lawyers with whom he made his pact.
The first two-thirds of the book were thought- provoking as it made the reader consider attitudes toward the unfortunates of society. However, the last third veered off into fantastic events, clichés and unbelievable happy endings for almost everybody. Aubert writes with great sensitivity about the intricacies of life on the streets as well as other issues such as prostitution, homosexuality and the vagaries of the justice system, all of which make this a book worth reading in spite of the overly fortuitous plot resolutions.
Elizabeth Waring is a data analyst for the Department of Justice who has the unenviable task of looking at print-outs searching for any murder that miElizabeth Waring is a data analyst for the Department of Justice who has the unenviable task of looking at print-outs searching for any murder that might have been done by a professional killer. If something didn’t fall into one of the common murder patterns, she would do some investigation to see if the murder really were out of the ordinary or not. It seems rather a fruitless search, since hit men try not to do anything out of the ordinary. But even the possibility of snagging one of these guys makes it worth the effort.
On this particular day, Elizabeth notates a few of the entries on her print-out. One of the unusual murders is someone who got killed by dynamite. That doesn’t fit the hit man pattern of ordinariness, but it doesn't fit into a common pattern either. When it turns out that the death was the result of fertilizer exploding and that this couldn’t have been an event caused by Mother Nature, it warrants a little deeper investigation. Elizabeth’s boss decides to expand her horizons a bit and sends her on a field investigation to Ventura, CA. She is a very detailed and analytical person, and begins to come up with some possibilities. However, she and the FBI agent who is helping her are removed from that investigation in order to look at the death of a prominent senator. It turns out that somebody put curare into the glass holding his false teeth, and he died of poisoning.
It isn’t obvious yet, but both of these deaths were perpetrated by a professional hit man. He’s a man who is not fat, not thin, not young, not old, not tall, not short, not dark and not light. In other words, he is not in any way memorable. The book follows this man as he prepares for his hits. We look at how he thinks, how he plans. He is amazingly talented, able to adapt his techniques to fit a situation that changes before his eyes. We learn how his mind works, how he was trained by a man who taught him every move to make.
But then the unthinkable happens. He is mugged in an alleyway, and his face is cut and bruised. His cloak of invisibility is threatened. He decides to slip off to Las Vegas where he is to meet someone who will pay him for the killing of the senator. Things don’t go as planned.
In the meantime, the FBI is closely watching Las Vegas because four Mafia leaders have converged on the area. Are they all just escaping the winter doldrums? Or is a summit in the works?
We progress through the book, alternating between Elizabeth conducting her investigations and the hit man moving in and out of danger. In her own way, Elizabeth was the law-abiding version of the hit man. She was every bit as detailed as he was about her investigation. She looked at every nuance, examined every possibility. She made some novice mistakes as far as being an agent, but her basic radar was very well adjusted.
I loved this book, in spite of the fact that it does seem somewhat dated (written in 1982) and the female lead character is not completely convincing. We watch Elizabeth working through her field investigation and the hit man going through his situations. It’s as though the two of them started at points as far away from one another as possible, and as you read the book, you can see that it is only a matter of time before they will converge. How that happens and what results is the highlight of the book and very satisfying. This is truly a book where all is revealed in the last sentence. Don’t peek!