Hidden Connections

A Hard Winter Rain

By Elizabeth Johnston

A review of A Hard Winter Rain by Michael Blair

Published on October 1, 2004

A Hard Winter Rain
Michael Blair

Dundurn Press
$11.99
paper
320pp
1-55002-533-3

As I write, a summer rain is pounding the streets of Montreal. The trees are bent double and the thunder is rumbling over the delighted shouts of people caught in the warm downpour. It’s an entirely different sort of rain from the one falling on personal bodyguard Joe ‘Shoe’ Shumacher in Vancouver during December in A Hard Winter Rain.

It was raining again at five-thirty when Shoe nosed the Mercedes up against the door of the garage in the lane behind the peeling, wood-frame house on West 3rd between Balsam and Larch in Kitsilano. Retrieving his purchases from the back seat, he locked the car and pushed his way through the wet, unkempt jungle of the yard to the front of the house to check the mail. Rainwater dropped off the dark green leaves of the huge old magnolia that loomed over the front walk – he felt detached and vaguely depressed. The shortest day of the year was a few days away. Then Christmas. Shortly after that, his fiftieth birthday. What did he have to be depressed about.

As it turns out, he has plenty. A close friend and colleague, Patrick O’Neill, has been shot in a coffee shop and Shoe is asked by their boss, seventy-something Bill Hammond, to find out why.

Bill is a curmudgeon who never misses an opportunity to insult his underlings. He’s remarried to a woman almost half his age who gets her needs met elsewhere while he goes about his empire building. He has created the company from nothing. Now it’s poised to go public, but he won’t release his death grip.

Patrick O’Neill was a poor Irish boy from Montreal who made good. His job was finding businesses to buy. It was a lucrative position, one that allowed him to build a house high over English Bay in the British Properties of West Vancouver, with a fleet of expensive cars and a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Victoria.

Feeling imprisoned by her lifestyle, Victoria was nonetheless very unhappy with Patrick’s decision to resign from Hammond Industries. Patrick didn’t agree with Bill’s refusal to go public so he decided to strike out on his own. But there was one final bit of business he had to take care of in the coffee shop before he embarked on his new life.

When Shoe starts digging around in his friend’s life, he unwittingly stirs coals of intrigue, murder, and incest that go back decades, and connects disparate people into a six-degrees-of-separation sort of narrative.
This – revealing the often hidden connections between people – is what Blair does best. Once these connections are revealed, the reader can see how even the most ordinary of people lead lives of consequence – if they survive long enough.

The mystery part of the novel is duly handled but it feels almost like an excuse to splash around in the drizzly life of Shoe, a complex person who just may be the Canadian version of the perfect guy – quiet but sensitive, strong-willed but gentle, and willing to wait for the right woman.

The villains, on the other hand, are one-dimensional, their complexity only barely plumbed. The reader is left thirsty for more. A Hard Winter Rain is a novel full of potential that doesn’t go quite far enough. But there’s enough here to whet the imagination, especially on a rainy day. mRb

Elizabeth Johnston is the author of "No Small Potatoes," and teaches writing at Concordia University.

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