Leper Tango

A review of Leper Tango by David MacKinnon

Published on October 11, 2012

I don’t know what it is about whores. Or, more to the point, what it is about men who are obsessed with them, like Franck Robinson, the ne’er-do-well hero of David MacKinnon’s Leper Tango, a title that goes unexplained during the novel’s journey through various Paris underbellies. It’s safe to say that being a whore is a miserable, violent, and degrading station, despite the great European tradition of romanticizing them – which was especially a nineteenth-century literary fashion. Nowadays, in the early twenty-first century, Franck Robinson’s obsession is something of a puzzle.

And author David MacKinnon seems to know this, since he has his secondary characters question Robinson about his hang-up. A bit past the halfway point in the book, he has Tranh, a Vietnamese member of Paris’ demimonde, ask Robinson, “What do you think lies behind your attraction to whores?” Robinson’s answer is clear enough: “They don’t require user manuals.” These women are reduced to one particular part of their bodies, which is just all right for Robinson.

Leper Tango
David MacKinnon

Guernica Editions

 Of course his pal Tranh doesn’t believe him, and neither do we. Tranh insists that Robinson is acting the way he does because he’s wrestling with his own eventual death, or he’s on the run from himself, or missing some essential part of his human makeup. This is pretty much the realm of popular psychology, and Robinson rejects it. He’s a character without need of redemption. He tromps through Paris in search of Sheba, the whore of his obsession, making stops along the way for many of her sisters. And at the end, 300 pages later, he’s off on another adventure, completely identical to all the others.

Current fiction is teeming with likeable ne’er-do-wells. Charles Bukowski set down a model that many writers, mostly male, have followed with a variety of results. While Bukowski had a sense of humour about himself and an occasional tenderness for the world, MacKinnon’s character is just plain mean. No surprise there, given Robinson’s occupation. Back in Canada he was a shyster lawyer specializing in personal injury suits, and not above ripping off his clients, who all richly deserved the treatment. No doubt there are plenty of people like him in this world, but I’m not sure readers will want to spend a lot of time with him.

MacKinnon’s philosophizing tends to weigh down his dialogue, turning conversation into something closer to discourse. A few pages after his “user manual” answer, MacKinnon has Robinson and Tranh deep in conversation as they watch the murky waters of the Seine River (and a bald homosexual masturbating into the river, for good measure). “You seem driven by some need to penetrate to the inner enclaves of the world of vice, as if it will provide you with some answers,” Tranh tells his companion. The first law of dialogue is that it actually has to be sayable, and many of MacKinnon’s lines are on the wrong side of that law. Then again, maybe people talk that way when they gaze at the famous river.

When Robinson actually makes it with a woman named Caroline who’s not in it for the money, the relationship doesn’t exactly fly – but it does produce some moments of hilarity, intentional or not. When Caroline starts getting clingy, Robinson tells her, “We’ve known each other for four days. Don’t expect commitment from me, baby.” To which Caroline replies in a similar clichéd vein: “I can’t live without you, Franck. I’ll kill myself.” Even more unforgiveable than the dialogue, Robinson, on the same page, dreams of washing down a filet mignon with Chablis or Sancerre. White wine with red meat? Sacrebleu! mRb

David Homel is a Montreal novelist whose lastest work is Midway.



  1. David MacKinnon

    David MacKinnon writing

    Dear Mr Homel,

    Just came across your critique of Leper Tango, so as the author, I am exercising my right of reply.

    Actually, Leper Tango is neither about redemption nor about a man’s hang-ups with whores. The tale is an allegory about an entire society – which, nothing personal, includes cronyistic artistes sucking at the teat of the Canada Council – whoring themselves during the nineteen-nineties for personal gain.

    Three points on the offence to your oenological sensibilities, Mr Homel:

    1. Franck Robinson would not hesitate to wash his steak down with Chablis, whisky or even Budweiser beer if nothing better were available.
    2. The SAQ may not be selling it, but I could recommend some pretty tasty Sancerre Rouge which might even satisfy your delicate palate.
    3. If you’re hanging your shingle out as an expert in “things French”, I wouldn’t be embellishing my Gallic credentials by uttering “sacré bleu” (it’s 2 words, by the way, not one). People might start taking you for Hercule Poirot.

    Regards from Paris.

    David MacKinnon

    For some very different reactions to Mr Homel’s (from New York to Paris), I would encourage readers to check out my press page at:


    • Mélanie Grondin

      Dear Mr. MacKinnon,

      Thanks for your comment. Just a small note from the editor (for the record): I’m the one who corrected “Sacré bleu” and wrote it as one word. It’s one word in Le Petit Robert, Le Petit Larousse and Antidote.


      Mélanie Grondin

  2. w.b. macdonald

    What strikes me most about David MacKinnon’s Leper Tango is how it runs against the grain of just about everything; its ribald language and brilliantly creepy analogies; and its immoral, unethical protagonist, Franck Robinson. The whole package, (vaginal) warts and all, is a one-of-a-kind expedition into strange new territory. MacKinnon’s writing style is his own. Given an unattributed page of Hemingway, Bukowski or Brautigan, most serious readers will have no trouble identifying the writer. MacKinnon’s writing, love it or leave it, is in the same category. I enjoyed Leper Tango from start to finish, often reading passages out loud to whoever happened to be in the room with me. For any reader sick of political correctness, motivational psychology, and sentimental drivel, Leper Tango is the antidote. I hope there’s another MacKinnon novel coming out soon. I’ll be the first buyer.

  3. jim christy

    Where is it written that a protagonist –in this case Franck Robinson — has to be likable and admirable? Well, I know the answer to that one: it is so written in Official Canadian Literature wherein every protagonist it seems has to be a no-threat, left-leaning, politically correct bore, whatever their sex. I didn’t like Franck; thought he was more than a bit of a creep, actually but his story is no less revealing for that and is propelled by fierce writing, controlled but angry wit, devastating observations of contemporary life. There is hardly anyone like this author in the dull region of Canadian writing. No wonder the guy lives in exile. As for no one actually speaking like Trang does, I know a guy in Saigon of a philosophical bent that talks just like that, so much so that I wonder if MacKinnon knows him.

  4. Perry Mason

    What a wonderful review from W B MacDonald… Is this the same Bruce MacDonald, MacKinnon’s best friend by any chance?

    The author must be sleeping with the publisher!


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