This book is aptly titled a "father's revenge", though it may also be about a son's revenge. The context is Montreal's Greek community and immigrant angst in the midst of Quebec's federalist-separatist tussle. In this crime novel described as "disturbing," we do see some disturbing events. A mysterious figure wears a red parka and perpetrates dark, foul deeds. And there are twists and turns, sometimes too surprising, even comic. The novel is Guernica Editions' Prose Series 58. The press is known for publishing works by Italian-Canadian writers, poets and short story writers, belletristic works, in the main. Some really good poetry has come out from it over the years, even contenders for national prizes. With Pan Bouyoucas's fourth novel we're witnessing Guernica's strong new direction.
The conventional view with a crime-cum-murder mystery is that it should begin with a body, a corpse. And in a way we get that: Elena Folkas is badly assaulted on New Year's Eve; she's in a hospital, and she dies somewhere in the middle of the book. Within her immediate family¨father Yannis, mother, sister and brother¨hand wringing, hysteria and blame understandably follow. We get to see Elena close up; but it's Yannis's deep-seated desire for revenge that controls the narrative movement. Yannis with his old-country crosses to bear is well delineated; his own father's demise in Greece also serves as a catalyst¨he's driven by memories, the immigrant's curse, if you like.
Bouyoucas cleverly counterpoints this by giving the reader Detective Georges Soucy's personal story: the latter, a committed nationalist, is indubitably QuTbTcois; yet he's determined to solve the crime on behalf of this immigrant family. He extracts a promise from Yannis not to seek vengeance for its own sake in his daughter's murder. A civilized society¨we hear much on this subject these days (as the US wars in Afghanistan)¨must resort to the rule of law.
Will Yannis heed Soucy's advice? Immigrant temperament and old hates which persist, coalesce to enliven the narrative.
Elena, a student at the National Theater School, Canadian-born, was coming out of an immigrant family as "Canadian," but not necessarily QuTbTcois. Was her murderer a separatist, someone with an anti-federalist grudge? As her father Yannis, a baker of working-class origins views it, her wounds figuratively represent 101 (Bill 101). Yannis is convinced that Marc Lachapelle, playboy son of the nationalist QuTbTcois Minister RTal Lachapelle, is behind the crime.
Revenge, foul murder, is now on Yannis' mind, as he pursues Marc. But there is also Tony, Elena's fiance, to consider. Did he have a hand in Elena's demise? Tony is Greek, scion of millionaire fish trader Harry Baltas. On New Year's Eve there is a falling out between Tony and Elena. Detective Soucy¨with ties to Minister Lachapelle¨follows the leads. He happens to be plagued by his own paternal angst after a failed marriage: memories of a botched Virginia Beach vacation, a time when he would have been closest to his young daughter, Dominique, haunt him. Obviously, there's more at work here than just the Detective's sense of duty. Meanwhile, teenager Dominique forms her own liaison with Gabriel Baltas, another son of the Greek Harry Baltas. To complicate matters, the latter has an illegitimate son with Julien Beaulieu (a French-Canadian), who is out to punish her son's father for his refusal to recognize the boy and make him legitimate. Is she the murderer, "taking revenge" on Harry Baltas' "sons' girlfriends"?
Author Bouyoucas leaves no doubt in our minds as to how he feels about the "ethnic vote" syndrome a la Jacques Parizeau and QuTbTcois politics. The author considers Montreal to be, at bottom, an ethnic town, with all of the lowest common denominators at play in references to Jews, South Asians, Blacks, Italians. But stereotypes, as we know them, are always deceptive. In this novel we read about Minister RTal Lachapelle and the police with their entrenched prejudiced opinions: "the media all belong to Jews"; and "a nigger woman" (said by Minister Lachapelle). Still, the author seems to be implying that Quebec is changing. That the now amalgamated city will always be ethnically diverse and frustrate separatist aspirations may well be the subtext Bouyoucas is aiming for.
Dialogue and sometimes terse language give the book its special appeal. The pace picks just when it looks as if the action will become once more interiorized. But do Yannis' extreme actions stretch credulity, as well as what appears to be an overabundance of intrigue and machination? There are simply too many characters and too many motives. Yannis' other daughter, Ana, wants to take things into her own hands, as she rages against her father. Dominique and Ana are almost run over; the former is seriously hurt. Yannis' son Paul, a musician-singer, is saddled with too much psychological baggage, and at times the book has about it the feel of "a festival of ethnic paranoia".
Linguistic dualities, old-world, new-world attitudes and motives for action create plenty of tension in the book. Integration is pitted against QuTbTcois-style assimilation. There is inter-racial love and an underlying xenophobia. "Yes" and "No" sides are always present. Marc Lachapelle, comes to his own grief; but I mustn't give away more. A Father's Revenge is an ethnic or immigrant novel per se, which contrives sometimes to balance ethnospecific material (Greek mainly) with insight into QuTbTcois politics, as well as into revenge and murder. Some of it makes for fascinating reading. ˛