Middlemen by Scott Thornley

Middlemen is the fifth book in Scott Thornley’s MacNeice mystery series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. In summary, Detective Superintendent MacNeice and his team discover a crime scene, and as the evidence mounts, so does the death count, and so does the scope and depth of the crime.

The title instantly caught my attention. Why middlemen, not middleman? Even my search engine suggested that I must mean the latter. Since a middleman arranges deals between two parties, perhaps “middlemen” referred to a group fulfilling this function? I soon learned that instead there were layers of middlemen, each representing a client who in turn was middleman to another. Since each allegedly only knew their immediate client, secrecy should be more easily maintained, but such systems are open to manipulation. (It seems “eliminating the middleman” has different implications in the world of crime.) We are, however, led to consider not just who is orchestrating what, but why? What is their goal?

When Jack is found, injured and covered with blood, MacNeice and his team backtrack and find a crime scene, where there is evidence of two deaths but no bodies. Meanwhile, the enigmatic Clarence is overseeing the disposal of the missing bodies in an industrial setting, and then disposing of his team. There is a turnabout when he meets his next team, and bit by bit, control slips away from Clarence.

Events are not helped when Clarence’s client orders a sudden contract, one which cannot be immediately fulfilled. For some reason, the captive is to be kept securely hidden until the final execution of the plan, which leads to many complications. Crimes rarely unfold with the smoothness of the film industry, and the obstacles the author introduces seem so plausible. Crime scenes can be discovered by random birdwatchers or fire crews, facilities sometimes need work done at inconvenient times, and business dealings can come up at the most awkward moments. Real detectives do not miss the point right up to the last commercial break; these villains are up against a strong team that builds a case, works the hunches, and leaves no stone unturned.

MacNeice is a complex character – A dedicated officer of the law, he also holds poignant conversations with his deceased Kate. He develops a healing connection with the grieving Jack until Jack rejoins his family. There is a strong connection with the natural world, with moments of bird song and natural beauty amid the clinical details, like the time he observes the trails in the water as the geese take flight while he goes over the case. Aziz, his colleague, complements his personality. She is educated, yet sensual; highly professional, yet compassionate; a good partner in the field and a good friend. Their bond is special, their mutual attraction dignified.

The villains are capable of the worst depravity and outright evil, but then we are shown another side. Clarence is not a sympathetic character; he is a self-styled and conceited intellectual, a man governed by personal greed, and a remorseless killer. The author still generates a hint of sympathy for Clarence as we learn more about the coldness and contempt of his upbringing. Clarence is a lonely person, with a hopeful dream of a Polynesian beach, a beautiful companion, and a gentle future. One and Two, Clarence’s new “support” team, are intriguing. They are at times theological, at times philosophical, and always exacting. They are totally ruthless, yet still exhibit sensitivity and charm.

The book is fast-paced, with action, violence, and suspense, but the author takes time to paint each scene fully, with details in the background and foreground, with action and nuances of conversation. The standoff with One and Two, and the major sweep with tanks and guns, are scenes of high drama, with a sense of a classic Western or heroic battle against evil.

The novel is stirring, dramatic, a definite page-turner. The story is packed with detail, yet the plot really moves, and we race along, relishing each moment. A highly satisfying read.

SCOTT THORNLEY grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, which inspired his fictional Dundurn. He is the author of five novels in the critically acclaimed MacNeice Mysteries series: Erasing MemoryThe Ambitious CityRaw BoneVantage Point, and Middlemen. He was appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts in 1990. In 2018, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada. Thornley divides his time between Toronto and the southwest of France.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Spiderline (June 27 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 504 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487011504
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487011505

Anne M. Smith-Nochasak grew up in rural Nova Scotia and taught for many years in northern settings including Northern Labrador,  the focal setting for her second novel. She has retired to Nova Scotia, where she enjoys reading, writing, and country living. She has self-published two novels through FriesenPress: A Canoer of Shorelines (2021) and The Ice Widow: A Story of Love and Redemption   (2022).

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