JOSEPH McLELLAN

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 284

[Nothing in The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction] could have prepared the aficionado for what we have here [in The Main]. In those books, he showed a more-than-readable style, a good eye for the amusingly grotesque and a taste for the kind of impending horror; the kind of tantalizing unanswered questions that make people read fast and wait for the next book.

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Strictly speaking, The Main is not impossibly removed from those precedents; if it must be put in a pigeonhole, it is a highly professional police-procedural murder mystery set in Montreal's immigrant district—an area like New York's Lower East Side in an earlier generation. It rises from this pigeon-hole because the author writes extremely well and because his sharply tuned sense of character and milieu gives the book a vivid life granted to only the finest of "serious" fiction.

At the center of the novel is an aging, widowed detective with a heart condition, Lieutenant la Pointe; a rough, unscientific policeman of the old school, perpetually in hot water with higher-ups, who tightly supervises his colorful district like a strict but not unreasonable father. All the other characters in the book—thieves, prostitutes, bartenders, a rookie detective, the shopkeepers and the old priest with whom he plays a weekly card game—revolve around him in patterns that somehow spell out a meaningful statement on life. That and the atmosphere of the neighborhood in which he works evoke a sense of humanity in the author that could hardly be guessed from a reading of the ghastly opening pages of The Loo Sanction.

Joseph McLellan, in a review of "The Main," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1976, The Washington Post), October 24, 1976, p. F2.

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