I’m not that much of a mystery fan but I read this because it’s set in Hamilton. The time frame is 1947 just after the end of the war. The main characters are well developed and the story is strong. I also enjoyed the narrator’s sense of humour. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys historic fiction as well.
Five Stars Oct. 5 2014
By debora storm on Amazon.com
“great read with no smut, loved it.”
John_Seedhouse on Indigo/Chapters
☆☆☆☆ 4 out of 5 stars
“I was hooked before I finished the first page . . . story writer Chris Laing’s first novel is a delight. A native of Hamilton currently resident in Kingston, Laing is a devotee of P.I. fiction who started writing fiction upon retirement. In A Private Man, Chris has created a period yarn reminiscent of the golden age of private-eye pulp fiction, the post-war years through the 1950s. It is the summer of 1947. A onetime RCMP officer, then a member of Canada’s military police during the war where he received a serious shrapnel injury, Max Dexter has been invalided out of the services. Ineligible to return to the RCMP or the police work he wants because of his pronounced limp. He now operates a PI practice in downtown Hamilton. As the story opens Max is expanding the agency he has bought, hiring Isabel, an assistant who echoes the glam girls of that post-war period of fiction-writers but who has brains to match her beauty. I can’t even guess how successful this novel might be outside southern Ontario, with readers unfamiliar with this area and its history, but it’s a genuine treat for those here. Lots of period detail and attitude, lots of community, lots of local lore, lots of actual historic events from the thirties and forties, including the scandals of the Evelyn Dick murder trials. And a fine mystery/PI novel wrapped around it. I hope Max Dexter will return, but even more I hope A Private Man is only the first of several novels we’ll get from Chris Laing.”
“Chris Laing, a former native of Hamilton, Ontario, is a long-time fan of the mystery genre. Growing up, he listened to mystery stories on the radio. Later he read mysteries and decided one day that he could do better than some of the books he’d been reading. So he took up writing as a hobby in his retirement. And as a result, we have his first mystery novel, A Private Man.
The story is set in Hamilton in 1947. Max Dexter, a wounded veteran traumatized by his experiences during World War II, has started a detective agency in a city which is a hotspot of mob activity. When he advertises for a secretary, he gets more than he bargained for in the person of Isabel O’Brien, an intelligent, attractive young redhead who becomes his partner in crime detection.
When a likeable yet rather reclusive accountant, Jake Benson, disappears and later turns up dead, Dexter is hired to uncover the circumstances that led to his demise. Isabel refuses to be left behind, and together they unravel a complicated web of criminal activity including, albeit tangentially, the infamous Evelyn Dick case.
In an interview with Bernadette Rule on her radio show Art Waves, Laing stated about his protagonist that he is not a “hard-boiled, dyed-in-the-wool detective in the noir tradition. He is a more thoughtful kind of guy, trying to do what’s right, and sometimes he succeeds. I’d like to say that he’s more of a medium-boiled gumshoe and a few shades lighter than the noir stuff.”
Dexter is not only decent, he is aware (at least to some degree) of the prejudices of the 1940s. In a male-dominated society that dismisses women as “dames,” he regrets that the female contribution to society is not more recognized. And in an anti-Semitic society where–even after the horrors of the Holocaust–Jews are looked down on, Dexter empathizes with them to a remarkable degree. Perhaps the detective is a touch too forward-thinking or “politically correct” for the era in which the novel is set. However, Laing manages to make these attitudes of Dexter’s integral to the story, so that the hero’s open-mindedness works to his advantage.
What I appreciate most of all about this novel is the research Laing has put into it. He has plundered newspaper articles, consulted archives and other sources, and worked in some of his own life experiences. A Private Man reproduces the postwar era with startling accuracy, down to the minutiae of social classes, local geography, street names, restaurants and dives, architecture, slang, sports teams, radio broadcasts and current fashions, not to mention actual historical figures. It is like experiencing an old detective film, a guided tour and a history lesson all rolled into one.
Bravo, Chris Laing!”
By permission of my friend Bernadette Rule, I include here the link to the Art Waves interview:
QUICK BROWN FOX Writers’ Blog
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2012
A Private Man reviewed by Liz Mackay Wickham
Published by Seraphim Editions.
“Everybody loves a scrappy hero, and heroes don’t come much scrappier than Max Dexter, Canadian Army veteran with a blown-out knee and a “don’t mess with me” attitude. A Private Man opens in 1947. Max is back in Hamilton, Ontario, determined to make a go of his newly acquired one-man detective agency.
Job #1, however, is to hire an assistant, which begins with a couple of false starts: Miss Higgins, with her grey hair “so closely cropped it conformed to her head like a pewter helmet,” and sweet-16 Linda Jaworski who pronounces high school an “utter waste of time”. Then Max gets lucky when red-haired, green-eyed Isabel O’Brien strides into his life. Her class, sophistication, and accountant’s organized mind perfectly balance his street smarts and rough edges. He hires her on the spot, and the fun begins.
It’s a match made in heaven – or Hamilton. Max and Isabel (aka “Iz”) are an impressive team, she with her disarming good looks, charm, and determination to learn the business, he with his get-down-to-brass-tacks manner. Together they suss out the motives of a mysterious client, the truth behind accusations of embezzlement, a motive for a murder or two, and even a scheme for capitalizing on works of art looted by Nazis. It may seem like a lot to pack into a 290-page book, but it’s post-WWII Southern Ontario, after all, and the story clicks along smoothly and convincingly.
A big part of the reason for the book’s authentic feel is that its author, Chris Laing, is a native of Hamilton and grew up more or less in the era about which he writes. The locale rings true, as do its subplots. For example, there really was a femme fatale named Evelyn Dick who was tried for murdering and dismembering her husband and about whom Hamiltonians famously joked, “How could you, Missus Dick?” Laing weaves her real story into his fictional one almost seamlessly.
I say “almost seamlessly” because his first full-length novel is not without flaws. Laing readily admits that the most challenging part of a story, especially a detective story, is the ending. A Private Man rushes headlong to a close with a whirlwind of activity that includes an explosion, a trip to Niagara Falls, capture, an amazing rescue and escape, a car chase, and (spoiler alert!) a happy ending. And there are a few minor flaws overlooked by an otherwise conscientious editor – for example, a legless veteran named Bob whose sister Aggie is referred to at one point as his wife.
But this is small stuff in a book filled with such three-dimensional people that to read them is to feel like you know them. Laing’s character development is rich and vivid, and his dialogue rings true. It’s easy to imagine Max, his knee wrecked by shrapnel, limping determinedly to his next meeting; equally easy to gauge by Isabel’s words her integrity and single-mindedness. Ultimately, Laing has created characters with whom a reader connects. I found myself wanting to know more about legless Bob, Max’s irascible journalist uncle Scotty, his police friend Frank, and of course the main characters themselves.
A Private Man is a complete and self-contained book with a satisfying ending. But it will be a rare reader who closes the book at the end and doesn’t wonder what will happen next in the lives of Max Dexter and Isabel O’Brien.
Liz Mackay Wickham writes humorous essays, restaurant reviews and a home repair column in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives with her husband, three dogs, and assorted tools and kitchen utensils.
A good start to a detective series
December 23, 2019
Jo Jo on Amazon.ca 4.0 out of 5 stars
“A Private Man” is the first in Chris Laing’s detective series set in late 1940’s Hamilton, Ontario and featuring Max Dexter. A former RCMP officer and Canadian Forces serviceman injured during WWII, Dexter has set up shop as a Private Detective in Hamilton. Accountant Isabel O’Brien becomes his assistant and trainee, and together they become involved in solving a murder.
The depictions of Hamilton give the reader a great feel for that city during the post-WWII years. Max and Isabel are involved with both organized crime and art looted by the Nazis. “A Private Man” is a good read, and I look forward to reading the other books in this series.