Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Garcia's Heart by Liam DurcanBuy from Amazon.com

Garcia's Heart by

St. Martin's Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-36708-2 (0312367082)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-36708-4 (9780312367084)
Publication Date: November 2007
List Price: $23.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Neurologist Patrick Lazerenko travels to The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of his beloved mentor, Hernan García, a Honduran doctor accused of involvement in torture. Driven by his own youthful memories of the man and his family, Lazerenko is determined to get to the truth behind the shocking accusations, even as the prosecution and a relentless journalist suspect Patrick of hiding information. The defense has its own ideas for Patrick, hoping to use his latest research to help vindicate García. As Patrick struggles with his conscience, and the pressures from the neuroeconomics company he abandoned in , he must also contend with seeing García’s daughter, his former lover, and the surprising influence a shady advocacy group seems to have over her, and with the fact García himself is refusing to speak, to anyone.

Review: In his day job Montreal resident Liam Durcan is an Assistant Professor at McGill University and a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Hospital. In his debut novel Garcia’s Heart he has transformed his knowledge of his world of medicine and his observations of humanity at large into a compelling story that has won him the Arthur Ellis 2008 Best First Novel award.

Durcan’s novel is set against an extremely large canvas, a trial for crimes against humanity for the so-called Angel of Lepaterique at the War Crimes Tribunal building in Churchillplein in Den Haag, Netherlands. The Angel - a sobriquet from a book title about him - is a former Honduran cardiologist, Hernan Garcia de la Cruz, the mentor of Dr. Patrick Lazerenko, formerly of Montreal and now a Bostonian, and he stands accused of medical torture, murder and crimes against humanity. Doubly motivated by curiosity and loyalty to the Garcia family, the members of which he has not seen for several years, Lazerenko has come to the trial at the defence attorney’s request as a potential witness. Lazerenko could testify as the Garcia siblings Maria, his ex-lover, Nina, her younger sister, and Roberto, his continuing antagonist, hope, and the father’s lawyer cajoles, as an expert witness in the application of neuroscientific principles to explain the elder Garcia’s apparently out-of-character behaviour. It is a daunting task and one for which Lazerenko who has turned from medicine to marketing, has little stomach for, and even less assurance of success, especially since a suspiciously deteriorating Garcia has steadfastly refused to speak to anyone or to testify on his own behalf. And while the crimes against Garcia are unveiled in almost slow motion revelations through shocking eye-witness testimonies and detailed references to passages of a best-selling journalist’s book about the alleged perpetrator, Lazerenko must confront his own demons, real, imaginary, long forgotten or recently remembered.

Durcan’s book is saturated with the drizzle of the Den Haag November weather, the bleakness of the trial and its crush of evidence against the accused, and the futility of Lazerenko’s attempts to re-establish his recollected relationships between himself and the Garcias for “he did need the Garcias now, as much as he had needed them then.” Former lover Celia and he are “little more than strangers now,” and she has a two-year-old son in tow but no husband in sight. Nina the youngest of the three siblings now oversees the family’s expanded food store after the death of her mother, incarceration of her father, disinterest of her sister and ineptitude of her brother. And Roberto, ever the one to use his fists instead of his brain has sucker-punched Lazerenko, leaving him bruised, unconscious and briefly hospitalized in the infirmary of the Tribunal building where he is cared for by a doctor “under his white coat of industriousness.” Between healing and recalling the way they all once were when the licenceless Garcia clandestinely offered medical services in the rear of the Montreal corner grocery store, Le Depanneur Mondial, that he ran after fleeing the Honduras, Lazerenko weighs his emotional turmoil against his need to manage via increasingly annoying emails the problems of his Neuronaut biotech company with its “cognitive approach to marketing.” With surgical precision and intense psychological insight Durcan expertly probes and bares the hearts, minds and intents of his characters as Lazerenko tries to make sense of his life and Garcia struggles to deal with his. It is a fascinating operation with heart-rending conclusions for all concerned.

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (mw_cunningham@telus.net) for contributing his review of Garcia's Heart.

Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

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