I had never heard of Canadian crime fiction writer Howard Shrier before reading Boston Cream, part of Shrier’s series featuring Toronto detective Jonah Geller. In a recent interview, the author said that “some Canadian readers have said that these books are kind of violent but compared to a lot of stuff coming out of the States and even the U.K., they’re not violent at all. I guess every writer finds their place in the great continuum of crime and where they feel most comfortable.”
I don’t know about the previous two books in the series, but this one is definitely “kind of violent” — and I’m not even Canadian. Shrier is from Montreal, and now lives in Toronto, so I mostly wanted to see what he would do with a Boston-area setting (including Somerville and Brookline). The violence was a turnoff, no matter what he claims about how it compares to other “stuff coming out of the States and even the U.K.,” but the plot line definitely kept me engaged, even if it did seem to come directly out of Law and Order, as one of the characters himself remarks. Speaking of characters, I found them mildly intriguing but still rather cardboard, except for morally blurred rabbis and surgeons. There’s even a corrupt Congressman, but otherwise the characters are believable :-). Most of the story takes place in recognizable Boston locales, even though Beth Israel Hospital has been heavily disguised as “Sinai Hospital in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area.”
So how about the setting? Mostly it’s successful. The Jewish subculture in Toronto and Brookline definitely adds interest and verisimilitude. But I was irritated and surprised by the number of minor errors in trying to get Boston right — irritated because it took away from the aforementioned verisimilitude, and surprised because the manuscript had supposedly been proofread by Dave Zeltserman, who had “agreed to review the manuscript from a native’s point of view.” He must have been in a hurry. Just to mention a few things: Upham’s Corner is in Dorchester, not Roxbury; it’s Government Center, not the Government Center, nor is there a “the” in “the Monsignor O’Brien Highway.” You also can’t get to either Upham’s Corner or Roxbury by taking Dorchester Avenue (or Dorchester Street — Shrier unidiomatically just says “Dorchester”). These are just examples, and I know I’m being picky, but they really did detract from the book for me. I felt like I was reading it with a red pen rather than being immersed in the setting.
At least Shrier got right the fact that Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan are all in Boston, whereas Brookline and Somerville are separate municipalities.