Van Rooy’s protagonist, Monty Haaviko, is that rare breed: a pragmatic, experienced ex-con gone straight, but with a flexible conscience that allows him to utilize skills garnered while incarcerated with society’s criminal element. As seen in the previous novel, An Ordinary Decent Criminal, Haaviko only assumes jobs that appeal to him and uses his considerable skills on those who need to be taught a lesson. The result is a quirky, McGuyverish character whose adventures are limned with plenty of risk but also a firm commitment to his wife that he will fatally harm no adversary. Incapacitate, perhaps, but not kill. To keep that promise, Monty creates some unique solutions to threat, a fascinating blend of practicality and deadly force that is inspiring.
Happy in the “straight” life with Claire and their baby son, Monty agrees to meet with Canadian activist Marie Blue Duck in Winnipeg. Marie needs Monty’s help (for a price) in organizing a smuggling operation for people without papers who want to enter the country. Works for Haaviko - as long as his borderline illegal activities are far removed from anything that might send him back to prison. To that end, Monty throws himself into the task at hand. Ironically, problems arise not from law enforcement but the interest of other smugglers, who see this new route as an alternative for running drugs and guns across the border. Any number of interested parties plan to highjack Marie Blue Duck’s proposed route.
As the professionals move in, Haaviko goes to work to thwart their plans in a series of clever attacks that strike home in a very violent manner, booby-trapping their cabins, teaching tough lessons as he ambushes. The surprised crooks never expect the one-man assault that disables each, one by one, and leaves the broken bones to prove it, whether the destruction of a drug house/junkie’s rendezvous or an isolated meeting place where heavy munitions do little to defend against Haaviko’s tactics. Van Rooy is in his element in these scenes, the innovative Monty making weapons of destruction from odd bits of plumbing gear, hardware store purchases and an intimate knowledge of how to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting, all insider prison knowledge and creativity.
When an old friend arrives at Monty’s house expressing a desire for the straight life, Monty and Claire welcome him in spite of his checkered criminal past, only to discover that Smiley brings another level of danger to Haaviko’s current enterprise. This time a furious Monty may not be able to keep his promise to Claire.
Monty Haaviko is such an engaging character, the reader cannot help but delight in his antics along the edge of the law. Van Rooy doubtless would enjoy a long career with his protagonist. Sadly, the author died in 2011, the many faces of his very likeable alter-ego tucked away in his imagination. With his wonderful sense of humor and timing and colorful selection of edgy characters, Van Rooy’s loss is certainly ours.