If you have successfully resisted reading a book by Peter Leonard thus far --- and why would you want to do such a thing, anyway? --- you need to give up that habit and read this riveting and rollicking novel that’s a non-stop joy from beginning to end.
"One of the book’s many fascinating aspects is watching the storylines slowly intersect. There is a common point to both plots that is slowly but surely made clear, and when the characters all meet up in a classic climax, well… I am ultimately left with nothing to say but to read this book now."
ALL HE SAW WAS THE GIRL is a bit of a surprise, but only to the extent that it is not a sequel to its immediate predecessor, VOICES OF THE DEAD. Leonard’s latest lacks the weighty gravitas and historical import of his last work, and where VOICES OF THE DEAD shifted viewpoints, time periods and countries, ALL HE SAW WAS THE GIRL is fairly linear, and world-beating elements are absent: almost all of the story takes place in and around Rome, with some occasional and relatively brief shifts to suburban Detroit. Leonard thus demonstrates from the jump that he is nothing if not versatile; there is no formula writing here.
The new book hangs its considerable hat upon the classic hook of mistaken identity, with a twist or 20 scattered throughout the narrative. Chip and McCabe are American students at an Italian university, and their friendship is somewhat unlikely. Chip is the spoiled son of a U.S. Senator who, as we shall see, is constantly throwing a huge amount of money and influence to get Chip out of jams. McCabe is the son of working-class parents who is attending the university on a scholarship that, in no small part due to his antics with Chip, he is in danger of getting yanked. What begins as a drunken prank lands the lads in jail, where they abrasively cross paths with some minor organized crime figures.
When a newspaper article reports the duo’s arrest, and Chip’s status as the son of a U.S. Senator, their names are transposed under their photographs. The thugs they encountered in prison get the bright idea: kidnap the Senator’s son and hold him for ransom. They do so, but grab McCabe instead of Chip. This is a mistake for a number of reasons. McCabe is able to take care of himself quite handily (the reason why is eventually revealed), think on his feet and take advantage of this or that event to turn things around. His kidnappers are like cats --- clever, but not smart --- and provide him with plenty of opportunity, even as they get themselves in trouble with their Don, an extremely dangerous man whose chief virtues are not mercy and forgiveness. And as always, there is a beautiful woman amongst the kidnappers, one of whom finds herself slowly becoming attracted to McCabe.
Meanwhile, a separate storyline unspools in Detroit. Sharon, a bored housewife in a crumbling marriage, lets herself get picked up in a bar. The encounter begins a down-low relationship that quickly leads to a wedding engagement. There is more than one impediment to the nuptials. Sharon is still married to her husband, a distant but capable gentleman named Ray. And her boyfriend, a thug named Joey Palermo, hasn’t been entirely honest about his occupation. When la familia learns about Joey’s new girlfriend and what Ray does for a living, there are problems.
But not for the reader. One of the book’s many fascinating aspects is watching the storylines slowly intersect. There is a common point to both plots that is slowly but surely made clear, and when the characters all meet up in a classic climax, well… I am ultimately left with nothing to say but to read this book now. Leonard’s ducks all line up, and quite nicely, though they may be a little out of step and undisciplined here and there. When everything is marching along in step and in place, which is most of the time, nothing will do other than to keep reading until the last page is done, which occurs all too quickly.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 15, 2012