Monday, November 13, 2017


DISPOSABLE SOULS by Phonse Jessome

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The body of Pastor Sandy Gardner, a TV preacher with a global following, turns up near a Halifax container pier. The mysterious case lands with Cam Neville, a city cop with a dead wife, PTSD, and a haunting past. Can Neville, a former biker and war hero, solve the killing and find himself?

In search of the truth, Neville and his partner, a Mi’kmaw Mountie named Blair Christmas, enter a perilous world of strippers, kiddie porn, and corruption that threatens to destroy them. Meanwhile, Neville is torn between loyalties to his two brothers, one still with the Satan’s Stallion bike club founded by their father, and another, a priest who wants to save everyone, including Cam.

Well, this was a very pleasant surprise. Exploring Nova Scotia for a few days before Bouchercon last month, I was keen to find, buy, and read some local crime fiction while travelling. But I struggled to find much until I discovered Phonse Jessome's Halifax-set debut while browsing the excellent Lexicon Books in the historic seaside town of Lunenburg.

There is a heck of a lot to like about this crime tale. In movie tagline parlance, it's like Harry Bosch meets Sons of Anarchy, a talented, maverick cop with a military background whose often off-side with his superiors and the politics of policing, heavily peppered with the outlaw life of 1 per centers.

But reducing it to a tagline would be a bit of an injustice.

Disposable Souls is dark yet thoughtful, packed with not only action but also authentic, fascinating characters and a good sense of place. A great, page-turning plot that had me completely absorbed, while never feeling 'breezy' or thin. There's substance here, on many levels. Overall, I loved it.

I learned after reading Disposable Souls that Jessome was an award-winning Canadian journalist, who'd suffered PTSD during a 35-year-career specialising in the darker side of human nature: he covered everything from war zones to international disasters to human trafficking to outlaw motorcycle gangs to extremely brutal local crimes. He'd also written two bestselling true crime books, but had given away the journalism when his PTSD flared seven years after diagnosis.

That perhaps explains his writing chops (though not every good journalist becomes a good novelist), and even more so the great authenticity Jessome brings to the characters, situations, and underlying issues in Disposable Souls. Even before I knew of Jessome's background, Disposable Souls just 'rang true' when it came to outlaw biker life, issues of mental health and PTSD, and various aspects of the collisions between cops, criminals, and citizens spanning different worlds and worldviews.

Things are far from black and white in Disposable Souls, even if some characters think that way. It's a book about the choices people make, the lifestyles they live (or portray), and how they deal with the shit that comes their way. It might have you questioning not just what is really true, but who are really the good guys or bad guys. Labels don't matter as much as actions.

I certainly hope this is just the beginning of Phonse Jessome's foray into crime novels.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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