Review: An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy

After a strong start I’ve let my completion of the Canadian Book Challenge limp along for the past few months but have finally gotten around to reading the 13th and final book which allows me to (virtually) reach the summit of Mount Logan (all the challenge’s steps have been named after Canadian mountains).

Monty Haaviko has killed, stolen, sold drugs and spent quite a bit of time in prison. But, at 32, he’s changed his name (though almost no one calls him by the new one), has recently married a woman he loves, is the proud father of 10 month-old Fred and has just moved to Winnipeg determined to go straight. However when his house is broken into by three men one night and all of them end up dead at Monty’s hands few people, especially not the Winnipeg police, believe that he was sincere in giving up his life of crime. Monty, ably assisted by his wife Claire, have to prove his innocence and come up with creative ways to stop to the campaign to run them out of town.

I can’t remember who or what prompted me to get hold of this book (other than its Canadian-ness) but I’m very glad I did as it is a refreshingly unpredictable tale.  Monty borders on being a little bit too clever at MacGyvering his way out of problem situations to be 100% credible but Van Rooy has used enough gentle humour and self-deprecation in his protagonist to make me want to believe in the character and I ended up willing him on to success at defeating his enemies with only length of rope and a drill bit. I also like the fact that his definition of ‘going straight’ is different from what mine would be (no killing but petty theft and the odd small con job seem to be OK) because that is more believable than someone managing to make a switch in one fell swoop. Perhaps the most likable characteristic about him for me though is that he never once downplays his violent, criminal past or tries to brush it off as someone else’s fault. He just wants people to accept that he’s done all the prison time he was sentenced too and is now a changed, or at least changing, man.

The plot unfolds well, almost in two parts as first Monty deals with extricating himself from the immediate legal problem of having killed intruders in his house and then moves on to sorting out the bigger problem of the campaign against him. There are lots of really terrific scenes in which Monty spots potential set-ups and manages to wriggle out of them before they do much damage (during which I learned many helpful hints for turning to a life of crime should the urge ever arise) and it’s fun to watch him turn the tables on his tormentors. My one quibble is that I never quite swallowed the motivation behind the tormenting but that’s a small thing really as I could well believe it was happening regardless of the reason.

I really had no expectations of this book by the time I plucked it from the TBR pile so was chuffed to find characters and a storyline that were unusual and engaging. It was one of those books I took every opportunity to read (e.g. gobbled up some pages while standing precariously on the bus) because I really became quite desperate to find out what would happen next. It does require a higher-than-usual suspension of disbelief but it’s worth it for the large dose of fun and the opportunity to question one’s ingrained stereotypes about good guys and bad guys. 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Though only in his 40’s Michael Van Rooy passed away earlier this year, so this and the two subsequent Monty Haaviko books are, I assume, all that we’ll see.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Author website
PublisherRaven Stone (2005)
ISBN 0888013132
Length 341 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Monty Haaviko series
Source I mooched it

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5 Responses to Review: An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy

  1. Maxine says:

    Thanks for this review, I might give this book a try, had not heard of it/him before.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Isn’t it nice to discover something unexpectedly worth the read? It does sound like an unusual and interesting book. I hadn’t familiar with Michael Van Rooy either before this, but maybe I’ll check this one out.


  3. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: I had heard of Michael but not read any of his books. I am going to get one of his books. I read his death was a great shock.


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