Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Free Reign: Rosemary Aubert

The unusual protagonist of this story is a homeless man who was once a judge, high in Toronto society. Ellis Portal was born to a poor family but through education and perseverance has raised his status in life. He was born Angelo Portalese but tried to hide his origins by changing his name. When he graduates from law school a fellow graduate calls together five friends, including Ellis, and gives them rings to commemorate their connection. The rings bind them by allowing each member of the group to extract one favor from each of the others, no question asked. From that point the five lawyers proceed with their lives and ambitions, except  for one who dies in a tragic car accident shortly afterward.

Ellis becomes a judge, marries and has children, but later in his life, the pressures of his job get to him; he has a breakdown and suffers from anger management issues. He ends up in jail, then in a mental institution, then becomes homeless.


At the point that the book begins, Ellis has been homeless for five years and lives in a homemade shelter made from a packing crate in a ravine in Toronto. He finds the severed hand of a black male  in the garden area he has planted, and that hand has one of the five rings on the finger. He begins to investigate but things get very complicated. Being homeless, he is not healthy, not well fed, and can't go into the downtown area without a great effort to clean himself up. He works with a female reporter he knew in his previous life to look for clues, but along the way discovers other mysteries to solve.

I liked this book quite a bit. The first person narrative from Ellis keeps us focused on his story and allows many facts to be hidden from us. He shares little of his history, which is frustrating at times but fits his character. I was engaged in the story throughout.

One element of this book is the interesting look at the life of a homeless man, in this case one who avoids shelters and lives in isolation. The ravine system in Toronto, which spans several parks, is also very intriguing.

The characters were also well done. Ellis feels very real, and is shown with plenty of faults, but still sympathetic. Some of the secondary characters are homeless people. Others are friends or acquaintances that have kept tabs on Ellis over the years even though Ellis has rebuffed them and their overtures.

Some reviews complain of a fairy tale happy ending and the unbelievable revelations and events that resolve the mysteries that Ellis has been investigating. Those accusations are true, to a certain extent, but I enjoyed the whole book and had no problem with any part of the ending.

Aubert writes with sensitivity about several topics: homelessness, prostitution, homosexuality. I enjoyed getting to know the main character and the gradual revelation of what had led to his current status. I will be reading the second book just to see what happens next in Ellis Portal’s life.

See Rick Robinson's excellent review at The Broken Bullhorn.


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Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2009 (orig. pub. 1997)
Length:      306 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Ellis Portal #1
Setting:      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.



10 comments:

  1. Sounds very interesting and I'm tempted. I'll hold fire for now. Why buy something else when there's more than enough already. (I'm feeling guilty this morning!)

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    1. It is very interesting, Col, but you do have enough books to take care of you for awhile, as I do. Got to get a handle on my book buying.

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  2. This really does sound interesting, Tracy! I respect the unusual perspective and the look at what the homeless life is like. It sounds like a well-crafted set of mysteries, too. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. I liked the uniqueness of the story but also the way it was told, Margot.

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  3. As you already know, I really liked this one too. Thanks for the mention.

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    1. We agree on this one, Rick. And your review made out some good points.

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  4. Fascinating premise, Tracy, and your review cinched it for me. I'm going to Amazon to check the Rosemary Auburt page!

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    1. I hope they are available as e-books, Mathew. They certainly should be.

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  5. Will definitely look this one up, it sounds intriguing. Don't think I'd heard of it before, so thanks for drawing attention to it.

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    1. Very interesting story with an unusual protagonist, Moira. It felt more like a romance than most books I read, but not really any romance in it, so not sure why it seemed that way.

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