LEPER TANGO is not what I thought it would be, which ultimately is unimportant in the general scheme of things. It was easy enough to go with the flow and make the mental adjustment to the fact that it was not going to be full of explosions and karate (though it is loaded with explosions of a type) or a whodunit. One immediately senses, though, that an author who begins a novel with the protagonist’s Last Will and Testament is either very foolish or quite talented. The latter is the case with MacKinnon, who, by the time you are finished reading his book, will have you happily reading anything he puts in front of you — from wills to his backlist to his shopping list.
Once you read “The Last Will and Testament of Franck Hudner Robinson,” a hilarious document that sets the mood for the entire book, you realize that this is going to be a very different work. And indeed it is. Jumping back and forth in time within the last decade of the 20th century and geography — from Montreal to Paris and stops in between — reading LEPER TANGO puts you in the mind of Henry Miller, Thomas Pynchon, or even a coherent William Burroughs. Robinson is what might be considered a despicable cad, an individual who literally up and left (deserted) his wife and three children without warning to anyone, including himself, to pursue a life of debauchery interrupted by the casual practice of the lower levels of law in Montreal. He is addicted (though you won’t find that word used in the book) to prostitutes, to the extent that he does not always check too closely under the hood, if you know what I mean; a shiny chassis is more than enough.
However, Robinson meets his match in the person of Sheba Rosenstein, who is just as intelligent and conniving as Robinson is. Her occasional flights of impulsive madness make her much more dangerous. They are each other’s mirror image, and perhaps he is a bit more addicted to her than she is to him. Or maybe not. By the end of the book, it seems as if the only question is who will do Robinson in first: Sheba; the Lawyer’s Disciplinary Office (which is in hot pursuit of Robinson for an assortment of offenses); or the very dangerous relation of a wronged client. Maybe they all will reach him at the same time. Or maybe not.
LEPER TANGO is at times startling in its unapologetic hedonism and shocking in the use of some of its language (those who consider certain words to be off-limits even in impolite company might be better served by looking elsewhere). However, the work as a whole is absolutely hilarious — I was howling at certain sections — and you may recognize acquaintances of yours (and even yourself) among the characters who populate it. Take the manner in which Robinson leaves his family; every family man who reads that particular account will be appalled, but will understand if even for a moment. Robinson departs in a similar manner from his law practice when his commingling of funds is discovered. He is a no-strings guy, simply if not purely.
But if his use of language and his amoral behavior are unarguably reprehensible, it is also indisputable that MacKinnon has favored us with a work that is beautifully and craftily written. It consists of a cornucopia of imagery, witticisms and turns of phrase that will by force of nature insert themselves into your conversation without your even being aware of it. To mention but one: Robinson’s employment interview with his attorney-employer should be required reading for all first-year law school students as an example of what to do and what not to do when in practice. It is loaded with truth and falsehood, often within the same words.
LEPER TANGO is not to be missed. It isn’t for everyone, but those who can withstand its blunt language and unvarnished situations will never forget it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 14, 2012
Joe Hartlaub is senior writer/reviewer for Bookreporter.com. and an entertainment attorney specializing in music and publishing, Joe has had a number of short stories published in the crime and horror fields and is an actor, having had a supporting role in the critically acclaimed film LA-308.