The City Man
Nominated for a Commonwealth Writers Prize (Canada and Caribbean region), a Toronto Book Award and a Books in Canada/Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
Each minute this morning hangs perilously, like long cigarette ash. She flicks her wrist. Grey flakes fall onto the grey marble floor, and all around her is the click-click of shoes and dollied steamer trunks that rumble under the rotunda of the Great Hall. Her eyes are steady. Watches intently the line of suckers at the ticket window and the bills that emerge one by one from their pockets. The first is a fiver, the next two are singles. She smiles. See clearly now the corner of a ten-dollar bill and leans forward, budging the moment when they will begin to head her way. She takes another drag. Tendrils of smoke curl around her hand.
Here they come.
March 6, 1934. Hundreds gather outside City Hall to celebrate the Toronto Centenary. In the crowd, pickpocket Mona Kantor and her partner, Chesler, are ‘in the tip,’ finding easy pickings among the jostling masses. Eli Morenz, city man for the Daily Star, is covering the festivities and uncovering the pickpocket racket working the scene. A surreptitious photo and some keen research lead him to an underworld dive in Kensington Market where Toronto’s pickpockets converge – and to Mona.
Moving from a tense newsroom on King Street to the frenetic grift at Union Station, The City Man is a romance that begins in an instant and careens towards peril. Akler’s prose is as deft as a thief’s fingers, as precise and powerful as a heavyweight’s punch. Packed with enchanting, arcane period slang and comparable in its evocation of a lost Toronto to Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, this is a novel of exceptional grace, excitement and beauty.
‘Crafted period piece, sly crime novel, nouveau noir, edgy love story – this wonderful first novel outs not only its tremendously gifted author, but the city of Toronto itself. If Akler’s deft dance of pickpockets, hacks, cops, suckers, “stalls” and “cannons” stands at odds with the stale-bread image of Toronto the Good, that’s the idea. Who knew hard-boiled fiction could sidestep its own clichés so effortlessly?’ – Kevin Connolly