by Amelia Gordon
Mount Pleasant , the second novel by Don Gillmor (his first, Kanata, was critically acclaimed when published in 2010), takes its name from that great symbol of old Toronto, the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, home to corpses of the late and great city builders and wealthier members of the modern Family Compact, many of whom drove straight from their Rosedale homes to this final resting place. It is a thoroughly contemporary and urban novel and the protagonist Harry Salter is immediately recognizable to any middle aged urbanite in Canada. Saddled by crushing debt, with high status but insecure employment, Harry’s only salvation appears to rest in his father’s estate. Harry was raised with wealth, or relative wealth and frittered away his youth without any major concern for that universal currency, money. It was the golden moment of unlimited expectations, from society, from his high status jobs and from his upper middle class expectations. But he did not take care, lived an expensive urban existence above his means as debt piled up and now, like so many boomers, finds himself beleaguered by debt.
Harry’s father dies and, to Harry consternation, leaves almost no estate. This cannot be!! Harry’s stockbroker father made millions, so Harry sets out to find the money. The whodunnit aspect of this novel involves him in the swirls of the financial market, but it takes second place to the characters in the novel, all a bit stereotyped. There is Harry’s long suffering wife, his feckless teenage son Ben, his chic, poisonously witty alcoholic mother, the smoothly superficial head of his father’s stockbroking firm, all completely recognizable and their interplay lights up the book. And there are the illusions of wealth – the Rosedale house his mother lived in which no longer belongs to her, his father’s high end condo and mistress – not paid for, as the father’s mistress points out. And Harry is a financial airhead, not so different from many well educated men you know.
It is the recreation of modern urban life that is the real centrepiece of this novel. It is firmly set in downtown Toronto. Harry is a sort of modern everyman and every character has entered your life at one time or another. And there is a satisfying villain at the end.
This book is an easy weekend read and particularly pleasurable for those who have lived in that town.