Red Mass An Ellis Portal Mystery Paperback – May 26 2005
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*Starred Review* Red Mass will inspire mixed emotions in Aubert fans: the customary joy of experiencing a brilliantly crafted, elegantly worded adventure featuring former judge Ellis Portal, on one hand, and a deep sadness, on the other hand, in realizing that this is the series' final entry. Following the life of Ellis Portal through the five novels in the series has been a rare treat, thanks mainly to the protagonist. Portal is a complex, flawed man who has been both difficult to like and impossible not to love. Whether he was a high-ranking Toronto judge or a drunken bum living in a tent city or a newly minted lawyer attempting to restart his career as a sober sexagenarian, Portal has maintained an innate morality and dignity. In the series finale, Portal is called on to defend a judge charged with murdering his wife. Complications include Portal's hatred of the defendant, an old enemy, and the fact that he is pitted against his daughter, Ellen, who is arguing for the Crown. While the courtroom scenes are exciting, what stand out are Portal's personal battles with his family, his friends, and himself. An eminently worthy finale to an outstanding series but not, we hope, the last word from the gifted Aubert. Jenny McLarin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
An eminently worthy finale to an outstanding series but not, we hope, the last work from the gifted Aubert. (Jenny McLarin Booklist ) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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Aubert, Rosemary, 5th in series
Bridge Works, 2005, US Trade Paperback - ISBN: 1882593952
First Sentence: At Michaelmas in the autumn of the year, Canadian judges in black silk robes, red woolen sashes and starched white-linen collar tabs gather like red-winged blackbirds to celebrate the Red Mass.
Ellis Portal is clean, sober, reinstated as an attorney and getting his life back on track. While attending the Red Mass, a church service celebrating the opening of the courts, Ellis' one-time close friend, john Stoughton-Melville, Stow," is removed from the church in handcuffs. Stow is accused of murdering his fatally ill wife five yours ago and has asked Ellis to defend him but offers no information as to what happened. Ellis' had loved Stow's wife and only because of an old promise does he agree to take the case.
Aubert is one of the many under-recognized authors and her Ellis Portel series is a great one. The only problem I had with this book is that it is, apparently, the end of the series. Ellis Portal is a great character and part of the attraction to him is his foibles; that he is not perfect and not always likable. The other people in his life are those from when he was a successful judge, his life on the street and his continuing association with the people from that time in his life and those now that he is rebuilding his life.
The plot is wonderfully twisty and you feel Ellis' frustration has he is trying to defend Stow with the end being a surprise.
I did have a feeling the author intended there to be another book in this series but, due to a change in publishers, had to switch characters. I understand this from the author's perspective but it's a bummer for the reader. Still, I definitely recommend this book and, as usual, suggest reading the series from the beginning.
My major complaint with this book is that its protagonist survives. He really is a waste of space, and boring with it.
Her protagonist (certainly not her hero) is Ellis Portal, a hot-shot lawyer who became a judge. While on the bench, he took up drink and drugs, losing self-respect, judgeship, profession and wife on his way to a hard landing as a street person. After hitting bottom, he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to regain his standing at the bar (so to speak.) As this fifth novel begins, he is being seriously considered for re-appointment as a judge, even as he prepares the defense in an unusually high-profile murder case. Oh, yeah.
As a resident of Western Canada, I find it particularly fascinating to see how Aubert has infused her book with Torontonian spirit. First, her prose has a wonderfully curdled pomposity about it. In the following scene, Lawyer Portal is having lunch with his much younger junior partner:
"Nicky and I, our differences temporarily quelled, sat in the Barristers' Dining Room at Osgood Hall eating a let's be-friends-again lunch. It was Friday, casual day, which meant that the trio playing for the fifty or so gathered attorneys was a jazz group rather than chamber music, the featured dish was sole instead of beef, and that the dress was blazers and slacks instead of suits.
"Nicky took a deep swallow of his Chardonnay before he deigned to speak. `Ellis, you know, I trust, that the Crown's case is flawed.'
"`Flawed?' Nicky was irritating me again, even before desert." [Page 144 of the paperback edition.]
Even before desert! Ah, yes.
Then Aubert cuts deeply to the heart of profound emotions in a way that only be called uniquely Canadian. Here, Portal hears an announcement:
"`There's no easy way to tell you this. I know you're not a man who goes to church often-`
"`I seem to have repented,' I joked, remembering the Red Mass, the christening...
"She didn't smile. `Ellis, those DNA tests for Sal?'
"`The sample from Jeffrey showed my DNA, but not yours.'
"With that absurdly brief sentence, my ex-wife informed me that Jeffrey was not my son." [Page 284.]
Portal, himself, is a memorable piece of characterization. I could not hope to better the description of him offered by Publishers Weekly in their review of the third book in the series : "Bland, whiny and self-absorbed". Absolutely--and how very Canadian. In addition to that, This Portal, this hired gun defense lawyer is passive, unmotivated, often incurious and always browbeaten by his client. There'll by no Clarence Darrow/Perry Mason monkeyshines on this side of the 49th Parallel, thank you very much.
Finally, there is the plot, itself. When the final revelations are made, it turns out that the whole thing was built around the most improbable, self-destructive, hare-brained scheme since ... well, since the decision to invade a certain Middle Eastern country much in the news these days.
Two stars--and the beavers weep.