Random House Canada, August 8, 2017.
Cyril Cormier grew up in Toronto with a Lebanese refugee father and a mother from Cape Breton. They divorced when Cyril was young, and he didn’t see much of his father Pierre, who was a successful corporate lawyer with a new, younger wife and infant son. During an international scandal at the mining company where he worked, Pierre went missing under suspicious circumstances – there was an explosion on the boat he was living on, and his body was never found.
Five years after Pierre disappeared, one of his bones is found and he is finally declared dead. When the will is read, Cyril and the rest of the family discover that Pierre included an unusual request – instead of a traditional funeral, he asked for a “roast” to take place at a bar in Toronto’s east end called The Only Café. There is also a mysterious name on the guest list, “Ari”, that none of the family had ever heard Pierre mention.
At the time his father is declared dead, Cyril is interning at a national newsroom (likely modelled after the CBC) that is working on a documentary about homegrown terrorism. When Cyril’s Lebanese background is discovered by his bosses, they ask him to bring a personal perspective to the war on terror. Cyril decides to investigate the events that led to his father’s death, and the first step is meeting with the mysterious Ari. Cyril discovers that Ari was an Israeli soldier who met Pierre in Lebanon in the 1980s, during the Lebanese civil war.
Cyril suspects that Ari can answer questions not only about Pierre’s past but also about whether his father is truly dead. Soon Cyril’s personal investigation intersects with the larger story of terrorism at the newsroom, and there are surprising connections to his friends and colleagues. The deception stretches from the present day back to the Lebanese massacres of September 1982, and the plot is grounded in these historical events, bringing the current political climate in the Middle East into sharp focus.
The Only Café is a slow-paced mystery with both historical and contemporary relevance. It demonstrates how history is constantly repeating – with different forms of terrorism always in the background and bubbling up to the surface over time – and it puts a personal spin on the stories we often hear from a distance. There is plenty of dialogue to keep the story moving forward, although there perhaps could have been more inner contemplation and character development. There are constantly shifting perspectives, which were sometimes confusing and overly complex – there are only so many health, family and work dramas that one person can go through, and they really didn’t add that much to the story. But despite my issues with the novel, the writing was powerful enough to continually draw me back in to this complex and timely story of family secrets and their effects on global events.
I received this book from Random House Canada and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.