Ottawa author Christine D. LeBlanc’s debut novel The Wrong Man is a delectable escape from the gloomy days of late winter. Loosely based on true historical events, the novel follows security consultant Macy Carruthers as she faces her family’s checkered past to help her old friend Vaughn find out who is blackmailing him over decades-old events. To solve the mystery, Macy reluctantly enlists the help of her high school sweetheart Joshua, her troublemaking estranged brother Derek, and his handsome but secretive new friend Thomas.
The Wrong Man is effervescent and steamy, but its readability should not be misinterpreted as fluff. While maintaining a lighthearted tone, the novel explores the complexities of toxic family dynamics, class, and self-preservation without making them the centre of the narrative.
LeBlanc’s subtle commentary is found in her attention to detail. Each element feels considered, deliberate. The colloquialisms that pepper Derek’s working-class language serve not only as a reminder of his rough and tumble youth, but also of his perception of himself as a lawless crook with little hope for betterment. His disdain for his eloquent, college-educated sister betrays his admiration for her, and his longing to exceed her expectations of him. Macy’s impractical three-inch boots and V-twin cruiser suggest she isn’t satisfied with being tough, sharp, and independent. She wants to be perceived this way by others, despite her petite frame and carefully groomed appearance. Macy’s sinister ex-boyfriend Vinnie’s habit of conspicuous consumption reflects his desire to present an appearance of wealth and success. But more importantly, it is also directed inwards, revealing the precarity of his situation and serving to quell his fear of losing it all.
By seamlessly alternating between characters’ perspectives, LeBlanc guides the reader through their interpretations of the same events and conversations. We experience both Macy’s and Thomas’s interest in one another, as well as their clumsy attempts at flirtation, which often feel misplaced in settings of death and danger. We sense the nervousness behind Macy’s façade of confidence, but like Thomas, we also feel impressed and intimidated by it.
The novel’s forays into romance and seduction inevitably fall into romance novel tropes. The tough-talking protagonist, still reeling from her last heartbreak, will give in to her attraction for the secret billionaire with a heart of gold. The handsome billionaire will show up at her door, unannounced, on a Friday night to interrupt her evening plans, and he will have an opinion about the embarrassing movie cued up on her streaming service—The Expendables Part 14 (a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hollywood’s infatuation with producing countless instalments of an action movie series that nobody asked for. What was that? The Fast and The Furious? Who said that? Not me).
The Wrong Man nevertheless feels fresh and exciting. LeBlanc effortlessly weaves together mystery, history, family drama and romance, creating an ideal starting point to explore the oft-maligned genre of romance literature. The budding romance between Macy and Thomas is intense and engaging, but it is the sharp protagonist’s sleuthing that ultimately drives the storyline and keeps us at the edge of our seats.