A veteran’s debut: Quebec author Martin Michaud brings Montreal’s dark side to light in Never Forget

Never Forget by Martin Michaud. (Source: Dundurn Press)

Perhaps only in Canada can a writer with a successful series of novels that have spawned an equally successful television series be considered a debut author. Having already conquered the crime fiction genre in French, Martin Michaud is now bridging the symbolic cultural divide of Montreal.

'Never Forget' is a police procedural novel, with a mystery to unravel, where memory is at the heart of understanding.

In French, it is Michaud’s third novel in the Victor Lessard series, but it is the first to be translated to English, making Michaud a literary veteran with a debut novel.

It is a situation that falls neatly into his philosophy of writing: “I’ve never changed my approach since I began this journey,”’ he says. “Gain readers one by one, and start all over again with each new novel. It is the humbling lesson you learn as a writer: never take anything for granted!”

The dark underbelly of Montreal is where Michaud’s lead character, Victor Lessard spends his working hours as a cop, and when he clocks out, he enters an even darker world.

Michaud sees his city as a place of extremes, “It can be poetic, peaceful and pretty, but at the same time dark, filthy and gritty.”

Lessard is a troubled detective with a trauma in his past that remains hidden. He smokes too much, and slides through the Montreal winter in a pair of canvas trainers. His policing partner is Jacinthe Taillon, a lesbian investigator with a food addiction and a short fuse.

The author sees them as halves of the whole, “They’re opposites but they complete each other, as two pieces of a puzzle imbricating into one another.”

Together they seek the truth in a strange case where a mental health patient who commits suicide is found with the wallets of two people later found murdered. The detectives must discover the connections between the three, where none seem to exist. It is a dark journey through the noir-scape of Montreal in winter.

From the FLQ Crisis in 1970, through the independence referenda and even the Kennedy assassination, the politics of the past half century form a backdrop for the story.

Michaud does many things in this novel, but what he doesn’t do is spend a lot of time addressing the French-English divide in Montreal. Even reading the story in English translation, it is apparent that the events are unfolding entirely within the French world.

And when we do enter the Anglo world as Lessard makes a trip to Texas, there is no discussion of bilingualism. It is simply an assumed reality.

“I live in North America and happen to breathe and write in French,” he says, “When I write, I try to be as local as possible as this is the only way, in my opinion, to be universal.”

English Canadian and American readers will find 'Never Forget' to be a unique opportunity to enter seamlessly into the life of Montreal. There are no barriers of language or culture to separate the reader from the characters of Lessard and Taillon.

As far as debut novels are concerned, 'Never Forget' is a triumph, but then, this new writer has been at this a long time. And Michaud says he looks forward to the end of the pandemic so he can connect with his new fans in person.

“I am hopeful that together, we will successfully get through these dark times so I can selfishly enjoy the privilege of meeting these already-loved-fantastic-new readers.”

Michaud’s second book in the Lessard series to be translated to English is 'Without Blood' which will be released in 2021.

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