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A 2007 version of the bumbling inspector

R.A.C.E.

By Mobashar Qureshi

Mercury Press, 2006

283 pages, $16.95

Plot is always touted as the most important element in fiction writing but R.A.C.E. proves that an engaging character can rescue an implausible plot.

The novel’s imperfect, cartoonish story about an awkward parking enforcement officer co-opted into a Toronto drug squad in order to crack a fiendishly twisted motley collection of beyond predictable bad guys is saved by the refreshing protagonist, Jon Rupret (“It’s Rupret. R before the E.”).

A first novel for economist Mobashar Qureshi who immigrated as a boy to Canada with his family from Nigeria, R.A.C.E. is a predictable but fun and fast-moving story about a depressed but spunky reluctant hero who has no pretensions to a deeper, smouldering intellect but does cherish the basic chestnuts of honour, duty and respect for his mother.

Rupret is the bane of the Toronto police force after foiling a drug bust the year before and he is more than wary after being called up to fill in on a newly-formed drug squad charged with cracking R.A.C.E., a nefarious inter-racial gang cooking up a new highly addictive super drug (“like a person has Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimers, and multiple schlerosis all at once.”) designed to appeal to all stratas of stressed-out society.

It’s a heavy responsibility, one Rupret takes seriously but gets sidetracked from, like when his car gets towed after being left in rush hour-restricted parking or when he’s late for a planning session after stopping to help his landlady clean gutter leaves. He’s the kind of cop who drags his very British but suspect partner along to deliver his mom’s birthday gift, then co-opts him over tea into the fictional Nesbitt Burns financial analyst life he’s created for his mom.

“How long have you worked with Jonny?” she asked.

Beadsworth turned to me.

“Just recently,” I said.

“Forgive me for asking so many questions,” she said. “It’s not every day that Jonny brings a friend over. I think… this is probably the first time.”

“First time for everything, Mom,” I said.

Beadsworth took a slow sip.

“Have they promoted you?” she said to me.

“You could say that,” I answered.

And while a character who is quick enough to respond “Sir, it’ll take me a whole week to kiss all that” after a ticketed motorist says “Kiss my ass,” yet doesn’t know caffeine is the main ingredient in coffee may seem incongruous, we still manage to cheer on Rupret as narc in much the same way we cheer Peter Sellers as Insp. Clousseau. Even after Rupret fails to stop an officer from getting bonked and hospitalized, when he gets duped by the green-eyed villainess, or when his apartment is torched and an informant potentially killed, we still want Rupret to solve the case and get the girl, which he does, sort of.

R.A.C.E. is a laudable first effort for Qureshi, who is likely to get snapped up by one of Canada’s bigger pond publishing houses. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose the little guy’s perspective.

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