When I first moved into my mother's old neighborhood, where she lived a good part of her childhood and what is now Montreal's Gay Village, the first thing I did, was put up the only picture I own of my maternal grandfather. In this picture, he's dressed in his official firefighter uniform, looking both dashing and slightly uneasy. My grandfather died when he was thirty-eight years old, and then my mother, his daughter, died very young too. I've always wanted to honor them in some way, but couldn't find how.
Walking around the neighborhood in the last year, I've reconnected with my French history, because like Joe Vega, the main character in Linhart's Beautiful Beast, my latest novel, I'm half Italian and half French Canadian, or as we prefer to call ourselves, Quebecois. I was desperate to write something more personal about those struggles my French speaking grandfather had to go through working out of an all English fire station in the thirties and early forties. Yet though I wanted the novel to resound with truth, I didn't want to write something full of tedious details about the era and weighed down with historical facts.
Then I remembered how crazy I am about prison movies, so why not make up a prison somewhere in the Great North? A sort of gulag or forced work camp where the inmates are used as cheap labor to clear out a forest? But who would work there as guards? Well, it would have to be men from very rough backgrounds, both English speaking and French, stuck in this Godforsaken place called Linhart Prison, confined to live side by side with the toughest inmates in the judicial system. That would surely set up a good context to play out the politics of those times. The Great Depression. 1934. No Man's Land.
But what happens when a beautiful, spoiled and highly connected aristocrat enters this grisly group of men?
Well, the warden puts the gorgeous brat, Monsieur Christophe Dubois, in the only cell he knows he will be safe ... Joe Vega's cell. The warden hopes Joe's cool temper and enormous size will assure Christophe's protection.
What no one expects, is for Joe and Christophe, who are from opposed worlds, and who at first, seem to be doomed to hate each other, to fall madly in love.
Prepare yourself to enter a cold and desolate place where the worst of men is brought out, but be ready to witness what true love can do for two desperate men who are willing to die for each other.
Welcome to Linhart Prison ...
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