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Julian    by William Bell order for
by William Bell
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday Canada, 2014 (2014)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

William Bell's novels (Only in the Movies, The Blue Helmet and Forbidden City) always have a conscience. They also share thoroughly engaging yet troubled leads, but very different themes and settings. He delivers all this again in his latest, Julian, set in Toronto, Canada.

Fifteen-year-old Aidan has been raised in a series of foster homes - 'every time he had thought he was settled with a new foster family and could be normal for once, the ceiling fell in.' He blames no-one but feels (on a school visit to an art gallery) that 'if art is life, I'm not the painter; I'm the canvas.' But it's also on that visit that he first encounters Ninon an auburn haired, green-eyed girl-thief from Provence, who lives on the streets.

Following her out of the gallery sets in motion a chain of events that changes Aidan's life forever. In Chinatown he saves a young boy from kidnappers and so earns the gratitude of the child's wealthy grandfather, Mr. Bai, 'a man of considerable resource and influence' who offers help if ever needed. When Aidan learns that his current foster family is about to move to the other side of the country, he calls on that aid, asking 'Can you make me disappear?'

Mr. Bai helps Aidan to reinvent himself as Julian Paladin, and gives him a place to live and a job as caretaker of the building he lives in, as well as work at a nearby convenience store. A small-time PI offers him more work and he takes it. He meets the elusive Ninon again and they form a tentative friendship. But Julian begins to wonder what he's got himself into - does Mr. Bai run some sort of Chinese mafia?

Julian is an engrossing story, part mystery and part love story that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you in tears. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to whatever William Bell writes next.

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