Reactions from readers of the book
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Originally published 1976. Re-issued by Crown Publishers, NY, August 2005 trade paper edition in a matched set of 5 Trevanian titles
Originally published in 1976, The Main is the favorite of Trevanian's published novels.
In his own words
Trevanian, (answering written questions from Judy Quinn of Publisher's Weekly, in 1998) said about it. ...I had brewing...a cycle of five novels set in Montreal (home of the French/Indian side of my family). These novels were to deal with various segments of that fascinating, multi-cultural world, and each of these novels would be written in a different genre: a love story, a story of revenge, a roman policier, a tale of struggle to success at the cost of humanity, a mystery story. Many of the characters would be recurring — a lead in one novel turning up as a walk-on in another. And each of the novels were to be named for the section of the city in which the principal events occurred.
After a great deal of work, I built up just the right writer, possessing just the right qualities of insight and style, to write this cycle of books. He was Jean-Paul Morin. I decided to write the roman policier first, because its principal character, a policeman, could most easily be woven into the following novels.
Well, ma'am, this agent fella from New York City, he ups and tells me that he thinks he can place this here Nicholas Seare book for me, and also, probably, the Montreal cycle. And I looked forward to having someone else deal with the distasteful haggling and bartering parts of any writer's career, while I got on with writing books with Nicholas Seare and J-P Morin and whatever other writing personae I might confect in the future.
Then came a confusing period. I was in France, working, so the elements never became very clear to me. Suddenly, a publisher was suing me for breach of contract. Then I learned my new publisher — the one who had bought the Welsh fable by Nicholas Seare and with whom I had contracted to do the Montreal cycle by J-P Morin — had released the fact that they were "doing a book by Trevanian" ... In the end, I was able to buy my way out by releasing the Montreal roman policier book (The Main) under the name "Trevanian," rather than under the name of its writer, Jean-Paul Morin. As you might imagine, I was not very pleased with the New York publishing scene at this juncture.
Well, The Main came out, and readers who associated the Trevanian name with crisp, shallow action novels blinked and wondered what the ****?! The book was a bestseller in the US, but in the middle part of the list. With its shell-game structure of a real novel buried within a popular genre, it was a pretty complex book for the American mass readership. (The inner novel was about the inability of western males to deal with grief and loss.) But The Main sold very well abroad, a French critic describing it as "a tale invented by Simenon and told by Balzac.
Some reactions from readers of the book
A fine, fun book, June 3, 2003, NY, USA This is perhaps the strongest of Trevanian's works; maybe it does not quite reach "Shibumi"'s heights of fancy and excitement, but the characterization is better, the characters themselves are more believable, the plot is less absurd, and the descriptions of the Main and its inhabitants are delightful. The plot revolves around the policeman of the old school who benevolently watches over The Main, a street in Montreal, with an iron fist and a gentle touch. LaPointe, a lieutenant in a force which has changed around him, though he has not, is caught up in a murder, the events surrounding which, drag him back and forth through his inner self, as he is forced to confront his mortality, the lack of personal love (though he is generically loved in his rôle as protector of the street) in his life, and a number events of his past. Even the bit players in this story are real, with histories and personalities which dictate how they act; and the revelation at the end of the plot will be a nice surprise, well concealed, though the clues are fairly given. Trevanian did a fine job with "The Main".
Mature antihero, May 2, 2003, Salem, VA I liked Trevanian's earlier works like Eiger Sanction, but their heroes tended to be a little too perfect, a little too James Bondian (Bond books, not movies!) The Main features a much more interesting hero, an old French-Canadian cop who has failed in many ways and is definitely not hip to new trends in policing. He is a great street cop whose lifetime of prowling gives us an insider's view of the city.
Story about a cop with a difference, December 31, 2000, Kiev, Ukraine The Main is a fine novel. Set on the mean streets of a Canadian city this story follows a middle aged cop trying to keep with the times, to take care of the people his turf, solve crimes, and help his friends--not all of which is mutually compatible. It is book full of humanity and human weakness, expertly framed by great story telling. Another testament to the versatility of the author.
I loved it., August 12, 1999, A reader
I read it in two days. After I finished, I just sat with it in my lap and thought about it, musing the characters. I can't say that too many books have had that effect... WRITE MORE, TREVANIAN...
This isn't the real Trevanian!, May 21, 1999, A reader Once upon a time, I ran across Trevanian's personal secretary in a bookstore in Maryland. She told me the sad, sad story of a man who got divorced and, as part of the divorce settlement, lost his right to the pseudonym! So all subsequent books are by his WIFE!! And totally without the hard-paced action we'd become accustomed to!! There oughta be a LAW against using someone else's pseudonym, don't you think???!!!
Just a great story by a great story teller., February 15, 1999, Fort Bragg, CA USA I just wish that Trevanian was more prolific. All his books are readable and some are great. This one is great.
not a Trevanian style, July 12, 1998, A reader That book is pretty different from the other pieces of Trevanian. First of all, there is barely action. Well, there are, but these are only details. This is a story of a town, and its ordinary people. While reading it, I went like: "Hey, nothing's happening, yet I still want to keep on reading". That is how I usually react when reading a Steinbeck book. For those who liked Trevainian just by reading Hemlock's adventures, you may not like this one. Yet, it is a great novel. The best part was its conclusion. It surprised me. See, that surely ain't an action novel (other Trevanian book are not either. However someone can just read them as if they are, and miss the depth of the novels).
Ambitious and thoughtful police procedural., April 16, 1998, A reader Trevanian's first novel took ten years to write and was preceded to print by his bestsellers, The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction, and his cowritten film of The Eiger Sanction. Better known as Trevanian's literate and acerbic voice is here presented in an unusual third-person, present-tense format. The story is familiar: an old, streetwise cop is matched with a n uptight, by-the-book rookie to solve a murder. The quality is in the details: the complex social strata of French Canada; a love of Zola; the moral grey areas of life as a beat cop. Fabulous texture and heart-rending sentiment that Trevanian was not to show again until his final novel, The Summer of Katya.