García's Heart by Liam Durcan

Read an excerpt
See all author's titles

See also

78,000 words hardcover
Finished books available


US: Thomas Dunne Books, Nov 2007
Canada: McClelland & Stewart, Apr 2007
China (complex characters): Sun Color Culture Publishing, Taiwan
China (simplified characters): Beijing Booky Company
Italy: L'Ancora del Mediterraneano, 2009
Netherlands: Ailantus


Liam Durcan (Photo: Terence Byrnes)
(Photo: Terence Byrnes)

Liam Durcan's first book, the story collection A Short Journey by Car (Vehicule), was chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the Top 100 Books of 2004, and his work was featured in the annual anthology of up-and-coming new writers, Coming Attractions 2003 (Oberon). Durcan, 40, is a neurologist at the Montréal Neurological Hospital and an Assistant Professor at McGill University. His best work is informed and inspired by his medical specialty, whether he is describing human experience in a variety of contexts or making neurology central to his story, as he has done in García's Heart. Durcan lives in Montreal.

García's Heart

a novel by Liam Durcan


  • Winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel
  • A Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
  • A national bestseller

García's Heart - US coverNeurologist Patrick Lazerenko travels to The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of his beloved mentor, a Honduran doctor accused of involvement in torture in his native land. In order to do so, Lazerenko has abandoned his responsibilities as lead scientist in a cutting-edge research project at his Boston-based start-up, Neuronaut. He is driven to get to the root of the shocking accusations against Dr. Hernan García de la Cruz, the man whose life he had modelled his own upon.

In The Hague, Lazerenko encounters, among others, a relentless journalist who has built her career on an award-winning exposé of the case, and who is convinced that García's Heart - Dutch coverLazerenko knows more than he is admitting; García's defence attorney, who urges Lazerenko to employ the latest neuroscience to help vindicate García; and García's adultchildren, who were once his friends and, one of them, his lover. García himself refuses to speak, even on the witness stand.

García’s Heart goes beyond issues of guilt and innocence to the ways in which human behaviour may or may not be mitigated by physiology. Can we really tell where the truth lies by observing the human brain? Should such observations absolve us of responsibility for our actions, or be admissible in a court of law? Or does nothing matter except the way we are perceived by others, like the endless torture victims who are testifying against García? And is a doctor’s supposedly altruistic desire to help others anything but an expression of egotism?

As Lazerenko wrestles with these issues, he is also at a crossroads in his life. What did he really mean to García, his surrogate father who took him under his wing as a child? Lazerenko’s business dealings in the new science of neuroeconomics seem laughable if not unethical, and his personal relationships are hollow. When he catches on suddenly to the shocking facts about what García is really up to, he realizes that his sophisticated knowledge of the human brain cannot help him unravel the mysteries of the human heart.


García's Heart - Taiwanese cover“Following his 2004 short story collection, A Short Journey by Car, Durcan's outstanding debut novel walks a taut line between skillful thriller and philosophical novel of ideas. Though he has yet to develop fully his authorial powers and talent, he already writes with an ease reminiscent of Graham Greene. Durcan crafts a character whose background in neurology and medicine-Durcan is himself a neurologist-deftly informs the action. Drawn from Montreal to the Hague to witness the war crimes trial of former mentor Hernan García, Patrick Lazerenko must confront a landslide of moral, political, and personal questions that haunt and confront him at all stages of his association with the Spanish immigrant and his family. As the plot unfolds, the novel takes on a breathtaking immediacy that will awe readers and tune them into probing ethical dilemmas.”  — LIBRARY JOURNAL

“What prompts an honorable man to commit unspeakable acts? That's one of many moral conundrums considered in Durcan's compelling debut. As the novel opens, Boston neurologist Patrick Lazerenko has arrived at The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of Hernan García de la Cruz, a onetime physician from Honduras who became a mentor and friend to Patrick during his formative years in Montreal. Is it possible that Hernan, the man who inspired Patrick to become a doctor, once used his medical knowledge for evil, torturing political subversives in his native land? In his work back in Boston, Patrick researches the brain's role in the decision-making process. Might that cutting-edge expertise now help exonerate Hernan? As the trial moves forward, Patrick retreats into the past, recalling his affection for the García family and his love for Hernan's spirited daughter, Celia. Canadian neurologist and short story writer Durcan (A Short Journey by Car, 2004) renders satisfyingly complex characters in sharp, vivid prose. One of the lawyers at the trial "never made eye contact, the weight of his gaze like a finger on Patrick's Adam's apple." García's Heart beats with a riveting blend of science and suspense, perfect for fans of David Baldacci and John le Carré.”  — BOOKLIST, starred review

“A judgment on the world stage tests the ethical resolve of a scientist troubled by the crimes of war. Canadian neurologist and award-winning writer Durcan (A Short Journey by Car, 2004) plumbs his stock in trade to inform this audacious literary debut, its purpose no less than finding a window to the soul. When Boston-based neurologist Patrick Lazerenko arrives inauspiciously at the Hague on a miserable November day, even his cab driver knows who he's here to see. The city is gripped by the trial of Hernan García de la Cruz, a Honduran physician whose alleged complicity in CIA-backed torture earned him the sobriquet, "The Angel of Lapaterique." The good doctor refuses to speak in the courtroom but Lazerenko's memories portray a once-decent man corrupted by the kismet of politics. In fact, García was once a father figure to Patrick, whose rough, ill-disciplined childhood was turned around by the doctor's care and attention. Far from his humble roots, Lazerenko has built a successful company, Neuronaut, that uses magnetic imaging to assess what Patrick acidly describes as, "moral reasoning," meaning his methods may be able to predict consumer behavior, the effects of different stimuli or possibly even a predilection toward harmful acts. Through the course of the trial, Lazerenko copes with his own pressures, including a hard-nosed and accusatory investigative reporter from Baltimore, a tenuous romantic reunion with García's daughter Celia and García's defense attorney, who wants him to use his peculiar scientific skills to clear his friend's name. With his company in a tailspin, Lazerenko struggles to understand García's actions and reconcile his own disquieting sense of dread. "How do you dislike parts of a man?" he muses. The author's expertise may lie firmly in the field of science, but his shrewd, intricate debut reveals a multitalented artist. A fascinating construct that asks whether men go wrong in the heart or in the head.”  — KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Neurologist Durcan (A Short Journey by Car) dissects the ethics involved when politics, medicine and violence collide in this finely wrought novel about a neurologist turned biotech entrepreneur who travels to The Hague to witness his mentor's war crimes trial. Patrick Lazerenko is a punk teen in Montreal when he first meets Hernan García, the Spanish immigrant owner of a neighborhood grocery store. Caught trying to vandalize Hernan's store, Patrick is roped into working off the damages and soon finds himself attached to the García family. When Patrick sees Hernan's backroom medical consultations with local immigrants, he is inspired to become a doctor himself. Years later, a journalist exposes Hernan-dubbed the Angel of Lepaterique-as having been mixed up in the CIA-backed torture of subversive citizens in Honduras in the 1980s. Parallels to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are acute (and even overtly identified) as Hernan is accused of witnessing and aiding in detainee torture. Subplots involving a devious political think-tank, the long-expired romance between Patrick and Hernan's daughter and the goings-on at Patrick's company, provide a rich backdrop to the trial, but the centerpiece is the mélange of complex feelings that arise within Patrick, who finds himself simultaneously condemning and rooting for Hernan.”  — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“Durcan's language is sculpted with seemingly effortless precision. His sentences are rich with detail and metaphor, luxurious with reference and allusion, but also lean and raw, getting straight to the point of what he wants to describe. And what he wants to describe is no simple matter: it is the struggle among conflicting feelings, impressions, beliefs and realities when good people try to understand one another despite the pain they have inadvertently inflicted on each other and on themselves. Durcan gets it. He gets the humiliation of losing one's will in the face of rejection, the anxiety that erodes understanding, the hope that keeps us straining for self-knowledge. He gets it and he tells it beautifully, powerfully, both softly and savagely, in language that courses with intelligence.”  — LITERARY REVIEW OF CANADA

“[O]nce I cracked open García's Heart I couldn't put it down. Durcan's debut novel was both captivating and eloquent.”  — HOUR.CA

“Durcan is a master at identifying and explicating the grey areas of life -- the part where most life takes place. [It] is impossible not to be drawn into the consideration of morality, on both an individual and societal scale. Long after the last page is read, García's Heart will be firmly lodged in both the heart and mind.”  — TIMES COLONIST

“Durcan doesn't offer any easy answers in this searching, meticulously observed novel of moral complexity. He does offer plenty to think about.”  — TORONTO STAR

“Durcan takes us right into the nub of the neuroscientific conception of the self. How tenable, after all, are our ideas of free will and individual responsibility, when genes for risk aversion and alcoholism and almost every element of what we understand as personality have been identified? And as interesting a debate as this might be in Scientific American essays, Durcan's skill as a novelist takes us deeper yet, into the entirely unabstracted essence of the problem … Montrealer Durcan's first book of short stories, A Short Journey by Car (2004), presaged this slippery, engrossing effort, and was a Globe 100 Book. His writing has only solidified since then; this becomes apparent as Durcan follows the history of Lazarenko's lingering love for García's daughter, a story that emerges unsentimentally and yet with a deep, aching sadness. … [A] sense of rupture and dislocation and of new possibility at the end of García's Heart becomes Durcan's principal and most compelling point: The novelist trumps the neurologist, and what matters is what stirs us, and the fact of that stirring. Dystopian novels must end with some kind of shattering, and here it is Lazarenko's self-anesthesia, and the reader's. You must read this book.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“[A] stunningly well-written first novel . Durcan avoids the common failing of novelists who want to impress readers with their research. Scientific knowledge enriches Garcia's Heart, but doesn't overwhelm it. Better still, he writes the way one imagines a brain surgeon employs his tools -- with strength to cut through bone and feather-light delicacy to excise minute strands of tissue. Durcan's style is a mixture of precision and playfulness, irony and moral seriousness reminiscent of British master Ian McEwan, or even a slightly restrained Martin Amis. Characters are delineated so cleverly that even minor figures spring to life. Settings, too, are painted wonderfully. . [L]iterary delights are frequent, but they never detract from the novel's intensity or its moral purpose. Durcan shows that a writer need not be dull to be serious. It's a remarkable accomplishment.”  — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“[I]t's the complexities of García's character that drive the book, that pose the most difficult moral dilemmas . [Durcan is] one of the most disciplined authors to surface in Canada.”  — OTTAWA CITIZEN

García's Heart, Liam Durcan's contemplative debut novel, is about whether the true spirit of a man is the product of who he tries to be or of what his actions seem to prove he is. … The ethical dilemma at the core of García's Heart couldn't be timelier, in this age when the efficacy and morality of torturing prisoners is seriously debated. [The book] is thought-provoking and memorable. The concerns that consume its characters touch on matters that are bigger than any ordinary individual can rightly expect to assimilate and Durcan makes the characters all the more real for showing them to be overmatched, overwhelmed, and, ultimately, disappointed.”  — MONTREAL GAZETTE

“[A] remarkable debut novel … evocations of Ian McEwan's Saturday [but] Durcan beats McEwan at his own game by resisting the tendency to show off and, in doing so, produces a restrained, artfully paced work built around its central ethical question, which is not so much "what is evil?" as "what, exactly, is the nature of good?"”  — QUILL & QUIRE, starred review

“Liam Durcan raises complex and important issues in García's Heart, exposing the frailty of human nature against the background of medical science. He challenges our concept of the mind with technical expertise and compassion, forcing us to confront its contradictory facets. There are no easy answers to the questions he raises, but he considers them with clear-sighted originality. It's an intelligent book, thought-provoking and satisfying – a meditation on the workings of the mind. I found myself thinking about it for a long time afterwards.”  — CLAIRE MORRALL, author of Astonishing Splashes of Colour and Natural Flights of the Human Mind

“Eloquent and haunting, García's Heart fearlessly explores the moral ambiguities of the modern world. Durcan demonstrates his supreme versatility with his psychologically penetrating, technically assured, yet empathic and human portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with a terrible angel.”  — EDEN ROBINSON, author of Monkey Beach and Blood Sports

“Almost like a cross between John le Carré and Ian McEwan - García's Heart treads the line between an elegant, elegiac novel of ideas and a sophisticated political thriller. It was exciting, intellectually compelling, and beautifully written. It was also that rarest of books: A literary work with an intensely humanistic core. I am so happy to have discovered Liam Durcan; he will be a major writer for years to come.”  — PAULS TOUTONGHI, author of Red Weather

“Liam Durcan spins dynamite stories of unease and empathy and anarchy.... His characters are serious and slapstick and nervous, hurtling unhappily into the moral world, into the wild rumpus.”  — MARK JARMAN, author of 19 Knives

“In his debut novel, Liam Durcan skillfully performs complex forensic procedures: autopsies on mysteriously damaged hearts, brain scans on characters whose deepest thoughts remain beyond diagnosis. Throughout, Durcan writes with operating room precision. A grim, gripping, confident, and provocative book.”  — STEPHEN HEIGHTON, author of The Shadow Boxer and Afterlands

Praise for Liam Durcan's A Short Journey by Car

“Durcan's greatest gift is for imagining his way into worlds he can't possibly have known. Where he soars, in full flight with his muse, is in stories that vault us out of the contemporary.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“Many of his stories deal with the linguistic fizzes and pops that take place in the brain during times of intense emotional stress. In the past the medical profession has produced fine writers.... Durcan is in good company, and deserves to be.”  — MONTREAL GAZETTE

“Durcan is a smooth and confident writer.”  — QUILL & QUIRE



Back to top