Monday, March 30, 2009
Everybody's Somebody's Fool
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool by Ed Gorman, published by Robert Hale, 2008.
‘A hero with a heart of gold’ is a phrase which has been used to describe a number of fictional private investigators over the years, including Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, and Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. It alludes to the type of protagonist who is tough enough to handle all the trouble that comes his or her way, but also possesses a strong sense of morality and a great capacity for compassion; the kind of sympathetic character with whom everyone can identify. No one – not even the great writers above – has found so perfect a balance of unsentimental pathos as Mr Gorman with Sam McCain: he has created the ultimate ‘good guy’ of detective fiction, a hero whose fate will concern even the most cynical of readers.
McCain is a practicing lawyer who works as a part-time investigator for Judge Whitney in the invented town of Black River Falls, in the American Midwest. In addition to his genuine concern for his clients, McCain’s true colours are shown in his fledgling romance with Linda Dennehy, a childhood friend recovering from a mastectomy and divorce. The subplot is not only touching and revelatory, but also fiercely compelling. McCain finds a dead girl in a gazebo at the party of a wealthy couple. Suspicion falls on David Egan, the local tearaway, who has at least three lovers other than the deceased. When bigoted Sheriff Clifford Sykes Junior decides to arrest Egan, McCain leaps to his defence, and involves himself in an investigation that quickly results in a second death.
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool was first published in 2004, is the fifth in the series, and set in the summer of 1961. Along with the strong characterisation, Mr Gorman brings a real knowledge of and affinity for the period, which complements the intriguing plot and original voice. There is no artificiality here, no deliberate or forced historical references; there isn’t even a sense of nostalgia. The recreation of time and place is as effortless and natural as if the author had written the novel forty years ago and held it back from publication. Perhaps he did. Regardless, it is an absolute pleasure to read: McCain is a jewel and his world a masterpiece.
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