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BOOKS REVIEWS WITH ALEX GRANT

"EVERYBODY’S SOMEBODY’S FOOL".
(CARROLL & GRAFF, 2002, @ $39.95 CAN, HARDCOVERS
)

'...Sam McCain novels all ...display a genuine maturity in coming to terms with human nature and all of its foibles.'

Very few authors in the mystery genre have penned novels that can truly be called ‘charming’ crime or suspense thrillers, which is almost a contradiction in terms of course: as the genre depends upon thrills, chills, and spills and these days commonly gravitates around gratuitous gore galore. In the immediate post- World War Two years the British specialized in such ‘cosy’/ ‘tea and crumpets’ novels which today are perceived as being arch, fey, and downright feckless at their worst. Only two U.S authors to date - Stephen Dobyns with his nine "Saratoga/ Charlie Bradshaw" tomes and Stuart Kaminsky in his "Toby Peters/ Vintage Hollywood" books - have accomplished this stupendous feat repeatedly and beguilingly.

Veteran mystery author Ed Gorman, an Iowan native who can boast over two dozen books to his credit, including a number of truly macabre blends of crime and horror, has written a quintet of books brimming with a curious down-home charm and well-earned devotion to deep-dish nostalgia .These are Gorman’s " Sam McCain" mystery books, the fifth in this tender,warm-hearted series being EVERYBODY’S SOMEBODY’S FOOL.

Our irresistible hero Sam McCain is short of stature, long on patience and persistence, and at age 25 an incorrigible romantic who carries a torch for assorted inamorata longer and more courageously than the legendary Olympic advance-guard. Both a lawyer and a private-eye in Black River Falls Sam works for the haughty, irascible Judge Esme Ann Whitney and has to contend with the pompous, puffed-up oaf of a Chief-of-Police, Cliffie Sykes, Jr. Sam cares deeply about his community and has ties to almost every soul in Black River Falls, ties that he tends as assiduously as he does his love-interests,

The plot in installment five involves a womanizing teen drag-strip racing fanatic orphan David Egan who goes to his ‘accidental’ death accused of murdering one of his string of conquests, naive impressionable girls taken in by his amateurish James Dean impersonation, Sam remains unconvinced about this ‘open-&-shut’ case of homicide.

The qualities that Ed Gorman brings to this series are manifold. In particular a gift for poetically rendering the moods of weather and countryside that bring Iowa to vivid life, and more importantly a teeming cast of believable characters set firmly in a plausible if not completely recognizable milieu of 1961 rural Americana. Gorman also shows us his people from all sides, playing fair by the vices and virtues of each well-rounded participant. Everyone has his or her hidden even unconscious reasons for behaving well or badly in these Sam McCain novels all of which display a genuine maturity in coming to terms with human nature and all of its foibles . A maturity rarely found in this genre it must be said.

So very many contemporary mysteries rely upon the barrel of red herrings and the helter-skelter of cheap thrills to achieve their effects, often with dire consequences for the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Gorman’s new book places character and incident front and center and thus allows the story flow along winningly like a paper-boat or a fall leaf caught in a creek, its destination not immediately decipherable, the journey no less crucial than the outcome.

© Alex Grant March 2003
alexgrantreviews@hotmail.com

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