Friday, March 25, 2011


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Fletch (Bobbs-Merrill, 1974).

I can only conclude that either none of my friends have read this book, or that none of my friends have read a darn thing I've ever written. I have written, repeatedly, that one of the reasons I love John Wagner's Robo-Hunter comic so much is the way that writer keeps ratcheting up the chaos, piling a teetering, inverted pyramid of plot complications on his protagonist. Reading these stories is a treat because there just seems to be no way in the world for our hero to either get out of this mess, or for the problem to get any worse. And yet the problem keeps getting more and more ridiculous and gigantic and messy. That's my favorite kind of escapist fiction.

I was aware that there was a silly Chevy Chase movie based on this novel by Gregory McDonald, and aware that people like Kevin Smith have been raving about the books, hoping to make more movies about the character, and finally got around to seeing what the fuss was about. It turns out that there are several novels in the series - I have two more, just waiting for me to finish a second read of the debut - and I was long overdue for looking into this.

Fletch, an investigative reporter in California with a disastrous personal life of debt, drugs and divorce, is deep undercover researching the drug trade on the beach when he's approached by a man about a job. He wants Fletch to murder him and flee the country. He claims that he has inoperable cancer, does not wish to suffer, and cannot take his own life because his family will lose a three million dollar insurance policy.

Fletch decides to investigate his new acquaintance's story just as the beach deal gets heavier and his two ex-wives and their lawyers start complicating matters even more. It's an amazing balancing act, watching the plot strands spiral faster and faster until McDonald puts all the banners into one hand and, masterfully, executes one of the most satisfying payoffs I've read in ages. This was one of the most fun experiences that I've ever had reading a book. Damn right I recommend it!


Bruce said...

You beat me to the punch. I'm working on a column of the first three published Fletch books*. I'm right in the middle of Fletch's Fortune.

*Macdonald would go back and write books that take place before the first one.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

I finished Carioca Fletch and didn't enjoy it at all, but Confess is really terrific. I'm going to reread it in a few weeks.