Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fletch Won

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 Won (Warner, 1985).

Well, here's a pleasant surprise. I've kept slogging through Gregory Mcdonald's novels despite several back-to-back losers. I figured that he completely peaked in the 1970s, but Fletch Won is not at all bad. It's not as good as the first couple of Fletch novels, nor the first Flynn book, but it's a pretty good read, and the first seventy pages are just one laugh after another. It's a very intelligent and funny book.

This is the earliest Fletch case that Mcdonald penned, with our hero being bounced from one newspaper department to another. He doesn't make a good obituary writer, for example, because of his tendency to truthfully note that some of the recently deceased never actually accomplished anything in their life. So he gets moved to the society page, ideally to interview a wealthy tycoon who plans to make a huge donation to an area museum, only the tycoon gets murdered in the newspaper's parking lot, and nobody other than the paper or the museum seems to know a thing about this donation.

Fletch begins investigating, angering the paper's actual crime reporter, and finds himself shot at, doused with gin, and stripped naked, all before noon. He's supposed to be getting married in a couple of days, and somebody else at the paper has an idea that he should be looking into an escort agency that wrangled its way into free advertising on the paper's sports page.

It's a dense, ridiculous book with lots of competing plot threads jamming against each other. It's so much more fun than the dull Carioca and Moxie, which each had just a single, tawdry plot that the inventive, decisive Fletch of the earliest novels could have handled in his sleep. Our hero is at his best when complications from every possible angle pile up. It's not always successful - the liquor store shooting isn't resolved in any satisfying way, and the climax requires the police to move very, very slowly so that a house of cards can be coherently constructed from all the random aces that Fletch has been given - but it's a pretty fun book overall. It gave me hope - dashed, as it turned out - that the next couple would also entertain. Recommended.

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