Let me tell you about Tom Bethany, the detective Jerome Doolittle has
wrought. Tom Bethany is tough--hes an amateur wrestler, after all. Wrestling,
in a way, is a metaphor for how Bethany lives his life. When hes engaged
hes totally committed, focused and very close to the opposition. He uses his
opponents moves to defeat them. Bethany has an unlisted phone in a phony
name (thats real anonymity). His best friend and love of his life is married
to another. She is an attorney who runs the Washington office of the ACLU.
Bethany has been hired to prove that poor little
rich man Morty Limbach did not commit suicide. If he did commit suicide, the
quarter of a million dollar life insurance policy will not be paid, and the
beneficiary is the ACLU. Morty lived a troubled life: low self-esteem and a
generous nature. His parents didnt understand or appreciate him. They sent
him to a psychiatrist when he voted for George McGovern. Morty spent the last
years of his life supporting an improvisational theater troupe.
Doolittles writing and observations of the
Northeastern establishment and fringe groups are laser quality. He describes
certain chi-chi leather furniture as looking like oversized dog beds. (It
does.) He describes the life of one woman: years of drudgery and day
laboring had geared her down like a tractor for the long, slow haul. This is
definitely not applicable to Bethany. The first Bethany novel, Body
Scissors, is terrific, too.
Strangle Hold is terrific!
Fully a dozen characters, most notably the Harvard constitutional law scholar
and the odious insurance executive, are wonderfully well developed.
Doolittles Boston is alternately gritty and charming, and his dialogue
is as crisp as the leaves that fall in Harvard Square in October. Best
though, is Bethany: hes Travis McGee without the pontification, Spenser
with an attitude. His righteous thuggery against the insurance man and his
minions is startling, cruel, and ultimately satisfying.
Jerome Doolittle goes for the
gold in Strangle Hold, which wins in the Amoral Tough Guy/Rough Justice Event
. . . The morals of this book are neolithic, but the writing is hard-edged,
sure and crackling. It moves fast, its ugly, and it cheats. If you like
this sort of stuff, then buddy, this ones for you. What does it say
about our countrys morals that the creator of this sick masterpiece is a
former White House speech writer?
(Authors note: This remains, naturally, my favorite
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER:
The plot hurtles along,
and the characters are richly drawn originals. Doolittle writes like Muhammad
Ali used to punch--clean and sharp and powerful . . . Within his own morality
Bethany is heroic, an Everyman tilting against wealth and power. And
thats what detective fiction is supposed to be about. Strangle Hold is
one of those books youll stay up all night to finish.
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