Review: Harry Lipkin Private Eye

I think that the best discriminator between mystery readers is how much they care about the mystery.  I get the impression that there are folks out there who live for the most perfectly crafted puzzles.  They love puzzles that play fair, that challenge the intellect, that stand up to careful analysis long after the book is complete.  I am not one of those people; every mystery is a McGuffin to me.  I like to see interesting characters,  a sense of place, great writing – the sorts of things that make a great novel.  The mystery format can be a great structure on which to hang those elements, and Barry Fantoni does a nice job hanging his writing here.

The  hook – and one can almost always characterize a modern mystery by its hook – is that the eponymous private eye is in his eighties.  This fact is both central to the novel and peripheral to the proceedings.  Structurally, it doesn’t change the process of unravelling the mystery much at all.  Leg work is leg work, and an old man can work a .38 and a tough line as well as anyone.  There is refreshingly little outright violence, though.

Harry’s an interesting guy in how independent he is and how he sticks to being who he is.  I don’t mean independent in the sense of “not in a nursing home.” He is who he is.  He doesn’t seem to have close friends or family around, but he’s not the less for it.  He’s still who he wants to be.  It’s  nice to see a story about an older fellow that’s light on the lamentation.

I also liked Fantoni’s evocation of Florida.  This isn’t the Florida of Hiaasen, filled with crazies and wild beauty, but the Florida seen by a still adventurous older man.  There are no poetic passages about the Everglades, but you always know where you are.

Thematically Harry’s age plays large.  Underlying all of this are questions about the protagonist that loom large but aren’t directly answered.  Why is he doing this job at this age? is the big one, of course, but there are others about friends and family.  It turns out that the answer to the first answers the others, but not in a terribly direct way.  It’s a nice piece of understatement, leaving the big questions and the big answers for the reader to find and answer.

Overall, a fine little mystery with a  compelling protagonist and some nice ideas.


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