FOOLS RUSH IN - NOW IN TRADE PAPERBACK
From I Love A Mystery
FOOLS RUSH IN
Pegasus Books Trade pb 3/09
Sam McCain, Ed Gorman's small down detective/lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa, is back for his seventh mystery, and one of the best in this superb series. The time is 1963, at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, and in the deep south Freedom Riders are being met with billy clubs and water hoses by the likes of Sheriff "Bull" Connor's brutal forces. But Black River Falls is not the deep South; it's a fairly tolerant community; but certainly not without its own share of racism. When young, smart, handsome David Leeds, a Negro with all the positive attributes of Sidney Poitier's character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," is found to be dating the state's conservative senator's daughter, the community is in danger of being torn apart by hatred and violence.
The fuse to the racial explosion is lit when David Leeds is found with two bullets in his face in the woods just outside of town. Nearby is the body of a white photographer, Richie Neville, one of three unsavory brothers who are known to dabble in blackmail, and the photographer's cabin has been trashed. Somebody has gotten photos of David and Lucy Williams, the senator's beautiful daughter, and is probably using them for nefarious monetary purposes. But exactly who is being blackmailed and by whom?
Judge Esme Anne Whitney, a cantankerous, hard-drinking judge and powerful figure in town uses McCain as her point man to investigate the matter. As the judge's guy, McCain both gains a certain amount of favor and clout while attracting a lot of resentment, but at least it gets him an in into the investigation. Of course McCain, with his indiscreet, wise-cracking mouth, doesn't really need help to ruffle the feathers of many locals, several of whom are suspects, of which there are no lack.
There's the usual Nazi motorcycle types who would hate anybody black on sight. That's why the local Sheriff (no model of racial tolerance himself, and who is not exactly the sharpest utensil in the drawer), has quickly arrested the first bald guys on wheels he can find. Case closed as far as he's concerned.
But McCain knows better. At the order of the judge he has to question the Senator and his family. Also there's Lucy's former boyfriend, and her pals, real rich, white jerks who feel they can bust up anything and anyone with impunity because they were born with silver spoons up their butts.
Then an attractive young black woman comes to town claiming to be David's sister and pleads with McCain to find the real murderers.
To confuse the matter even further there's a new district attorney in town, and instead of being a dumb old boy, as in the past, whom McCain could safely dismiss if not altogether avoid, this one is smart, savvy, and, most importantly, young and female. McCain falls for her like a silo in a tornado. Can they work together for justice? Sam McCain thinks so. Judge Esme says no way. Well maybe they can just be friends. Whatever, it certainly adds fascinating complications both for McCain and the novel's plot.
Ed Gorman has a great sense and hatred for injustice which McCain shares. Sam is one man doing what he can in an ever-changing world that he cannot truly slow down.
Gorman also has a particularly fine sense for the sweetness of small Iowa and its past.
"The summer morning almost made up for it. The birds sounded happy as drunks at a party and the clouds were as white as they'd been in those great old Technicolor pirate movies. The dew gleaming grass had a sweet, almost narcotic aroma and the breeze reminded me of my brother Robert, long dead now, and how we'd always flown kites on such mornings as this." (P.112)
Passages such as this evoke the possible rightness of the world in certain moments, and McCain does what he can to restore the dignity and sweetness of his memories to the real world.
FOOLS RUSH IN is a tough and touching book that never forgets it's a mystery and a who-done-it first of all. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Laurence Coven