FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE LAST MATCH by David Dodge
Dictionary: The word “picaresque” is taken from a form of satirical prose originating in Spain, depicting realistically and often humorously the adventures of a low-born, roguish hero living by his/her wits in a corrupt society.
This is the only word I can find to adequately describe THE LAST MATCH by David Dodge. In a winningly cynical voice, a young swindler tells us all about working scams in places as far flung as Cannes, Tangiers and Lima, among others. He is particularly deft with women.
Good to remember that Dodge was also a travel writer of considerable note, so the backdrops here are almost as vivid as the characters, who are mostly low-borns working their way downward reeking of sweat, booze and occasionally blood.
Dodge hangs a good deal of his tale on the romance between Curly and a fetching young woman of British royalty named Regina. She, unlike most other humans who trod the earth, seems to feel that Curly’s soul is worth saving and she attacks this task with almost saintly (and sexy) determination.
I didn’t care much about the story, but was won over completely by the high style of the prose, the incorrigible personality of the narrator and the unending list of badasses who appear along the various map points. This has the feel of a memoir rather than a novel, and that makes it all the more realistic.
I think you’d have to say that Dodge – who wrote this novel sometime in the early ’70s even though this is its first publication – didn’t have much interest in the usual tropes of genre thriller fiction. Graceful and sardonic writing seem his biggest fascination, a true world view with some gunfights, fist fights and bad ladies thrown in every once in a while to honor pulp expectations. I should note here that early in the first chapter, Dodge struts his stuff, introducing us to an attractive and appealing middle-aged woman who is using him as her current boy-toy. You know you’re in the hands of a real writer when Dodge makes us like and even respect the woman. Not a cliché in sight. I knew right off I’d like book just because of its opening chapter.
His daughter Kendal Dodge Butler provides a loving, even endearing afterword about her father. He seems to be about what I expected: a man who had his darkest adventures early on and then settled into a respectable middle-aged family life that allowed him the leisure and luxury to pursue his writing where he got to polish up some of those old adventures and display his wide knowledge of cons and scams.
Buy it at Amazon.