Friday, November 23, 2012

The Murder Vine by Shepard Rifkin

The Murder Vine

The Fifties were packed tight with private eye writers trying to out tough Mickey Spillane. I Eat Your Kidney etc. By the early Sixties a general reaction had set in. Larger-than-life became life size. Some private eyes even began to have the same problems we all do--taxes, upset stomachs, women who don't find you all that attractive. So long Mike Hammer hello Dustin Hoffman.

Joe Dunne in The Murder Vine splits the difference. He has some of the cynical attiude of the Spillane era but none of the bombast. No evictions for him. He runs his business as a business and does well.

The book focuses on the murder of three Civil Rights workers in the South in the late Sixties. We all know the real story. It still enrages me, makes me sick.

One of the dead boys has a wealthy father who hires Dunne to go South and find his boy's killer. Very big dollars for Dunne for even trying to find him; enormous dollars if he succeeds. As cover (Dunne is an unreconstructed Yankee and sounds like it) he takes his fetching and magnolia-dripping secretary Kirby along as cover.

Rifkin is a fine man with a sentence. He understands that written language has some of the same rythms as spoken language. Some parts of this book really sing. And while many of the scenes are s.o.p. for a private eye novel each is enlivened with one of those little grace notes that make you feel you're reading something fresh.

The story is a brutal look at a brutal period of time when the CivIl War was being fought again by proxy. I admire Rifkin for never speechifying and for never turning Dunne into a saint on a mission. He's comfortable in his own seediness.

Rifkin is a good and too-long overlooked writer who made a difference in the paperback world of the Fifties and Sixties.

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