Gorman were a different type of writer, I’d call this a two-fisted collection,
but Gorman’s not that kinda guy. Oh, he’ll sock it to you, all right, but
you’ll never see it coming. Let’s face it.
Any lout in a bar can spit in your
face, punch you in the gut, or kick you in the, uh, guts, but it takes a real
master to look you straight in the eye and KO you before you even know you’re
in a fight.
collection rounds up two of Gorman’s better novels, both of which aptly
demonstrate the author’s long-recognized ability to float like a butterfly and
sting like a bee.
Autumn Dead (1987) was Gorman’s fourth novel to feature Jack Dwyer, a
private eye in a thinly disguised version of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A former cop
who developed a taste for acting, he quit the force, figuring being a gumshoe
would give him more time to pursue his passion.
Marlowe he’s not, and he soon takes a job with a security firm to keep the wolf
from the door. And then Karen Lane, a high school sweetheart, waltzes back into
his life, asking him to recover a suitcase she’d left with a previous lover,
figuring the now middle-aged Jack—despite being in a solid relationship—won’t
be able to resist her still considerable charms. And he can’t. At least at
first. But the suitcase isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and Karen hasn’t exactly
been telling him the whole truth.
a solid mystery here, full of murder, rape, blackmail and old secrets, but the
real mysteries lie within the complicated relationships between men and women,
between past and present, between what we want and what we have. Through it
all, Jack displays considerable empathy and a gentle humor as he plies his
trade, and brings things to a emotionally satisfying ending.
satisfying as that one is, it’s The Night Remembers that’s
the real treasure here, a cold and bloody hallelujah tempered by Gorman’s
warmth and compassion.
Sixty-four years old, recently retired from the
sheriff’s office, Jack Walsh is an apartment house manager who does a little
private eyeing on the side, while pursuing a relationship with Faith, a much
younger woman who claims her young son is his. Yet one more case of the past
calling dibs on the present—a frequent theme of Gorman’s.
big call from the past comes in the form of a visit from the wife of George
Pennyfeather, a man Jack helped send to prison on a murder rap years ago. Lisa
Pennyfeather still believes her husband is innocent, and now that he’s been
released, wants Walsh to clear his name.
Not surprisingly, Walsh is hesitant,
but when a woman is killed behind the Pennyfeather’s house and all fingers
point to George as the culprit, Jack begins to have doubts and starts to poke
around. It does not go well.
work has always had a deep and heartfelt sense of tenderness and abiding
humanity in it, and if you ask me, this is his masterpiece, a quietly powerful
gem of a novel, full of real people living real lives, trying desperately to
hang on to the little they have, and living with real hurt.
Like much of
Gorman’s work, it’s drenched in nostalgia and tinged with noir, a brooding
contemplation of this train wreck of existence. But the delicate fragility of
life is beautifully woven into a brooding, almost Leonard Cohen-esque song of
lust, violence, regret, and redemption, all minor chords and major lifts.
one doesn’t move you, I’m sorry, but you just ain’t human.