Zeke Gahagan
Created by Vincent McConnor

Jake Spanner, the hero of L.A. Morse's The Old Dick, puts it like this: "When you got old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I had gotten dry." Well, Jake may have "gotten dry,", but there's still a lot of soul pumping through those veins.

Too bad the same can't be said for ZEKE GAHAGAN, the emotionless, bloodless hero of the Vincent O'Connor's similarly-themed The Man Who Knew Hammett (1988).

At the beginning of the book, Zeke gripes about being tired. By the end of the book, I know just how he feels. "dispassionately gripes about being tired. By the end of the book, I know just how he feels.

Unfortunately, the name-dropping of the title is the only real originality in the book, and even that gets tiresome real fast. Unlike such other elderly gumshoes as Jake, Ira Wells of The Late Show or even television's Barnaby Jones, Zeke seems very, very impressed with himself and his old age. And he wants us to be, as well. His big claim to fame is that he once was Pinkerton op who was all palsy with fellow op Dashiell Hammett (hence the title). This gives the smug Zeke all the excuse he needs to mention Hammett and the good old days over and over. Unfortunately, it's not enough to hang a book on.

It's almost as annoying as his constant nattering about his perfect regimen, how he avoids meat, alcohol, caffeine, stress, too much sleep, blah, blah, blah. It's amazing a guy that old can pat himself on the back so much without dislocating something. Worst of all, though, is that the story itself, something about the mysterious death of an actress decades ago and an elderly movie star who's recently gone missing, is rather listless and humdrum. Except for Zeke's age (he's eighty-one, you know), and the endless reminisces and smug dietary advice, this is about as generic as a mystery can get.

Zeke makes his solitary life seem so orderly and precise, so controlled and neat, so damn joyless, you have to wonder why he persists on hanging on. He certainly doesn't seem to be enjoying himself.



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