-Alo philosophizes in The Right to Sing the Blues
St. Louis private eye ALO NUDGER is perhaps the most Chaplinesque of fictional gumshoes. Where other P.I.s are hardcases living on cigarettes, booze, broads and danger, Alo survives (just) on antacid tablets (it was his nervous stomach that forced Alo to resign from the police force) and grocery coupons.
So there's no snazzy, bright red sports car for Alor. His barely-running VW is a running joke. And when it finally gives up the automotive ghost, its replacement, a 1979 Granada, isn't much better. His second floor office is located over Danny's Donuts, the home of "dishwater coffee and lead doughnuts," and the smell of these gourmet delicasies permeates Alo's headquarters, adding a thin layer of powdered sugar and grease to everything.
The proprietor, Danny himself, is one of Alo's best friends, and also serves as his unofficial receptionist (he keeps an eye on things when Alo's out) and confidante. Of course, Alo's such a weenie he hasn't the heart to tell Danny his coffee and doughnuts suck. All in all, though, the office arrangements are a big improvement over when he was working out of the house trailer he was living in at the time.
A quiet guy, Alo's a baseball trivia buff. Now and then, if his stomach can hack it, he'll watch the news. He used to collect old jazz records, but he had to sell off his collection to pay the rent once. And while he's just a tad under six feet, he's no Hercules. He's middle-aged, out of shape. And guns make him nervous. Then again, so does almost everything else.
Poor Alo, he just can't seem to get a break. His other best friend, Homicide Lieutenant Jack Hammersmith, Alo's former partner, thinks he's a schmuck. His first wife and their two children were killed in a car crash. His second wife, Eileen, divorced him and still makes (increasingly excessive) alimony demands. He met his current girlfriend, schoolteacher Claudia Bettencourt, through a suicide hotline. She was a caller. And tradgedy seems to be a recurring theme throughout the series.
Author John Lutz, displaying a very black sense of humour, seems to delight in tossing some very nasty plot twists in Alo's path. And yet, as in Chaplin's best films, there's an undercurrent of faith in the human spirit that cuts through the desparation and sadness, and the fact that, even as his stomach threatens to explode, Alo somehow manages to persevere, and even occasionally break even, offers us all a little bit of hope. Something you don't often come across in detective fiction. Hmmmm, maybe Alo isn't such a weenie after all.
The series has garnered its share of awards. Both "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You" won a Shamus for Best Private Eye Short Story and Ride the Lightning nabbed an Edgar for Best Short Story in 1985.
Lutz is also responsible for the adventures of Del Moray, Florida private eye Fred Carver, a man with a history every bit as tragic as Alo's.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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