Gregory McDonald

(1937-2008)

The first novel I read featuring investigative reporter Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher was 1985’s Fletch Won. I fell in love within the first few pages, as I read about how an eager young Fletch was just starting out in journalism, writing obituaries, and his editor had to tell him that he shouldn’t be totally honest in what he writes. Fletch’s crime? While researching an obituary about a recently deceased woman, he’d discovered that she didn’t have a great career, or much of anything else in her life, so he wrote that she had accomplished nothing. Rude? Yes. Inappropriate? Hell, yes. The truth? That too.

You see, you can’t always tell the truth in journalism. It’s not sexy. It won’t make you friends. It won’t sell papers. That was a fact back in the 1970s and ’80s, when the bulk of Gregory Mcdonald’s Fletch stories took place, and it must have certainly been that way from1966 to 1973 when he worked for The Boston Globe, where he was certainly one of the the first members of the major media to speak out against the Vietnam War. And it’s even truer in our present era, when too many reporters are in the tank with politicians, and many of them practice journalism to win awards, rather than to educate or enlighten the public.

Mcdonald’s death last month, at age 71, reminded me of how much I appreciated his work. I still go back now and then to read his Fletch books --11 of them in all, from Fletch (1974) to Fletch Reflected (1994)--as well as his two series featuring Boston Police Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn (Flynn, 1977) and charmer Skylar Whitfield (Skylar, 1995). But I also love his 1991 standalone, The Brave, a truly bleak story about a man who agrees to appear in a snuff film, after being promised quite a lot of money. It’s a twisted, chilling horror story, and it will give even the toughest readers nightmares.

McDonald won the Edgar Allan Poe Award twice (in 1974, for Fletch for Best first Novel and in 1976 for Fletch Confessed for Best Paperback Original) and in his career published twenty-six books. Over the last few years, publisher Vintage/Black Lizard has reprinted the Fletch stories--which had long been out of print--in sleek paperback form. Mcdonald must have been pleased. A real maverick in publishing in the ’70s, he’d insisted that his work be issued in paperback originals, so that as many people as possible could read them. His intent wasn’t just to make more money that way, though it’s not a sin that he prospered; but he also had important things he wanted to say, frequently about journalism, and he said them in away that was quick-witted and intelligent. Mcdonald could wink and chuckle his way through Fletch yarns without ever losing sight of the gritty world in which they were set. The Fletch novels have a rare quality: while they perfectly capture the era of their original publication, they also feel completely modern--because lies, greed, humor, and corruption just don’t age.

UNDER OATH

  • "I actually learned to write dialogue by reading Mcdonald's Fletch books."

-- Kevin Smith, film director

  • "When I first began to read crime novels, in the early 1970s, the holy trinity of mystery writers consisted of the three M’s: Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, and Gregory Mcdonald. All three belong in the pantheon. Gregory Mcdonald’s fast and clean narrative style was so ahead of its time, he’s still contemporary. He was the most modern mystery writer of his times--and also the funniest."

-- Robert Eversz, author of the Nina Zero novels

  • “The toughest, leanest horse to hit the literary racetrack since James M. Cain, and it’s sheer pleasure to watch him make his run.”

-- Pete Hamill on Fletch

  • "Greg Mcdonald’s Fletch moved through Mcdonald’s novels with the same easy courage and almost supernatural aplomb that Bugs Bunny had strolling through those Warner Bros. cartoons. Errant Knight and recalcitrant smart-ass, Fletch spoke truth to power, brought low the mighty, and championed the weak--with dialogue sharp enough to cut glass. Mcdonald, and Fletch--for my money, his finest creation--will be sorely missed"

-- Will Beall, author of L.A. Rex

NOVELS

COLLECTIONS & OMNIBUS EDITIONS

Contains two novels about kinapping gone awry: Snatched (1980) and Safekeeping (1985).

ALSO OF INTEREST

Subtitled "Sketches from the Sixties: Writings About America, 1966-1973," this book collects pieces from McDonald's days at the Boston Globe, where he was told to "Go and have fun and write about it, and if you end up cut and bleeding on the sidewalk, call the office."

McDonald contributed a chapter to this multiple author mystery edited by Mary Higgins Clark, set on the highseas during a Caribbean cruise, circa 1938.

FILMS

  • RUNNING SCARED
    (1972)
    Based on the novel by Gregory Mcdonald
    Screenplay by David Hemmings
    Directed by David Hemmings
    Starring Maxine Audley, Stephanie Bidmead, Georgia Brown, Gayle Hunnicutt, Barry Morse, Robert Powell, Tom Betancourt, Edward Underdown

  • FLETCH...Buy this DVD...Buy this video
    (1985, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Gregory Mcdonald
    Screenplay by Andrew Bergman
    Directed by Michael Ritchie
    Starring Chevy Chase as FLETCH
    Also starring Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Joe Don Baker, Richard Libertini, M. Emmet Walsh, George Wendt, Geena Davis

It doesn't take the source material too seriously, but that's part of it's off-kilter charm.

  • FLETCH LIVES...Buy this DVD...Buy this video
    (1989, Universal)
    Based on characters created by Gregory Mcdonald
    Screenplay by Leon Capetanos
    Directed by Michael Ritchie
    Starring Chevy Chase as FLETCH
    Also starring Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, Richard Libertini, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Patricia Kalember, Richard Belzer, Phil Hartman

  • THE BRAVE...Buy this video
    (1997, Jeremy Thomas Productions/Acappella Pictures/Brave Pictures/Majestic Films International)
    Based on the novel by Gregory Mcdonald
    Screenplay by Paul McCudden, Johnny Depp and D.P. Depp
    Directed by Johnny Depp
    Original music by Iggy Pop
    Starring Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Marshall Bell, Elpidia Carrillo, Frederic Forrest, Clarence Williams III, Max Perlich, Luis Guzmán, Cody Lightning, Nicole Mancera, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman, Pepe Serna, Lupe Ontiveros, Alexis Cruz, Chuck E. Weiss

Johnny Depp directed and starring in this dark downer -- an ex-con american Indian gets roped into appearing in a snuff film.

  • FLETCH WON (in production)
    Based on the novel by Gregory Mcdonald

A pipe dream? Who knows?

ALSO AVAILABLE

Includes both films. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Respectfully submitted by Cameron Hughes. This piece originally appeared in The Rap Sheet, with more testimonials, on Monday, October 6, 2008, under the title "A Final Farewell to Fletch’s Father." Reprinted with permission. Additional material by Kevin Burton Smith.


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