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.
-- Kevin Smith, film director
-- Robert Eversz, author of the Nina Zero novels
-- Pete Hamill on Fletch
-- Will Beall, author of L.A. Rex
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.
It doesn't take the source material too seriously, but that's part of it's off-kilter charm.
Johnny Depp directed and starring in this dark downer -- an ex-con american Indian gets roped into appearing in a snuff film.
A pipe dream? Who knows?
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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