Friday, February 25, 2011

Book: One True Sentence, by Craig McDonald (2011)

Paris, February 1924. The arrondissements are overrun with expat American writers and artists. Among them is a young Hector Lassiter, beginning to make a name for himself in the pulps but not touting this success to his more highbrow compatriots. One of the only people who knows Hec’s secret is his close friend Ernest Hemingway. Another is the self-appointed queen of this beau monde Gertrude Stein, who calls on Hec’s criminal expertise when several of the city’s literary lights are brutally snuffed out. At the heart of the murders lies a shadowy movement calling itself Nada, made up of those who feel Dada has too many unicorns and rainbows.

The great triumph of Craig McDonald’s Lassiter books is that each has a completely different feel while being part of a seamless whole. One True Sentence, the fourth in the series, manages to succeed as both Lassiter novel and traditional mystery. We’re seeing Hector at his earliest here, tough, loyal, brash and still evolving. McDonald does his usual skillful weaving of historical figures into the mix, but the strongest character is the bewitching Brinke Devlin, a muse and an artist in her own right. She makes Hec the man he later becomes and whom we already know. The third member of Stein’s team of crime writers turned detectives is clearly inspired by Agatha Christie, setting up a fascinating meta-story about genre conventions and high versus low culture. One True Sentence is a fleet trip through a densely imagined City of Lights, and a vivid recreation of a time when it was truly possible to subsist on art and pastis alone. If you’re not reading these books, you’re missing out on the best crime fiction has to offer.

Here’s my Q&A with Craig.