A Review by Francis M. Nevins, Jr.:
JON L. BREEN – Listen for the Click. Walker & Co., hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition.
There is a kind of detective novel set in a world of quiet gentility, a magical place without pain or grief or terror, a place where corpses don’t bleed and the emotions of the living are always under iron control. During the lulls in the plot a Nice Young Man and Nice Young Woman get together, and in the final chapter, preferably at a ritual gathering of the suspects, the Brilliant Detective effortlessly exposes the murderer.
The current generic name for a book of this sort is the English Cozy, because there’s a myth that it’s always been the exclusive property of British writers. In fact, however, a number of well-known Americans too have specialized in it, and Earl Derr Biggers’ half dozen Charlie Chan novels (1925-1932) are models of the form.
Jon L. Breen, an award-winning mystery reviewer, short-story writer, and Biggers devotee, has set his first detective novel on this turf . Amid an unobtrusive but knowingly sketched background of Southern California’s racing community, a jockey who had given many people potential murder motives is shot out of the saddle of a bronze horse statue on the lawn of a wealthy racing enthusiast’s widow.
The nephew of this dotty and whodunit-fixated old lady is racetrack announcer Jerry Brogan, whom Breen casts in the dual role of Nice Young Man and Clever Amateur Sleuth: if he wasn’t sleeping with his Chicana girlfriend without benefit of a marriage license, he might have stepped straight out of a Biggers novel of the 1920s.
Meanwhile, a suave con man and a shady private eye with literary ambitions launch a scheme to make Jerry’s aunt believe that they’re the Holmes and Watson of the west coast. In due course, after the underdog horse wins the big race, a Gathering of Suspects is arranged in the purest Charlie Chan movie tradition — “The murderer is in this room,” one of the small army of detective figures in the book intones solemnly — and all the clues are put in order.
Breen combines quiet charm, gentle digs at several types of crime fiction, and a puzzle complete with such original touches as an over-obvious Big Secret that mutates into a huge joke and a clue hidden in the book’s title. It’s no Secretariat, but lovers of the soft-spoken whodunit will have a fine canter around the track with this thoroughbred.
— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
Vol. 7, No. 3, May-June 1983.
The Jerry Brogan series –
Listen for the Click (n.) Walker, 1983.
Triple Crown (n.) Walker, 1986.
Loose Lips (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1990.
Hot Air (n.) Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Jerry Brogan and the Kilkenny Cats (ss) Murder Most Irish, ed. Ed Gorman, Larry Segriff & Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble 1996.