Mon 5 Dec 2016
JEROME DOOLITTLE – Body Scissors. Pocket, hardcover, 1990; reprint paperback; 1st printing, November 1991.
On the cover is a quote from the Washington Post, calling this a “riveting political thriller.” Well, I had some doubts, but I read it anyway. What does the Washington Post know? They may think this book is a political thriller, since that’s what they’re looking for, but just between you and me, what this really is a top-notch PI story instead.
It’s a little hard to argue the point, since on page 14, even Tom Bethany says he’s not a PI: “…I’m sort of a researcher, sort of a political consultant.” He works primarily for politicians and campaign committees, apparently, looking for leaks, trying to stop leaks before they start, that sort of thing. His home base is Cambridge,near Harvard Yard, and as you may know, Boston politics do get a little nasty at times.
He’s hired to check out a prospective Secretary of State in this case, however, to avoid another Eagleton affair, and if the work he does isn’t PI work, I’ll tum in my trenchcoat at once. What strikes his eye first is the unsolved death of J. Alden Kellicott’s daughter, a victim of Boston’s once-notorious Combat Zone.
That, plus some niggling doubts about Kellicott’s character, found by industrious research and a knack on Bethany’s part to get people to start talking. Doolittle, whose first novel this is, certainly doesn’t show it. He’s a whiz at dialogue, and he has a tremendous amount of insight into his characters and the relationships existing between them.
I quibbled a little about this being a political thriller — but as you can see, the statement’s not that far off base — and the adjective “riveting” is well taken. I’d use the phrase “prose that tingles with anticipation” — it’s that good.
Unfortunately, Bethany also makes four major errors as the detective in this case. Since Doolittle is ultimately responsible for those as well, maybe I should point them out to you, but of course with the usual [WARNING: Plot Alert!!]. Here they are, my advice to any new PI’s on the block:
(1) Don’t leave would-be assassins hanging around at loose ends. (2)When you work with guns, don’t forget to check the bottom of the barrel. (3) When you bait a trap, don’t let the cheese stand alone. (4) When the rat takes the bait, don’t leave the cat on guard.
There you go. No charge for these. Don’t leave home without them. But now I’m being serious: if you’re a PI fan, don’t miss this book.
The Tom Bethany series —
1. Body Scissors (1990)
2. Strangle Hold (1991)
3. Bear Hug (1992)
4. Head Lock (1993)
5. Half Nelson (1994)
6. Kill Story (1995)