CRAIG McDONALD – One True Sentence. Minotaur Books, hardcover, February 2011. Betimes Books, softcover, revised edition, August 2014.

   The year is 1924 and expatriate Hector Lassiter, one of the “Lost Generation,” is in Paris writing when on a dark night he hears a scream as he walks in the snow on the Pont Neuf bridge.

   He doesn’t see anything that night, but soon enough, he and his friend Ernest Hemingway are up to their necks against a bizarre Nihilists cult called Nada, led by a mutilated man in a black mask calling himself Nobodaddy (from William Blake) who seem to be murdering off the editor publishers of impoverished little small press magazine of the type common in Paris at the time, and eventually playing at detectives under the direction of Gertrude Stein, a fact complicated when Lassiter is also drafted by Commissaire Aristide Simon as an agent of the police.

   One True Sentence is a historical thriller in the nine-book series by Edgar and Anthony award nominee Craig McDonald featuring Hector Lassiter, a crime writer who made his debut in 2007’s Head Games (set in 1957). Now the series has been reissued by Betimes Books in internal chronological order, beginning with One True Sentence. (See below.)

   Lassiter is an attractive protagonist (literally, he looks like William Holden), whose life covers much of American history in the 20th century. Here, amidst poseurs, literary icons, painters, poets, Dadaists, Surrealists, and a cold Paris winter he meets and falls in love with the dark mysterious Blinke Devlin, who also writes mystery novels of the locked room kind, under a male pseudonym, and has other mysteries to hide; Molly Wilder, a beautiful poet with a possibly fatal crush on him; Phillipe her painter boyfriend who involved her with the Nada movement; and the rather nasty Estelle Quartermain, an English mystery writer and expert on poisons.

   One theme running through the book is that almost no one is exactly who they claim to be, leaving Hector stumbling through a maze of aliases, lies, secrets, and puzzles, each arising as another has been seemingly solved.

   One True Sentence is a sexy, fast-paced mystery that generates more than a little suspense and includes appropriately bitchy portraits of actual figures of the era including Aleister Crowley, Ford Maddox Ford, William Carlos Williams, Sylvia Beach, and others.

   There is more going on here than just a fine evocation of Paris in that era, though. This is also a funny, tricky, horrifying, sexy, and ultimately involving mystery with enough twists and turns to delight any fan of the Golden Age puzzle school, and a protagonist of the two-fisted hard boiled type who even writes for Black Mask.

   Each book stands alone, but characters, both major and minor weave in and out of the rest of the series and the four books of McDonald’s Chris Lyon series which is also tied to the Lassiter books.

   The background is smartly sketched in, the characters witty and interesting, the action moves fast, the hero and various heroines aren’t eunuchs or virgins without the sex being overly graphic, and the more preposterous elements of the books are done with such sense of fun that only a grouch could really complain.

   I’m looking forward to exploring more of the century with Hector Lassiter. The books are literate without being literary, funny without being silly, and smart without shouting out loud at you how clever they are. Any one of those would be reason to read most books.

       The Hector Lassiter series

1. One True Sentence (2011)
2. Forever’s Just Pretend (2014)

3. Toros & Torsos (2008)
4. The Great Pretender (2014)
5. Roll the Credits (2014)
6. The Running Kind (2014)

7. Head Games (2007)
8. Print the Legend (2010)
9. Death in the Face (2015)

10. Three Chords & The Truth (2016)

       The Chris Lyon series —

1. Parts Unknown (2012)
2. Carnival Noir (2013)
3. Cabal (2013)
4. Angels of Darkness (2013)