A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Bill Pronzini:


TUCKER COE – Don’t Lie to Me.   Random House, hardcover, 1972. Paperback reprint: Charter. Hardcover reprint: Five Star, 2001. UK edition: Victor Gollancz, hc, 1974.

TUCKER COE

    “Tucker Coe” is one of several pseudonyms used by Donald E. Westlake. And Mitchell Tobin, the narrator of Don’t Lie to Me and of four other novels published under the Coe name, is in many ways Westlake’s most fascinating creation.

   Tobin is an ex-New York City cop who was thrown off the force in disgrace when his partner was shot down while covering for him: Tobin at the time was in bed with a woman named Linda Campbell, another man’s wife.

   Unable to reconcile his guilt, Tobin has withdrawn to the point where little matters in his life except the high wall he is building in the back yard of his Queens home — a continuing project that symbolizes his self-imposed prison and isolation.

   His forgiving wife Kate and his teen-age son are unable to penetrate those internal walls; no one can, it seems. Occasionally, however, someone from his past or his present manages to persuade him to do this or that “simple” job, thus creating circumstances which force Tobin to utilize his detective’s training.

   The combined result of these cases, as critic Francis M. Nevins has noted, is that Tobin “builds up a store of therapeutic experiences from which he slowly comes to realize that he is not unique in his isolation and guilt, and slowly begins to accept himself and return to the real world.”

   Don’t Lie to Me is the last of the five Tobin novels, the final stage of his mental rehabilitation. He has been given a private investigator’s license and is working as a night watchman in Manhattan’s Museum of American Graphic Art, and before long Linda Campbell, his former lover, about whom he has ambivalent feelings, reappears in his life.

TUCKER COE

   Tobin then discovers the naked body of an unidentified murder victim in one of the museum rooms. Further complications include pressure from hostile cops and from a group of small-time hoodlums with a grudge against Tobin.

   Against his will, he is forced to pursue his own investigation into the murder, and eventually to reconcile his feelings toward Linda Campbell — and toward himself. The ending is violent, powerful, ironic, and appropriate.

   The other four Tobin novels are Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death (1966), Murder Among Children (1968), Wax Apple (1970), and A Jade in Aries (1971).

   It is tempting to say that more Tobin novels would have been welcome, but this is not really the case. Westlake said everything there is to say about Mitch Tobin in these five books, what amounts to a perfect quintology; any additional novels would have seem contrived to capitalize on an established series character.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.