REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


DOUG J. SWANSON – Big Town. Jack Flippo #1. HarperCollins, hardcover, February 1994. Harper, paperback, February 1995.

   Jack Flippo is your basic seedy private eye. He wasn’t always, of course. Once he was an Assistant DA, but he screwed that up by following the dictates of an organ on the wrong side of his body. Now he works for an equally seedy lawyer, and makes it from one week to the nest. Barely.

   A woman claiming to be the wife of a local motivational guru comes to the lawyer’s office, and wants a tape and picture of her husband with another woman. She gives him the time and place, and he sets up Flippo to do the dirty work. Flippo hears the girl being abused from the next room, and abandons the script and comes to her aid. Then things get complicated.

   What this isn’t is your modern-day standard PI story. There isn’t a character in the book who isn’t dirty and scuffed, and there’s not an out and out good guy on the scoreboard. The action is an convoluted as a fractured skull, and you lose track of the double-crosses going on.

   It’s a lot more like Cain or some of the Gold Medal boys mixed with Elmore Leonard than like Valin, Lyons, or Healy. He [Swanson] says he hasn’t read the Gold Medal guys, however, and though he’s read Cain, doesn’t regard him as a conscious influence.

   Swanson’s got a decent eye for the down and out, and a pretty good ear for dialogue. He’s got the Dallas geography right, but there isn’t much feel for the city. Some of the characters ring true, and some, including a fairly major player, don’t. I don’t know that I believed all Flippo’s motivations and actions, particularly at the end. Swanson writes a different kind of PI novel, a 50s kind, and I do think he’s got promise.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.


Editorial Note:   My review of Dreamboat, the second in the series — there were only five — appears here. Doug Swanson happened to see it, and he sent me a short note in response. You can find it here.