I am always a little leery about reading a book bearing a blurb like “…a worthy successor to Chandler”, but this blurb had perhaps a bit more street cred than some, as it was penned by none other than Michael Connelly. The book, you ask? P.G. Sturges’ debut novel, Shortcut Man.
The title refers to the job of the lead character, Dick Henry, a fellow who short-circuits the strictly legal ways of getting things done, opting instead for a quick and discreet hands-on (or “fists-on”) approach to problem solving, be it evicting a deadbeat tenant or “encouraging” a sleazy contractor to make good on some slipshod home repairs.
By night, the rigors of his day job left far behind, he hangs out with lithe and lissome Lynette. He doesn’t really know a lot about her, but then history (or “her story”, to be precise) has little to do with why they spend evenings together.
‘“What don’t I have?” she asked that night, with a twisty smile. I looked her up and down. Honesty sprang to my lips and I let it pass. “You have everything.” Another devilish smile. “You’re wrong, Dick. I don’t have any underwear,” And we’d be off and running…’
Things get a bit dicey, however, when Henry accepts a job to spy on the wife of a notorious Hollywood porn producer, and the wife turns out to be—you guessed it—Lynette. Except that her name is not really Lynette, it’s Judy. Oops. Now Henry has eight grand, the down payment for his investigation, burning a hole in his pocket, and he faces the unpleasant task of offering himself up as sacrificial goat to the producer’s burning desire for revenge.
So, that’s the setup. But the gods live in the details, they say, and that is the case with Sturges’ writing. He is, simply put, one of the cleverest and funniest new writers to grace the mystery genre in quite some time. Also, it doesn’t hurt that his protagonist drives a ’69 Cadillac convertible:
“I found a spot near the corner. Well, two spots, but a silvery Korean import was in both of them. This was no problem if you owned a ’69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible. I pulled up in front of Pusan’s finest, backed up carefully until I kissed it, then, with 472 cubic inches of raw Detroit horsepower, pushed it back and created my parking space. You gotta know how to use your Cadillac.”
Here’s a bit of trivia: Sturges is the son of Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Preston Sturges, who wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite movies, Sullivan’s Travels (as well as a number of other well known Hollywood hits including Christmas in July, The Palm Beach Story, Hail the Conquering Hero, and Unfaithfully Yours). It would appear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.