December 06, 2005
Searching for Tom in the Old Times Square

On behalf of BadAttitudes people who miss Tom Bethany, I’ve been on a quest to find a substitute. In the last episode, I recommended the Jack Liffey books as good reading but not replacements, discovered that their author, John Shannon, is a real person, and said I’d test a Dennis Lynds next.

I have actually sort of met Dennis Lynds. When he was a guest on rara-avis, a crime fiction e-list, I commented that he should have left Dan Fortune in the gritty milieu of New York City, instead of moving him to California. Before I got around to thanking him for his work, he’d died at 81.

He was working on new books and stories at the time, some of which will no doubt be published in the near future, along with reprints, but the last piece of his that I know of proves he belongs here on BadAttitudes: Dan Fortune’s State of the Union Address.

For more than 50 years, Dennis Lynds wrote crime fiction as William Arden, John Crowe, Carl Dekker, and Mark Sadler, as well as Charlie Chans, poetry, Slot Machine Kelly stories, and literary fiction. Some of his series have rather buttoned-down protagonists, but Tom Bethany fans look for heroes, so for this occasion I read a Dan Fortune book written as Michael Collins. (Yes, it’s probably intentional; his tutor in the Irish Republican Brotherhood was Denis Lyons.)

michael collins.jpg

Minnesota Strip is about 11 books into the series, 1987, and, like Shannon’s Orange Curtain, it deals with the American results of Vietnam, here a young woman who comes to Levittownish Pine Dunes so eager to get rich and famous that she has no time to learn English or a trade and whose death by bullet in a red light district alley puts the plot in motion, a family still wondering just how their soldier son died in the last days of Saigon, a rich and corrupt Vietnamese who became a rich and corrupt Californian, a flashback-demented vet the police are gentle with, a college student obsessed with injustice, and two good women obsessed with him.

The book is exceptional in the roundness of the characters. A dull hausfrau who could have been written contemptuously is understood as doing her meager best with what she has left. A whorehouse owner wants to provide his family with a proper suburban lifestyle. Even the mangiest of hired killers is beyond evil, a man playing the cards of a lousy hand. We’re left, in the end, with melancholy for the human condition and a rage against the system. And that’s how Dennis Lynds left, in the end, too. In lieu of flowers for his funeral, he suggested contributions to:

Democratic Socialists of America
180 Varick Street, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10014

Yes, do read a book in this series if Dan Fortune, a one-armed former-streetkid private detective with a passion for social justice, appeals to you. I’ll be rooting through my Dan Fortunes in hopes of finding another one I haven’t read or read so long ago that for all practical purposes I haven’t read. Maybe I’ll try Peter’s Vincent Calvino suggestion (but can I take yet another Southeast Asia book?). The Repairman Jacks look like they'd require belief suspended beyond where mine goes, which isn’t very far. (I still can’t believe we elected Ronald Reagan president.)

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Posted by Joyful Alternative at December 06, 2005 09:37 AM
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And probably the best place for more substance and details is Dennis Lynds's page on Thrilling Detectives: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/collins.html. How much the man wrote is amazing. I wonder how many typewriters he wore out before word processors came on the market?

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on December 7, 2005 10:27 PM
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