Thursday, June 21, 2007

Charlie's Back in Town

Nothing pleases me more than when I buy a book based solely on its cover, and the writing and story end up being really great. That was exactly what happened with the awesomely covered Charlie's Back in Town by Jacqueline Park (1975).

I admittedly only looked for a couple of minutes, but I'm having a heck of a time finding out anything about the author. There aren't that many great female crime writers out there, and I think that Park is one of them. But the only other book I can find that she might have written is the 1997 novel The secret book of Grazia dei Rossi. There is an actress named Jacqueline Park who had a bunch of small mostly TV roles in the 1950s, is that her? Charlie's Back in Town was nominated for the 1976 Edgar Award Best Paperback Original Mystery Novel, so it seems like she should have written some more crime novels. My guess is that Jacqueline Park is a pseudonym, but I wish I know what other names he/she wrote under... I will have to devote more time on the Internets to this issue.

So, the book: Our hero, John Mace, is the only law officer in a small town in Canada that is just outside of Toronto (he is actually the elected reeve, which must be a Canadian thing because I had never heard the term before). [As an aside, the town in the book is called Easton, but you wouldn't know that from the back cover, which calls the town Weston.] The Toronto airport is in his jurisdiction, and a murder in the parking garage draws him into a convoluted and mysterious group of people. The dead guy is Charlie Sellers, a local shady big-shot who made tons of money in the stock market, lost it all (and the money of a bunch of other people) and skipped town. He remade his fortune in Houston and is back settling old debts and paying back those who screwed him over in the past. Charlie is a pretty sleazy dude, and just about everyone who has ever come in contact with him has a good reason for wanting him dead. This includes: his brother, his brother's fiance (who used to be Charlie's lover), his ex-parter, his ex-partner's wife (who also used to be Charlie's lover), and a whole series of gangster underlings and bosses.

But who really did it? And is John Mace, an ex-military guy prone to ennui and self-doubt, really the best man to solve the crime? Should he cede control of the case to the big-city cops? And what about all these other bodies that keep turning up?

Park does a nice job of balancing Mace's psychology and personality with the mystery and police procedural aspects of the book. The characters are well-written and the story is intriguing. Plus I didn't figure out who did it until it was revealed at the end. A very satisfying book.

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