Book review: Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald

Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Fletch Book Cover Fletch
Fletch #1 (in the stories' chronological order: #4)
Gregory Mcdonald
Fiction; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
1974; Reprint edition (March 12, 2002)
Kindle e-book
208
Amazon.com / Overdrive

When a wealthy California industrialist tells apparent beach bum I. M. Fletcher that he wants to be murdered, the undercover journalist investigates the businessman's private life. Winner of the Edgar Award.

The book that started it all!

I’d originally read this sometime around 1988 after seeing the Warner Bros. feature film of the same name. It’s not quite as over-the-top as the comedy of the film and the humor is a little sharper and wrier.

For the most part, the plotline of the text is nearly identical to that of the film with a few exceptions mostly relating to names of characters and casting (warning: spoilers follow):

  • The Collins family has been renamed Boyd, likely so as not to run afoul of the name of author Joan Collins.
  • Fletch’s editors Clara and Frank are concatenated into the character of just Frank.
  • Fletch’s beach girlfriend Bobbi doesn’t exist in the film, likely to focus more on Joan.
  • Montgomery is a younger high-school aged student with more social ties than the Gummy of the film.
  • Stanwyk is not involved in the drug trade and his death at the hands of the Chief of Police is motivated by a different bit of plot. He also has an additional local paramour. His character and motivations are much better delineated in the book and several characters backing this up were missing from the film.
  • Much of the shennanigans of the film was added there and didn’t exist in the book, though almost all of the motivating comedy and sense of humor is surely there.
  • Large chunks of dialogue from the film are drawn almost directly from the book.
  • The film is obviously a bit more cinematic and kinetic with Fletch doing much more movement, travel, and even chase scenes to make things in the film move along, while the book is a bit more balanced and even realistic.

Certainly there are many other differences, but this covers the broadest spectrum.

In this motivating text for the remainder of the series, Fletch is drawn as a very clear-cut and incredibly interesting character with a fantastic sense of morality and humor. Of the parts of the series I’ve read thus far, this is definitely one of my favorites, second only perhaps to Confess, Fletch.

Here the cat-and-mouse-game between Fletch and Joan is better delineated and the relationship between Fletch and Stanwyk’s father is quirkier and more interesting.

If you enjoyed the movie (and even if you didn’t), you’re sure to appreciate this as fiction, particularly with Mcdonald’s ability to paint a picture with words and write story through character.

A brief note on the physical text

This is assuredly an optical character recognition scanned version of the original text. There are a dozen or so obvious typos that didn’t get fixed. There are more than several places where a temporal change in the plot occurs, but the additional line returns that were originally included to indicate the break are now missing. This can make reading portion a bit annoying. The quality control of the typesetting of the e-book text could certainly have been much better.

Reading Progress
  • 08/7/16 marked as: want to read; “The Rio Olympics reminded me that I’d gotten Carioca Fletch to read back in the 80’s and never got around to it, so I thought I’d come back and revisit the series.”
  • 09/16/16 marked as: currently reading
  • 09/19/16 27.0% “So far this is maybe even better than I remember it.”
  • 09/20/16 68.0% “This just keeps getting better. I’m enjoying some of the subtle differences between the film and the book. No surprise that the movie renamed Joan Collins to Boyd. I know I’d read this 20+ years ago and I remember it being darker than the film, but the tone seems lighter to me now somehow.”
  • 09/22/16 100.0% “A slightly different ending than one in the film, but still nicely tied together… Possibly my second favorite in the series so far.”
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
Chapter 1

“What’s your name?”
“Fletch.”
“What’s your full name?”
“Fletcher.”
“What’s your first name?”
“Irwin.”
“What?”
“Irwin. Irwin Fletcher. People call me Fletch.”
“Irwin Fletcher, I have a proposition to make to you. I will give you a thousand dollars for just listening to it. If you decide to reject the proposition, you take the thousand dollars, go away, and never tell anyone we talked. Fair enough?”
“Is it criminal? I mean, what you want me to do?”
“Of course.”
“Fair enough. For a thousand bucks I can listen. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to murder me.”

—Page 1 · Location 37 This is the first exchange of the book and a really great opening

The license plate of the car was 440-001.

—Page 3 · Location 68

The paintings in the room were not particularly good, in Fletch’s opinion, but they were real.

—Page 4 · Location 92

“I’m a fairly reliable-looking drifter.”

—Page 5 · Location 106

Chapter 2

“Bye, Clara. Nice talking with you. Don’t get any crumbs in Frank’s bed.”
“Prick.”

—Page 9 · Location 180

“Wise ass. What if some ladies were around?”
“There are no ladies in California.”

—Page 10 · Location 193

“Dishonest of me, I know. “But as Pappy used to say about violating virgins, ‘Son, if you’re not the first, someone else will be.’ ”

—Page 12 · Location 231

Chapter 3

“My extension is 705. Many thanks.”
“Christ.”
“No. I.M. Fletcher.”

—Page 13 · Location 264 Like the man says: ‘I’m’ Fletcher, not Christ.

“Vicious and violent. Bullshit. One night I stepped on the cat’s tail.”
“You pitched the cat through the window of your seventh-floor apartment.”
“The whole place smelled of cat.”

—Page 15 · Location 297 

“There you are, Mr. Gillett. Thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry we’re not on the seventh floor.”

—Page 16 · Location 313 Fletch had just mentioned throwing a cat out of the window of a 7th floor apartment.

Before leaving, Gillett tried to look haughty, but only succeeded in looking as if he were in the early stages of a sneeze.

—Page 17 · Location 324

Chapter 4

Marvin and Helen Stanwyk, Nonheagan, Pennsylvania.

—Page 24 · Location 458

You just fired someone.”
“As a matter of fact, I just did.”
“Who?”
“A kid in the city room. He had been calling people up and asking them stupid questions, saying he was someone from the Associated Press.”
“Really? How awful! I always tell people I’m from the Chronicle-Gazette, myself.”

—Page 26 · Location 487

“Fletcher, we have to talk.”
“Are you up to it?”
“That’s why I thought we should have lunch. In the cafeteria. Put your shoes on.”
“You’re not taking me out?”
“I wouldn’t be seen in public with you. Even a drugstore lunch counter wouldn’t let us in, the way you dress.”

—Page 27 · Location 495

“See you upstairs. Put your shoes on.”

—Page 27 · Location 503

Chapter 5

Clara Snow had ordered an uncut bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich on toast. When she bit into it the two edges of toast nearer Fletch gaped as if about to bite him.

—Page 27 · Location 504

“I don’t resent women. I rather like women.”
“You haven’t had much luck with them.”
“My only mistake is that I keep marrying them.”

—Page 28 · Location 512

He chewed his calves’ liver open-mouthed.
“Such principle,” she said, sucking Coke from a straw.
“You can’t tell me you haven’t made every strung-out little girl on the beach.”
“That’s different. That’s for a story. I will do anything for a story. That’s why I put penicillin on my expense account.”
“You do?”
“Under Telephones’.”

—Page 28 · Location 519

“If there is no one to complain for a kid, the law don’t give a shit.”
“Fletcher’s Rule.”

—Page 30 · Location 548

Chapter 7

“A dowdy old thing. She always reminds me of an Eskimo full of baked beans. I mean, she looks as if, if she ever got unfrozen, she would evaporate in one enormous fart.”

—Page 41 · Location 748

Your style is exactly what Beau Brummel did in his time. All Brummel did, you know, was to bring the lean, simple country style into the city.”

—Page 41 · Location 754

henna

—Page 41 · Location 763 An interesting use of the word from the 70’s. I don’t think I’ve seen it again until the early 2000s otherwise, and then in reference to tattoos.

Chapter 9

His apartment was on the seventh floor of a building that had everything but design. His apartment— a living room, a bedroom, bath and kitchenette— was impeccably neat. On the wall over the divan was a blow-up of a multiple cartes-de-visite by Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi.

—Page 53 · Location 973

Chapter 10

In an ell of the room,

—Page 57 · Location 1035

Chapter 11

“I used to be a pretty good house burglar myself,” Creasey said. “I even had equipment.”
“What happened?”
“I got ripped off. Some bastard stole my burglary equipment. The bastard.”
“That’s funny.”
“A fuckin’ riot.”
“You should have had business insurance.”

—Page 63 · Location 1153

Chapter 12

Utrelamensky. John Utrelamensky.”

—Page 69 · Location 1268 One of Fletch’s pseudonyms

Chapter 15

hibachi.

—Page 87 · Location 1585 What a fun word, and somehow so culturally 1970s 

“John Zalumarinero,” Fletch said.

—Page 87 · Location 1587  One of Fletch’s pseudonyms

He knows less about cows than I do, and all I know is that a cow is square with legs sticking out at the corners.

—Page 92 · Location 1687

“Sorry I didn’t get to meet their daughter, Julie.”
“Little brat.”
“Little brat?”
“Jesus, I wish she had a sister so I could beat one of them to death with the other one. Have another drink?”

—Page 93 · Location 1693

Chapter 16

Some of these people had been hanging fire two or three days.

—Page 99 · Location 1808 What a great phrase for people with no drugs.

Chapter 18

Sitting on the divan under the Disderi, he ate two delicatessen sandwiches and drank a bottle of milk. On the coffee table in front of him was the big tape recorder. On the wall across from him was a copy of William James’s Cherry Beach. After he had finished his sandwiches and milk, he went into the bedroom and lay on the bed. Facing him was a copy of Fredric Weiss’s 1968 photograph of a boy apparently walking in midair beneath two roofs, Boy Jumping.

—Page 101 · Location 1832

“Jim Swarthout speaking.”
“Hi, Jim. This is Bill Carmichael.”

—Page 101 · Location 1840  Another of Fletch’s psuedonyms

Chapter 19

“I’ve got a lot of painin’ to do. To make up for what I did.”

—Page 112 · Location 2030 Painin’ is such a great word here. (Presuming it’s not a typo from OCR…)

Chapter 20

Fletch wanted to open the window, but the window jack handles had been removed. The police were probably afraid someone would try to commit suicide by bopping himself on the nose with one.

—Page 115 · Location 2085

Chapter 25

But again, she was educated and experienced without the flash that makes champions. And she was without the playful joy of the beginner.

—Page 142 · Location 2570 This description was used to describe both Joan’s tennis ability and then a few pages later her ability in bed.

“Zamanawinkeraleski.”
“God, what a moniker. Zamanawink— say it again?”
“— eraleski. Zamanawinkeraleski.”
“You mean someone actually married you with a name like that?”
“Yup. And now there are three little Zamanawinkeraleskis.”
“What was her maiden name? I mean, your wife’s?”
“Fletcher.”
“That’s a nice name. Why would she give up a nice name like that to become a Zamabangi or whatever it is?”
“Zamanawinkeraleski. It’s more distinguished than Fletcher.”
“It’s so distinguished no one can say it. What is it, Polish?”
“Rumanian.”
“I didn’t know there was a difference.”
“Only Poles and Rumanians care about the difference.”
“What is the difference?”
“Between Poles and Rumanians? They make love differently.”
“Oh?”
“Twice I’ve made love Polish style. Now I’ll show you how a Rumanian would do it.”
“Polish style was all right.”
“But you haven’t seen the Rumanian style yet.”
“Why didn’t you make love Rumanian style in the first place?”
“I didn’t think you were ready for it.”
“I’m ready for it.”
It was eight-thirty.
In forty-eight hours Fletch was scheduled to murder her husband.

—Page 144 · Location 2605 Another of Fletch’s pseudonyms sparking an interesting passage.

Chapter 26

“Charles Witherspoon.”

—Page 147 · Location 2644  Fat Sam’s original name.

Chapter 28

“Oh, I forgot: you’re a pulse-taker. When I was home for lunch, Mrs. Stanwyk was still ticking over nicely. The older models are the best, you know. Better built, and they use less fuel.”

—Page 162 · Location 2916

If I remember rightly, girls have a couple of legs under them, a hank o’ hair up top, and a couple of protuberances about grab height. That about right?”

—Page 162 · Location 2921 Marvyn Stanwyk’s definition of girls.

“What I mean is, did you mean girls, or girl?”
“I’m in the hardware business, son. I’m apt to speak in gross lots.”

—Page 162 · Location 2923

She insisted it happened only once, but as Mother Goose said, once is enough.

—Page 164 · Location 2953

Chapter 29

R. Sanders Fletcher

—Page 168 · Location 3030 The pseudonym Fletch uses at the Newspaper

All I ever won in the marines was a disease coffee doesn’t cure.”
“Do you still have it?”
“No. I lost it on a toilet seat.”
“At City Hall, I hope.”
“Probably. I thought you picked up the Bronze Star years ago.”

—Page 176 · Location 3164

Chapter 30

Prowling the room, watching her, Fletch had the sudden, irrational desire to marry Joan Collins Stanwyk.

—Page 180 · Location 3232

“How very interesting. You go to that much effort for one paragraph?”
“You should see the efforts I go to sometimes for paragraphs I don’t even wite.”

—Page 181 · Location 3246

Chapter 31

“The thing that tipped me off was something your wife said the other night when we were in bed together.”

—Page 187 · Location 3358 A great quote that made it directly into the film.

Chapter 32

“Helluva story this morning, Mr. Fletcher.”
“Thanks for reading the News-Tribune.

—Page 192 · Location 3434

fp

—Page 192 · Location 3444 A nice bit of newspaper terminology

Typos

—Page 32 · Location 601 Should be ‘I’ instead of ‘You’.

—Page 68 · Location 1244 There should be a text break above this.

“The Nonheagan Inn. Good afternoon.”

—Page 85 · Location 1566 Text break before this.

“Swarthout Nevada Realty Company.”

—Page 86 · Location 1575 Should have text break before this.

“Where’s Gummy?”

—Page 111 · Location 2009 Should be a text break before this.

—Page 141 · Location 2540 Typo: should be “Your”.

—Page 151 · Location 2728 “it” instead of I (typo)

At six o’clock

—Page 183 · Location 3289 text break before this

—Page 192 · Location 3444 typo: should be “l”

“Anytime you’re ready, Mr. Fletcher.”

—Page 195 · Location 3494 text break before

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Author: Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

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