One O'Clock Jump
Tom Brokaw’s bestseller The Greatest Generation made a lot of people nostalgic for the WWII era. Certainly, Brokaw’s book didn’t sugar-coat things, but people’s memories do. The problem with nostalgia is that we only tend to dwell on the heroic, adventurous aspects of a time, and forget about the day-to-day struggles that were going on just as surely as they do today. Lise McClendon obviously realizes this fact and uses it to great advantage in One O’Clock Jump.
Certainly the heroine of One O’Clock Jump is strong and courageous, but she isn’t a true blue, “perfect” hero. In fact Ms. McClendon follows in the footsteps of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, creating a flawed, vulnerable character who needs to see justice done, whatever the cost. Doria Lennox is a complicated protagonist living in Kansas City. The year is 1939, the country is barely coming out of the depression that dominated the 1930s, and the news out of Europe is not good. KC has been hard hit and is much darker and threatening than our nostalgic imaginings would suggest.
Dorie’s troubled background makes her the perfect assistant to low-rent private investigator, Amos Haddam. Because he owes attorney Dutch Vanvleet, Amos takes on a case that seems to be heading nowhere. Dutch’s client, Georgie Terraciano, is a hood who wants a tail on his girlfriend, Iris Jackson. Guess who’s tagged to be the tail? Dorie doesn’t mind; it’s a chance for her to get out of the office on an investigation, and she doesn’t care how pointless the endeavor seems. The fact is Iris doesn’t seem to do anything that would warrant a tail. At least not until she takes a dive off the Hannibal Bridge into the Missouri River.
Dorie is helpless to stop the suicide and feels some obligation to figure out what the woman was thinking. Her case is complicated by Amos’ arrest for the murder of a bartender who had a tangential connection to Iris. Figuring out what the connection was and how she’s going to get Amos out of jail become more difficult the more she investigates.
Ms. McClendon has a sharp writing style. On the second page of the book she lets us know who Dorie is in the space of one paragraph.
She closed the switchblade and dropped it back in her pocket. The blade was a necessary evil. It reminded her of the sharp edge between rage and mercy. Why she still needed reminders, she had no idea. Why she needed the knife was easier.
The tight writing is both a blessing and a curse. At times it becomes almost a shorthand language that would throw me out of the story. The dialog mimics this pattern and while crisp and natural sounding for the time and setting, often is missing taglines that would help the reader figure out who’s saying what, and what their connections are. A typical exchange between Dorie and Amos:
“You didn’t mention Vanvleet, or that you were working on a case?”
“Of course not.”
“But Herbert’ll know.”
“He’ll find out.”
“Well, hell, you did nothing wrong.”
While the conversation can be parsed out, it takes a moment and it distracts the reader from the plot. The dialogue isn’t the only area where an abbreviated style is used; it happens in the plotting as well. Characters show up who are completely new to the reader without much explanation. In most cases this works in the book’s favor, making for fast-paced reading. But there were a few character appearances that threw me and again pulled me out of the story.
None of this detracts from this highly original historical mystery. The author is wise to give us the very real flavor of the time, bad and good. And it provides a nice departure for readers of historical mysteries, most of which seem to be set in Medieval Europe. WWII era America is a fresh, different setting, and One O’Clock Jump is worth checking out.