One True Sentence by Craig McDonald – review

March 8, 2011
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There are many reasons to love the Hector Lassiter books, from author Craig McDonald’s James-Ellroy-on-amyl-nitrate approach to 20th Century history to the loads of sex and violence packed into every chapter to the sheer how-the-fuck-does-this-guy-do-it? scope of each book and the series as a whole.  But for the Nerd the Lassiter series has always been about the glorious vicariously-lived fantasy of Lassiter’s life, about the chance to fuck Marlene Dietrich in her prime or hang with Orson Welles on the set of The Lady From Shanghai, to be best friends with Hemingway and, shit, to just pretend to be the greatest and most respected pulp writer of all time.  The fact that Hec gets to right wrongs and kill bad guys is just icing on the English major dream-cake McDonald has carefully baked and One True Sentence, which is set in on the Left Bank of Paris in 1924, is his most cream-your-shorts appealing book on the lit dork level to date.

The fourth book in the series finds a youthful Hector of 24 years old (you better fucking believe he was born on the first of January in 1900) palling around the Left Bank with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (she of the infamous “special” brownies) and, of course, his best friend Hemingway.  Their little piece of paradise is disrupted by the murders of local small lit magazine editors, the murders soon being linked to a nihilist art movement known as the Nadaists, the mysterious head of which is named Nobodaddy, a castrated former disciple of Aleister Crowley.  With the help of Hem and Hector’s sexy new girlfriend Brinke Devlin, Hector takes it upon himself to uncover the true identity of Nobodaddy and stop the killings before someone he truly loves  is murdered as well.

Each Lassiter novel to date has been vastly different from what has come before and that shit especially holds true for One True Sentence, the first book in the series that is a straight-up mystery novel in the Agatha Christie sense…if Agatha Christie’s books had blood, guts, drugs, and three-ways in them, that is.  The mystery aspect of One True Sentence is particularly ingeniously handled since much of the novel concerns itself with characters like Gertrude Stein and others in the Left Bank scene looking down on genre fiction only to find themselves in a true mystery novel-like predicament.

Hector himself is not immune to his peers’ criticisms of genre fiction, as he secretly sends his short stories back to the pulp mags in the US for decent paydays while toiling away at writing “literary novels” that he can’t seem to get past the first few chapters on.  This is Hector coming of age as an artist, an account of him finding his voice and accepting what he was meant to craft all along, which is hard-boiled stories of despair, violence and action.  His girlfriend Brinke is hiding her work from the local artistes as well, writing successful mystery novels under the name “Connor Templeton,” the couple serving as muses to one another as they each discover a knack for straight-up crime fiction.

If you have yet to catch up with Hector’s adventures, One True Sentence is a damn decent place to start, the series entry with the earliest setting to date, a chance to see Hector before he was internationally known as the writer who “lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”  And if you’ve read McDonald’s work before, the Nerd’s willing to bet that you didn’t even make it this far into the review, that you’re over at amazon making sure the new Lassiter makes to your sweaty mitts as fast as fucking possible.

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Nerd of Noir

I love crime/noir fiction, comics and movies. I think my opinions are web-worthy. Then again, what asshole doesn't think that their opinions deserve a blog?

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