Monday, June 23, 2008

What Led Me to Murder

By Ben Small

Step away from your Glock.

Contrary to the books I write, I am not a danger to you. Maybe to your restful sleep, but not to you personally or to anyone in your family. Okay, your cat may feel threatened. I like big dogs.

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, starting with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew when I was a kid and then the Michael Shayne Mysteries when I was a teenager. Shayne’s devil-may-care attitude, his way with the ladies, and the fact that he always shot straight, beat up the bad guys and saved the damsel in distress just took me in. And then came A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner’s pen name for his Bertha Cool and Donald Lam private investigator series. Bertha was such a blundering beast, and Donald was so diminutive but brilliant. I was hooked.

But then Lawrence Sanders took me down a darker road. The First Deadly Sin remains to this day the best psychological murder story ever written IMHO, and some books still are being compared to it. The book opens with a seemingly normal if not a bit self-obsessed Daniel Blank, a successful businessman who is slowly going mad. Blank takes obsessive/compulsive disorders and schizophrenia to new levels, and he may have served as Bret Easton Ellis’ model for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. When Daniel Blank meets and falls for an evil but sensual enchantress, he plunges off the sanity cliff. Soon, Blank is prowling the streets of New York, swinging an ice axe under his London Fog raincoat, preying on innocent victims, all so he can see the last life in their eyes and relate it to his sultry-but-oh-so-nutso babe. Man, was I enthralled. And then there was the dogged cop who hones in on the killer, breaking a few rules on the way, all while his wife, the love of his life, is being eaten by cancer. Man, Lawrence Sanders could write.

I have no idea how many times I’ve read that book, nor how many times I’ve bought copies of it. Seems I have a bad habit of loaning the book and then forgetting who borrowed it. And of course, once someone else gets their mitts on it… Where’s my copy all over again.

But Sanders was prolific. He must have set the record for number of different series he turned into best sellers. After The First Deadly Sin, my favorite Sanders books were his Archie McNally series, about a spoiled, irreverent private investigator who worked for Daddy, a very rich Palm Beach lawyer. Archie made expense reports an art form; they should have won some fiction awards. But Archie solved murders among the Palm Beach elite with class, style and wit. His Miata became his chariot, and his blazers had more colors than a rainbow. Only one aspect of Archie’s clothing remained firm: “sockless, of course.” My all time favorite Archie McNally line was, “I arrived at or about 1 p.m., which is about as accurate as one can be with a Rolex.”

Just cracked me up.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Lawrence Sanders is my all-time favorite mystery writer. The retired police captain, Edward X. Delaney, who pursues Daniel Blank, reminds me of my police detective father. His gruff exterior and attention to detail are offset by the warmth he shows his family and his weakness for sandwiches that would put Dagwood Bumstead to shame.

The Archie McNally series is the kind of light reading that should be prescribed to stress patients. The McNally series was so popular that it continues on after the author's death as Vincent Lardo endeavors to emmulate Sanders' style. I liken the experience to hearing a well-practiced tribute band at a local club.

RJ McDonnell