Fletch (1974) – Gregory McDonald

I first read Fletch back in the 80s when the Chevy Chase movie was coming along, and for some reason I had problems keeping the story threads straight, as most of the text in the novel is dialogue, not action, so I would lose who said what and would have to go back, and back again.

I was young.

I thought I would try again, as I seem to be on a bit of a mystery kick right now, and this time around I really enjoyed McDonald’s novel, the first in a series of Fletch tales, that is filled with lots of humour, and an engaging story.

Irwin Maurice Fletcher, Fletch to his friends, is a top-notch journalist. He’s been working undercover on a story for the better part of a month about drug dealing on a Californian beach when he is approached by Alan Stanwyk, a fairly wealthy man, who offers him a large sum of money to kill him – he says he’s dying of cancer and would like to take the easy way out before it gets really bad. He can’t kill himself because he has a large insurance policy taken out on him, but murder would do just fine.

Fletch says sure.

While he works the beach/drug case he finds suggestive leads, and has to deal with a fifteen year old girl turning tricks. At his apartment he has to deal with a divorce attorney, and two ex-wives, both of whom still claim to love him, but also really want their alimony. At work he has to deal with an editor he feels is an idiot, and the uncomfortable necessity of wearing shoes.

And then there’s Stanwyk, and not to mention his lovely wife, Joan.

Fletch, who changes his identity more than his underwear, delves into each part of the mysteries before him, running down leads and answers as he investigates Stanwyk, and compiles his investigation into the beach/drug story.

The wit, and sarcasm that McDonald wields through Fletch is brilliantly and caustically funny, and I love how he ties up all the story threads in one brilliant, and hilarious ending that sees Fletch delivering a helluva story, and a helluva payday.

I think my problem with it, when I was twelve, was not only the way the story was written, largely dialogue, but that I didn’t get all the humour at work in the story as well. I love Fletch’s wit when he messes with his ex-wives, lies to his boss (or the cops), and others, all in order to get his hands on a good story.

Fletch will return in Confess, Fletch (which is actually in production now as a film with Jon Hamm taking on the role of the investigative journalist). I’ll expect more laughs then…

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