Instead of proceeding chronologically with the events of his protagonist’s life, Craig McDonald has hop scotched around to different eras in his series about pulp writer and Hemmingway pal Hector Lassiter. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard to see how he could have waited until his fourth installment One True Sentence to plunge into the teeming waters of Paris in the twenties, the “Moveable Feast,” the place, as Gertrude Stein said, “where the twentieth century was.”
But now that he’s gone there, the talented and knowledgeable McDonald takes full advantage of the possibilities – in one memorable scene Hector, having defenestrated a would be nihilist suicide bomber, is prevented from plunging himself by Hemingway and attended to by Doctor William Carlos Williams and nurse Gertrude Stein as Ford Maddox Ford and Leon-Paul Fargue pull down and extinguish the burning curtains.
One True Sentence is more of a traditional mystery than the previous wild and wooly Lassiter books, with an opening murder that becomes a series of murders. Someone is killing the small magazine editors of Paris, and Gertrude Stein assembles the mystery and crime writers in her circle including Hector, the sultry Brinke Devlin, and the prim Estelle Quartermain, giving them the mandate to solve the murders, an idea the official Paris flics aren’t very high on. Of course in the era of reinvention no one but stalwart Hector and Hem are what they seem to be, and even as Hector falls into bed with Brinke investigators turn into suspects, the hunters become the hunted and the City of Light turns very noir indeed.
McDonald has a lot of fun, peppering the legendary milieu with literary in-jokes and trivia while still crafting a compelling and complex mystery which engrosses and surprises to the very end.
The Lassiter series is unique in crime fiction, a hardboiled take on the twentieth century through the lens of a no nonsense pulp writer savvy in both high and low culture. One True Sentence is a fine addition and leaves the reader eager for his next appearance.