Gregory McDonald


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 1, 2023

have 13 Fletch books on my shelves - they have sat there for at least 40 years now. I read them way back in my high-school / college years. I remembered them being quite funny as well as being full of plot surprises. I wondered if I would still have the same opinion if I read them again, this time from the perspective of a senior citizen. Fletch is the first in the series. It won the 1975 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Irwin Fletcher ("My friends call me Fletch") is an investigative reporter for the News-Tribune. Currently, he is working undercover on an assignment on the beach, trying to figure out who is supplying heroin to the bums and junkies that loiter around the beach. Obviously, Fat Sam is the dealer. The addicts all line up to purchase drugs from him - but Fletch cannot figure out how Fat Sam is getting his drugs; he never leaves the beach, and yet Fat Sam always seems to get resupplied. Fletcher wants to write a big story that exposes the big source that is getting the drugs for Fat Sam, but since he cannot figure out how the operation works, his story is late and the bosses back at the paper are getting restless. Is Fletcher just hanging out at the beach, lounging in the sun instead printing what he has got?

While Fletch is acting like a junkie at the beach, a well dressed man approaches him. It is Alan Stanwyk, the man who runs Collins Aviation. Stanwyk asks Fletch if he would be willing to kill him. Fletch is puzzled - why does Stanwyk wished to murdered? Stanwyk tells a complicated story about having terminal cancer, and so wants to die quick and painlessly. He cannot commit suicide, because then his wife and child would not collect the insurance money. Fletch agrees to kill Stanwyk on Thursday night - and immediately he launches into an investigation to determine what Alan Stanwyk is really up to.

There are two parallel mysteries going on - the puzzle over how Fat Sam runs his heroin racket, and the odd request by Stanwyk to have Fletch murder him. Meanwhile, there are subplots, such as the fact that Fletcher has two ex-wives, and has not been paying alimony to either of them, and now divorce lawyers are pursuing him. There is also the fact that Fletch earned a bronze star while serving (we are never told why), yet he never picked up the award. The News-Tribune bigwigs insist that Fletch pick up the bronze star, they want to run a story about one of their reporters being awarded a high honor. Fletch, of course, acting like a beach bum, does not want his photograph in the paper.

When I started the book, I had no recollection of what the story was about. But it quickly came back to me, and so while I admire McDonald's clever plot, none of it came as a surprise to me. A first time reader might award this novel five stars based upon the intricate plotting. Fletch is not as funny as I recalled, though it definitely has some humorous scenes (Fletch hangs around the country club, pretending to be a long time friend of Stanwyk's, and the wealthy club patrons act like they remember him from the wedding.) Fletch is more amoral and more ruthless than I recalled. I don't remember the story line from any of the other Fletch books, so perhaps they also deserve a reread. Confess, Fletch also won an Edgar Award.