“The Fairfax Incident” by Terrence McCauley is a classic “gumshoe” mystery set in New York City in 1933. The story is a first-person narrative by Charles “Charlie” Doherty, a detective “making a damned fine living making my wealthy clients feel like I genuinely care about their ivory-tower troubles.” The plot flows effortlessly, and the details slowly come into focus in an easy natural way as part of the conversations that Charlie is having with the reader.
Charlie has a somewhat checkered past handling the occasional dirty job as “Chief Carmichael’s Black Hand.” He is called to the Fairfax mansion to meet with Mrs. Eleanor Blythe Fairfax. Her husband killed himself, and she really wants to know was why. Charlie is sure that throwing enough money at the problem could do the trick.
The story has the classic noir feel: the city, the rain, the cynical PI, the money, the big question. New York is a character just as much as are the people, and little details highlight all the trappings of society and politics. There are blown fuses, elevators, influential gossip columns, private clubs, and coat checks, all the ins and outs of the time. It was New York in 1933, and Charlie knows it well.
“But there’s really no such thing as a nice, quiet walk in Manhattan. Trucks were always backfiring. The sound of pneumatic hammers pounding away at concrete or asphalt was never too far away. Car horns honked and people cursed. Throw in the flutter of pigeon wings for good measure and that was as tranquil as New York City got. It’s a whole lot of different sounds all mixed together in one big urban symphony, but it’s usually the same sounds heard over and over. That’s why when you heard something new, you knew it.”
Charlie has a classic PI sense of humor; “I’m afraid my trench coat is at the cleaner’s.” There are figurative clichés that set the stage as well. For example, the traffic was as packed as a cross-town trolley at rush hour; the man was crooked as a dog’s hind leg, and the exasperated, “Who the hell’s going to shoot me out here? A cow?” Oh, and do not forget McCauley’s shout-out for his cigar stores.
I received a copy of “The Fairfax Incident” from Terrence McCauley and Polis Books. I do not read a lot of “noir” but I loved this one and highly recommend it. It is easy to read and very entertaining. It had a compelling mystery and a murder without all the blood and gore and mess. However, be careful, you might just laugh right out loud as you read.