Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman

The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman
Perennial Paperback P673, Copyright 1974

Having a tendency towards nostalgic things from the past, I’ve always enjoyed seeing detective stories where the author sends the reader back to a bygone era. In 1974, Andrew Bergman created P.I. Jack LeVine, and with him came a wonderful “time period” detective crime novel that took the reader back to the homefront days, when we were fighting two wars and the big-time politics were controlled by powerful conniving men using small-time hoods to do their dirty work for them.

"Every minute that I spent on this case I get sicker to my stomach. You walk in here, dump a pile of bills on my desk, and expect me to roll over and start wagging my tail. This isn't Washington, sweetheart. This is the big city."

New York gumshoe Jack LeVine (real name Jacob Levine) is described as a "38 year old, stocky, bald, Jewish bullfrog.” Not wanting to follow his father’s footsteps in the garment business, he opened a private eye office on Broadway and 51st street. Honest and respected, his business has been successful enough to pay the bills and keep his blue collar lifestyle going.

It starts off as a simple blackmail case. Chorus girl Kerry Lane hires LeVine to retrieve some stag films she starred in when she was struggling. Now being in a big Broadway show, the blackmailers are willing to exchange the films for cash to keep her name clean. The story accelerates quickly as LeVine finds one blackmailer murdered and starts getting pressure from influential people to drop the case. Kerry Lane’s father turns out to be an important banker in Philly, with political ties to the 1944 Republican Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. Seeing a way to weaken Dewey in the polls, high level Democrats loyal to Roosevelt have the films and plan to use them to their advantage. Jack LeVine is loyal to neither party, only to himself, so he isn’t bought off easily. He has a code of ethics, and even with his life threatened many times, he remains on the case to get the negatives and prints for Kerry Lane.

You will get the feel of June 1944 America in this one. The story is rich in the atmosphere of the day; D-Day, diners,
everyone smoking, radio shows, and snotty elevator operators-you’re definitely walking the streets of New York in the 40s. Andrew Bergman does a fine job mixing real life characters and events, into Jack LeVine’s world. I was surprised with the scheme of throwing a grunt private eye into Washington’s political shenanigans. In fact, as I was reading I was skeptical if Bergman could pull it off, but he did. The novel starts hardboiled and that fooled me a bit. I was expecting a knockoff Marlowe or Spade type of character. Not so, everyone who meets Levine likes him and he presents himself as an “average joe” just doing his job. Suspenseful ending, but I had the feeling that Bergman might have been pulling the reader’s leg a bit here. It all ends at Radio City with every “thug, mug, and free-lance muscle” in town preventing LeVine and Kerry Lane’s father from entering the building. They don costumes to get to the studio, which came off a little too silly for me. But a chase takes place and LeVine gets to pop off a few rounds from his revolver, all to make sure that his client gets what she originally hired him to do.

Andrew Bergman is a very successful screenwriter, film director, and novelist. “The Big Kiss-Off of 1944” was private detective Jack LeVine’s debut, but you can find him in two other novels. He appeared the next year (1975) in “Hollywood and LeVine” and
in 2001 made a revival in “Tender is LeVine.” All three are quality yesteryear crime fiction novels.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, August. This looks like great fun.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

I loved this book when it first came out, and stuck with P.I. LeVine through his subsequent two adventures. But it's been many years now since I read the books. Perhaps I should add the pleasurable task of re-reading them all to my 2009 to-do list.


Scott D. Parker said...

This one looks like a winner. I'm going to have to seek out and find this one. Anything during WWII I'll read.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Yeah I too am now yearning for this one.

Anonymous said...

I loved the first two, but the author's comeback volume, TENDER IS LEVINE left me cold. Really one of the most disappointing returns to a series that I can recall.
The first two, however, bristle with memorable scenes, crackling dialogue, period detail and sly humor.
Geez, did the first two just get a single paperback printing? And did TENDER IS LEVINE ever hit paper?

John Hocking

August West said...

John: I know the first two did come out on hardcover published by Holt, Rinehart,and Winston. And both were release in paperback (Perennial)at about the same time in 1983. That about it I believe. I don't know the history on “Tender is LeVine.”

But you gonna love a P.I. that carries a little around the middle, eats salami sandwiches, guzzles Blatz beer, and smokes Luckys.