“It was 1993 now. No one makes a witty remark unless they’re getting paid to, preferably on
their own nationally syndicated TV talk show. And nine times out of ten, they’re not even witty.”
David Handler (1970-)
The Man in the White Linen Suit, 2019
David Handler is a local writer of mysteries – local, that is to me, as he lives across the River in Old Lyme, where we once lived. While I have met him once or twice at book signings, he would know me from Eve but not from Adam. He has created two series, which reflect his wit and his humor. One is about Berger and Mitry, a series that takes place in Dorset (Old Lyme), a lily-white Connecticut village. Mitch Berger is an aging Jewish New York film critic and Desiree Mitry is a beautiful African American State Trooper. The other series, the one into which this book falls, involves Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag, a sophisticated New York City author, who finds himself embroiled in murders. He is a fortyish Harvard graduate, hoping to get his second novel published. He wears a fedora and is always accompanied by his sidekick Lucy, a basset hound.
Mr. Handler, a writer of scripts for TV and the movies, is obviously a fan of the “Thin Man” series, as Hoagy resembles William Powell’s depiction of Nick Charles, while Lucy is an elongated version of Asta; though Lulu has a unique partiality for anchovies. We meet, albeit too briefly, Hoagy’s estranged (not divorced) wife, the movie starlet Merilee Nash, who would be beautifully portrayed by Myrna Loy.
The story centers around the theft of a manuscript from an aging superstar writer Addison James and the disappearance of James’ assistant and co-author, Tommy O’Brien. There is more than a suggestion that Addison may not have written his last two historical novels. The world of agents, editors and publishers is exposed in an unflattering manner. There is mystery, mayhem, murder…and amusement.
Through this melee wanders the dapper, observant Stewart Hoag, with Lucy, whose distinctive nose uncovers clues undetected by detectives. David Handler’s humor is ever-present. In one instance, with Hoagy speaking, he takes a crack at my home: “Yvette smelled of fruity perfume, the kind I associated with the old ladies at Essex Meadows, the assisted living home where my parents were not enjoying their golden years.” But, I ask myself, if we cannot laugh at ourselves, where would we be? In another scene, Hoagy visits the offices of a publisher and encounters a young man: “He was dressed in Brooks Brothers from head to toe, minus his suit jacket. He wore his striped repp tie tucked in between the second and third button of his white shirt so as to keep it from getting caught in his typewriter. That’s a Dartmouth thing. My idea of lame, but it’s better than the way Princetonians oh-so-casually throw their tie over their shoulder.”
As an author, Handler has Stewart Hoag, his fictional counterpart, express some of the traits of a scribbler: “Writers are a peculiar breed, like I said. We’re obsessed. And we’re never, ever satisfied.” As a writer of essays, I understand. As a reader that makes me happy, for it says that Hoagy, Berger and Mitry will continue to make their unconventional but witty appearances unraveling mysteries
This review was first published on Thought of the day