Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Shakedown for Murder

Ed Lacy, real name Leonard S. Zinberg, experienced success with his diverse 1957 private-eye novel, Room to Swing. The book introduced the first creditable African-American PI, New Yorker Touie Moore. For his achievement, Lacy was awarded the Edgar for Best Novel and heaps of respect and accolades from his contemporaries. The following year, Lacy was productive as ever with three new crime-fiction novels, Breathe No More, My Lady, Shakedown for Murder, and Be Careful How You Live (aka Dead End). Stark House Press published two of these novels, Breathe No More, My Lady and Shakedown for Murder as a twofer edition with an introduction by Cullen Gallagher. I chose to read Shakedown... first.

Lacy welcomes readers with a two-page death-dealing scene in which a Dr. Edward Barnes is murdered while making a house call to an apparent friend or longtime colleague. As Barnes collapses by the heavy Buick, the reader is bewildered on what led to this sudden fatal attack and the events that transpired previously. By providing this initial shock, Lacy braces readers for a rip-roar ride through a small town of suspects, agendas, love affairs, and an unlikely hero.

In the opening chapters, single fifty-something Matt Lund arrives for a one-week vacation in a New York coastal town called End Harbor. He's there to visit his adult son Dan, who is married to Bessie and they have a young son named Andy. Matt brings his fat cat with him as well, the only semblance that he has any local relationships other than the jailbirds he babysits as a cop working in a prison back in the city. In first-person perspective, Matt explains that he really would rather be at home snoozing his vacation away instead of being grandpa. But, he's a good sport about it and tries to inject some life and fun into his trip. But, things go off the rails when the local hick cop discovers the corpse of Dr. Barnes.

Lund is a humorous likable guy that displays an ineptitude for modern efficiencies and behavior while still maintaining a veneer of an experienced lawman. On a supermarket run, Lund impresses his grandson by pointing out to the local cop that Barnes didn't accidentally die. He cites specific evidence on the Buick that suggests foul play. The cop doesn't appreciate Lund, who in reality has never worked any investigation beyond petty theft, and tells him to butt out. When Bessie's good friend, a wacky old guy that drives a taxi with reckless abandonment, is jailed for the Barnes murder, Lund is forced into the investigation. 

Lacy always has a thing or two to say about racism in his books and often provides subtext surrounding social issues of the time. Lund's pairing with a Native American woman introduces the town's history of bigotry and hatred towards her ethnicity. The author also adds some insight on getting older and walking the balance beam of working and staying active to retiring and accepting the advancement of years. 

As a crime-fiction novel, Lacy adds in the traditional genre tropes – gumshoe investigation, interviews, weeding out suspects, and discovering possible motives for the murder. If you enjoy mid 20th century crime-fiction, few will write it better than Ed Lacy. Get Shakedown for Murder HERE

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