This book has been paired in a paperback with its predecessor Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat: The Harry Fannin Detective Novels in paperback form. I reviewed Tramp a few months ago. This one is not quite up to form but still captures the pulp fiction feel, mostly tongue-in-cheek.
Harry Fannin, tough guy private eye, keeps stumbling upon dead bodies, and gets beaten up pretty regularly for it. The setting is Greenwich Village in the 1960s and Markson has fun showing off his familiarity with the authors and celebrities in vogue with the beat generation; he mocks them mercilessly through Harry’s acerbic wit. There is a lot more wordplay in this one than in Tramp. Even the space between Dead and Beat in the title is intentional, since most of the victims were beatniks, not deadbeats. Markson must have been paid by the word, as there was way too much filler – whimsical similes that made no sense, and so forth. “As crazy as a two-headed gnu,” “as quiet as a Robert Frost snowfall,” “It was still easy, like walking off a building.” You get the idea.
I wrote another review, one of The High Window where I extolled the gritty feel of the pre-political correctness days. Chandler’s women were dames, but Fannin’s are chicks, the men cats. Real men wear suits, even if they’re $70 Woolworth varieties. The women that throw themselves at Harry are breathtaking beauties with seam-bursting figures. The others have bodies like ironing boards. Everybody smokes and drinks like the cast of Mad Men. Definitely not PC. I read that these Fannin novels were written for a crime magazine before Markson got published as a serious writer, so being PC would definitely have been a negative for that readership’s demographic. I had a nostalgic twinge reading through this. I’m old enough to remember those days and I knew a few self-styled beatniks. Another sign of the times: Fannin got set upon by character who was described as a mountain. We learn later he was six feet tall and two hundred pounds. In 1960 that would have been a big guy. Today it’s your average 9th grade boy. A few 9th grade girls, too. While this isn’t great literature by a long shot, it was an entertaining enough read.