Monday, August 20, 2018

Review of The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 by Andrew Bergman (1974, Hutchinson)

Jack Levine is 38, bald, Jewish and divorced. He hustles by as a cynical, wise-cracking private investigator in New York. When a tall, good-looking blonde actress asks him to solve a case of blackmail regarding some stag films he agrees to take the case. When he finds the first blackmailer murdered and is asked to track down his partner by a theatre producer who has also been threatened with blackmail the case takes an unexpected twist. Soon some goons are taking shots at him, politically-connected elites are offering him large sums of money to walk away or switch sides, and Jack has found himself at the heart of the forthcoming presidential election, which if the Roosevelt looses might shift how America approaches the war. Jack is way over his head and is only interested in one thing – fulfilling his original contract with the actress and finding and returning the offending films.

The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 is the first book in the Jack Levine trilogy written by Andrew Bergman, probably best known as a scriptwriter of comic movies, including being a co-author of Blazing Saddles. Here, Bergman trains his comic eye on the hardboiled private investigator, with Levine being a wise-cracking PI in the mould of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, taking a case for a leggy blonde who’s being blackmailed. Rather than simply playing the trope for laughs, Bergman writes a very nicely plotted tale of blackmail/murder meets high stakes/low morals politics that has a series of well-judged turns as Levine finds himself progressive out of his depth but determined to stay true to his original quest. The characters are nicely penned and their interchanges are well observed and there’s a nice sense of time and place. Overall, an engaging and compelling hardboiled PI tale with plenty of dark humour.


Paul D Brazill said...

That's such a great 'of its time' cover. It sounds like my sort of thing, too.

Rob Kitchin said...

Yes, think you would enjoy.