What is it about McDonald’s Crimeziners? Not only are they adept at farming, [ee-I-ee-I-oh] but they also write astonishingly good crime novels. First there was the legendary Ross Macdonald, who wrote the Lew Archer novels, then there was the pulptastic John MacDonald, of Travis McGee fame. [Dennis Lehane is currently scribbling a screenplay for the forthcoming McGee film, The Deep Blue good-by, but we digress.] Then there is the third crimetastic member of this clan, the entirely unrelated Gregory McDonald, author of the legendary Fletch series.
Fletch was the 1974 debut of Gregory McDonald’s cocky authority flouting investigative journalist Irwin Maurice Fletcher. The novel features sardonic dialogue, mordant social commentary and the anti-social antics of loveable rogue, beach-bum and sometime newspaperman Fletch. Fletch, will probably be best remembered by the 1985 movie directed by Michael Ritchie, and starring Chevy Chase.
The story grabs the attention from the very first paragraph, so much so, the words are writ large on the book cover—a proposition in which millionaire businessman Alan Stanwyk asks Fletch to murder him for fifty thousand dollars. Then, of course, there is Fletch’s chaos filled life: the ex-wives, the debts, the lawyers, the relentless nagging, cajoling, and interference from his employers. But Fletch doesn’t care. He is driven to discover just who is responsible for the drug trade at the local beach, and he is prepared to sacrifice just about anything, including his tenacious hold on the “straight life” to get the story.
Fletch drinks beer, smokes weed, cheeks authority figures—even sleeps with a teenage runaway, [A scene that perhaps unsurprisingly was left out of the movie, much to Mcdonald’s chagrin.] He also uses his armory of unscrupulous, and often times hilarious techniques to find out exactly why Stanwyk wants to be killed.
In 1975 the Mystery Writers of America named Fletch best first novel [Even though McDonald’s true first novel—the rather grim Running Scared had been written ten years earlier]. The sequel to Fletch—Confess Fletch, also won an Edgar, for Best Paperback Original in 1977. This is the only time a novel and its sequel have won back-to-back Edgars. It must be noted that the Fletch series also inspired the 1989 Chevy Chase film Fletch Lives, which is not based on a McDonald book.
Fletch did however spawn the Son of Fletch books, in which Mcdonald introduced the character of Jack Faoni, the illegitimate son of Irwin Maurice Fletcher. A second spin off series of four novels, starring Francis Xavier Flynn, a music-loving Boston cop introduced in “Confess, Fletch” was also created.
As for the man himself, Harvard educated Mcdonald was born in Shrewsbury Massachusetts, and worked for many years as a journalist at the Boston Globe, before becoming a fulltime novelist in the late sixties. In the mid 1980’s he retired to Pulaski Tenn., home of the Ku Klux Klan, where he became active in anti-Klan work.
Mystery fans might also be interested to know, there is always six degrees of separation or less, between any great crime writer and the mighty Otto Penzler. In this case, Mcdonald sold Penzler Books the rights to his novel Safekeeping for the princely sum of $10 [nine after agent’s comission]—quite a bargain. McDonald died in 2008 of prostate cancer. He was 71. And yes Crimeziners, he did live on a farm, about 60 miles southwest of Nashville, [ee-I-ee-I-oh].
- Fletch (1974)
- Confess, Fletch (1976)
- Flynn (1977)
- Fletch’s Fortune (1978)
- Fletch and the Widow Bradley (1981)
- Fletch’s Moxie (1982)
- Fletch and the Man Who (1983)
- Flynn’s In (1984)
- Carioca Fletch (1984)
- Fletch Won (1985)
- Fletch, Too (1986)
- Son of Fletch (1993)
- Fletch Reflected (1994)