Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Fletch Won by Gregory McDonald

Years ago, I read and loved Gregory McDonald's Fletch, the first book written in what was ultimately an eleven-book series of mystery novels. This was, of course, also the book that the 1985 Chevy Chase eponymous star-vehicle was adapted from. It should go without saying that I would not have read the novel if I were not a big fan of the film, but when I read the novel I was surprised to find it much darker and edgier than its filmic counterpart.

McDonald's Irwin M. Fletcher was a self-serving bastard who was holed up in a beach apartment with a sixteen-year-old who ends up overdosing. While still every bit the quick-on-his-feet smart ass Chase portrays him as, the Fletch on paper isn't running around in goofy disguises.

Of the remaining Fletch novels, the one that stuck out to me the most has had my interest piqued for more than a decade. This novel is Fletch Won, and its rights have been kicking around since Mallrats came out, when Kevin Smith bought the rights with the intention of it being a Jason Lee star-vehicle. Since Smith's involvement ended, the project fell into the hands of "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence and now sits on Steve Pink's perspective to-do list (more on him later this week). Each person who has been attached to the film has shared the same feelings: They badly wanted to make this film.

Having finally read the book, that desire is entirely understandable. As an origin story, it would allow its director and studio a chance at a new franchise. As source material, it is great.

The story begins with a young Irwin Fletcher being chided at work for his smart-ass approach to obituary and headline writing before getting re-assigned to the society pages. When the subject of his first story turns up murdered in the parking ramp outside of the newspaper, Fletch finds himself sitting on top of a murder, only the story gets re-appropriated to a lazy veteran reporter with a vicious mean streak.

As Fletch balances this story with a piece requiring him to go undercover to expose a prostitution ring and his impending nuptials, nearly everything that can go wrong does. And then some. Along the way, Fletch somehow keeps his bearing about him and manages to out-maneuver the wrathful senior reporter at every turn while dodging all of the stray bullets that cross his path. More importantly that path is completely entertaining and engaging.

McDonald knows how to craft a taut mystery novel with a healthy dose of humor and an expert level of unpredictability. Moreover, his style makes for an effortless read, and an easy, unpredictable page-turner makes for an ideal change-of-pace after reading momentum-killing dreck like Girl in Landscape.

All that being said, it is nearly impossible to read the book without this song playing on a loop somewhere in your subconscious.

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