Ambitious Summer Reading List: Fletch And The Man Who By Gregory McDonald (1983)

I have an interesting relationship with Gregory McDonald’s Fletch books. I’m essentially in love with the movies Fletch and Fletch Lives. They were favorites of my dad’s so we would rent them fairly often and watch them whenever they were on TV. I own both on DVD and still enjoy watching Chevy Chase a few times a year as the fast talking investigative journalist who always knows how to get out of a situation. However, I don’t have such an undying love for the books. At this point, I’ve read Fletch, Fletch Won, Fletch’s Moxie and now Fletch And The Man Who. I remember next to nothing about the first two and the general plot of the third, but don’t remember the ending I referred to in that review. I was left a little flat by the ending of this latest outing as well.

Here’s the deal. I love the character of Fletch. He’s a daring, resourceful hero who always has a quip at the ready. I admire that kind of quick thinking as I tend to be the kind of guy who comes up with a really good comeback two days after a conversation. In this book, an out-of-work Fletch finds himself answering the call of an old army buddy named Walsh who needs a press guy for his father’s presidential campaign (“The Man Who” is the governor’s code name). Fletch takes the job, but also discovers that a woman was beaten to death and then thrown off a balcony right above the governor’s room. While he takes on a job he doesn’t really like, Fletch tries to figure out who’s killing these women and also grows to like the candidate who likes Fletch just as much.

Let’s label the next two paragraphs as SPOILER territory, so beware. I thought I pegged the killer right away. There’s lots of red herrings around from the porn-obsessed Russian journalist to the governor’s former boxer valet, but this ain’t my first rodeo. I had the candidate’s wife/Walsh’s mom pegged because she’s violent, angry and mean. I realize now that I took the bait that was fed to me all the while thinking I was seeing something under the surface because, if this were a TV show, no one would suspect an older woman. McDonald got me on that one. It turns out (again SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) that the killer is in fact Walsh who was supposedly so stressed out from always being on (and secretly hating his mother/having existing mental problems) that beating women was his release, possibly while in the midst of a psychological split.

I’ve talked about my dislike of the “he’s SO crazy” explanation for murderers in fiction. I know they happen in real life and people snap. I actually had less of a problem in this case because it was seeded throughout that Walsh had had some problems when he and Fletch were in the service. The bigger problem I had with the story is how quickly it gets wrapped up. Not only does Walsh accidentally include his private collection of press clippings about the murders he was committing into Fletch’s press file, but Fletch also remembers all sorts of things while actually looking for someone else at a big event. Oh, and a woman reporter who winds up being Walsh’s first almost-victim just gets up and runs to where Walsh is so he can beat her up. Maybe I missed something there, but the end all felt very “I’m getting close to the 250 page mark, let’s wrap this up.”

But, even with my complaints, I still enjoyed the overall reading experience I had with Fletch And The Man Who, but wasn’t a huge fan of the ending to the story (and not just because I was wrong about the killer, I was actually glad to be wrong and enjoyed the actual person, just not the way we got there). It was a quick read filled with characters I liked or was interested in, so there’s no real loss there.

You might notice from looking at the new checklist image to the right that I have dropped Alice Sebold’s The Lonely Moon. I actually read the first few chapters and liked them, but am not really up for that story right now. I’m sure I’ll get back to it at some point. I replaced it with Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which I picked up on the cheap after setting the list at the beginning of this summer and am very excited to dig into. But not just yet, next I’ll be tackling a book I’ve been wanting to read for almost 10 years, The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson (not the creator of Savage Dragon, for the record). If all goes as planned, I’ll start on that tomorrow!

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