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!

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2012

Longtime readers might remember that I tried to tackle a large stack of classic books for my Ambitious Summer Reading List last year. Well, that wound up spreading into the beginning of this year and wound up not being a whole lot of fun. So, this summer, I wanted to try something different and finally read some of the books that have been sitting under my bed for ages. This is a mix of autobiography, mystery, psychological thriller/horror, slice of life, drama, food, music and just about everything else. I started off with Nick Hornby’s About A Boy (review coming soon because I finished it today), but don’t have an order figured out (last year’s was chronological).

The pile includes another Fletch book by Gregory McDonald (Fletch And The Man Who), Stephen King’s Misery, the aforementioned Boy, an oral history of the punk rock and new wave movements called Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Anthony Bourdain’s follow-up to Kitchen Confidential called Medium Raw, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake (I loved her book An Invisible Sing Of My Own), Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon which I know nothing about but liked The Lovely Bones, the latest Diary Of A Wimpy Kid installment which doesn’t really count but I want to finally read it, Steve Martin’s autobio Born Standing Up, actor George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do, a book about a band I’ve never heard of called Petal Pusher by Laurie Lindeen and Erik Larson’s historical thriller The Devil In The White City.

It’s a pretty eclectic mix, but also a pretty apt representation of the kinds of books I’ve been wanting to read for a while, found for a few bucks at various places or both. I’m hoping that by choosing books I’m interested in, I’ll stick with them a little better. I also admit that the idea of actually focusing on getting through a dozen of the books I’ve been collecting for more years than I can count and either put them on a shelve (or more likely a box in storage) or give away to someone else. I’d much rather store books I’ve read and liked than ones I’m still waiting to get to.

Book Review: Fletch’s Moxie by Gregory McDonald (1982)

Fletch’s Moxie is the third book starring the character made famous by Chevy Chase in the films Fletch and Fletch Lives that I’ve read. The other two were the first book, Fletch, and another one called Fletch Won. I can’t really remember many of the details of either book off the top of my head, but I do know that I burned through them with a quickness, which is no small feat for a slow reader like myself. This one took me a while longer because I don’t put enough time aside for reading. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, so I finished Moxie. This time around, a very wealthy Fletch shows up to meet with his old school friend who now happens to be a big-time movie star by the name of Moxie Mooney. In the first chapter, Moxie’s agent gets knifed while being filmed on a talk show on the set of the movie with no one around but Moxie and the host. Fletch decides to get her out of the way and heads to Key West along with her father who is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. It’s his legendary drunkenness that alerts the media to their presence, which also brings down some of the other actors from the film and a pair of directors. Fletch stays in contact with the police chief who’s working the case, trading information with her as he tries to clear Moxie’s name. After 283 pages of headscratching at who really could have done it, the explanation was pretty interesting and the ending a bummer.

Plot and mystery aside, I really enjoyed being in the company of these characters, even though none of them are particularly likable. Not only do you get treated to some interesting behind-the-scenes type info on the movie industry and creative people, but it all seems to jive with other accounts and even though the book came out in 1982, I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problems subbing in real actors you know and love (or hate) in each of the character’s places. It’s interesting that McDonald wrote this three years before the first Fletch movie came out. It would have been interesting to get his thoughts on Hollywood through Fletch afterwards.

Some of you might be wondering how the book version of Fletch compares with the movie one. Not a page went by where I wasn’t picture 1985-era Chevy Chase as Fletch, which is helpful because I don’t usually visualize what’s happening when I read a book. It’s more like a radio show or a podcast to me, but at least it’s in Chase’s voice. I’d say the two versions seem pretty similar in the movies and this book. He’s very quick with his words, knows all the right questions to ask and has a way with the ladies. He doesn’t do much of the fake name-giving, but this story doesn’t really offer up much use for such skills. There was one thing I was confused about though and that was Fletch’s wealth. I’m not really sure how he got it. He explains that he got the money for not doing something bad that got done anyway, which I’m guessing is a reference to the events of the first movie (which are very similar to that of the movie). He then talks about investing that money, but he says he lies. This would be the problem with reading these books out of order and having a crummy memory. Dude has enough to own an Italian villa! Ah well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually.

So, if you’re a mystery fan or a fan of the movies, I don’t think you can go wrong with picking up one of the many Fletch books. I’ve got another sitting in my to-read pile that I picked up at a garage sale along with this one and the horror anthology I read “The Lonesome Place” in. Reading these books makes me wish that Kevin Smith had gotten the new Fletch movie with Jason Lee off the ground. If another movie’s not in the cards, I could easily see Fletch becoming a TV show in the vein of Castle. The idea’s a freebie, if you want more, drop me an E-mail big huge networks.

Dragnet (1987)/Fletch Lives (1989) Double Feature

Today was a pretty busy day. I was thankfully so busy with freelance work that I still haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast I was on, nor was I able to go outside and enjoy the nearly 70-degree weather, but I was able to watch a few movies while I worked. I also got a chance to check out my brand new column on Maxim.com called We Like To Watch, which covers various TV shows you should check out. Anyway, the two movies I watched were Dragnet and Fletch Lives. I had never seen Dragnet before, but a few months ago I picked up a Tom Hanks 2-disc, 3-movie pack featuring Money Pit, The ‘burbs and it. After seeing the video at the end of the review on Maxim.com I figured I’d finally give it a watch.

And man, this is a really weird movie (I should have guessed from the video), but I really enjoyed it. In addition to being a really funny movie (you’ve got prime Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd here), it also plays to my love of continuity. See, I’m not a fan of the original Dragnet, but I do appreciate that Aykroyd plays a relative of the original Joe Friday and that Harry Morgan reprises his role from the original series as now-Captain Gannon. By doing this they’re not dumping on or forgetting the original and it fits in with the rest. Not every adaptation can work like this, but I like when it does (they did something similar with the Sam Jackson Shaft movie). This one turned out to be pretty long, so hit the jump for the whole thing.

Anyway, like I said this is a weird movie. Aykroyd and Hanks are on the trail of this group called P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) who…well, they’re trying to do a bunch of bad stuff. I’ll be honest, some of the finer details of the movie might have been lost on me while I was working, but I do know that a lot of dudes were dressed up in goat legs while the P.A.G.A.N. leader threw a woman in a big pool with a giant snake. From there, Aykroyd, who plays the super-uptight and by-the-book officer in LA, comes a bit undone as Hanks’ loosened-up-ness rubs off and the case gets crazier and crazier.

One interesting thing about this movie is that it was co-written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz who mostly wrote more serious flicks like Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun along with uncredited runs on the scripts for both Superman and Superman II. Meanwhile, he directed one of my favorite comedies of all time Delirious. I think he’s a big reason the movie has such a fun feel since he;s clearly comfortable in both the action and the funny. And now for the video, which hopefully won’t make you want to NOT watch the movie. I give you Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd rapping:

I come by my love of the Fletch flicks and Chevy Chase honestly thanks to my dad. I distinctly remember renting both Fletches a number of times and watching with him. As I got older I bought both movies on DVD (and I think I might have had them on VHS too, but can’t quite remember). The DVDs are pretty paltry and I can’t believe they went with that weird cover for Fletch Lives with the snapshots instead of this hilarious and awesome poster painting here which I remember from the VHS cover.

Anyway, something about Dragnet made me think of Fletch Lives, I’m guessing it was the bigness of it and something about the P.A.G.A.N. “ritual” reminded me of R. Lee Ermey’s Jimmy Lee Farnsworth shenanigans. Whatever the reason, I had a great time watching Fletch Lives as usual. I’m not sure if someone who’s not a fan of Chase will like the movie, but I’m a huge fan of his characterization of Fletch, a man who uses words to get out of whatever crazy situation he finds himself in and comes out on top (eventually). Plus, he’s a writer so I of course love that. He even makes grammar joke in this one!

The plot finds Fletch heading down south to take over the plantation house his recently deceased aunt left him. As you might expect, things aren’t quite what they appear as Fletch runs into a Bible-themed theme park, someone who wants to buy his land, a dead girl he had sex with (before she died of course, this isn’t Weekend At Bernie’s) and the Ku Klux Klan. There’s a lot going on with the story and I probably would have missed a lot of the details had I not seen the movie a bunch of times.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Fletch or Fletch Lives, just go do it. Right now. If I know, you can even borrow them. I like the movies so much I’ve gone on to read two of the Gregory McDonald books the movies were based on and have two more in my to read pile. On a completely different note, I found out that Fletch Lives director Michael Ritchie also produced and co-directed the weak slasher movie Student Bodies, which is pretty interesting.

You might notice that this post has a Saturday Night Live label on it. In addition to the fact the SNL alumns star in both of these movies, I also wanted to bring up one of the first things I ever noticed about the relationships between movies, actors and directors. That is that any movie starring a current or former SNL cast member usually has another one in at least a bit part. At first, from looking at the Dragnet credits, I thought my theory might have been busted, but it turns out that Dan’s brother Peter not only had bit parts on SNL, he was also a writer. In Fletch Lives, Phil Hartman has a bit part as the man running a lab. So, as far as I’m considered, the theory still stands (but I haven’t watched all of Chevy Chase’s or Bill Murray’s movies, which will surely kill my theory).