Friday, July 25, 2008

The Book You Have to Read: “The Falling
Man,” by Mark Sadler

(Editor’s note: This is the 14th installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s selection comes from the ultra-prolific Robert J. Randisi. Founder of the Private Eye Writers of America, creator of the Shamus Award, and [with Ed Gorman] co-founder of Mystery Scene magazine, Randisi is the author of three “Rat Pack Mysteries,” the latest of which--Hey There [You With the Gun in Your Hand]--is due out in early December.)

In 1967, at the ripe old age of 16, I discovered Michael Collins and his one-armed private detective, Dan Fortune, when I bought and read Act of Fear. The book won a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and I not only found a favorite author but--years later--one of my best friends.

Three years after Act of Fear came out, I read a book called The Falling Man, by “Mark Sadler,” only to find out that Sadler was a pseudonym of St. Louis-born, New York-reared author Dennis Lynds.

In 1970 the third Dan Fortune novel was also published. Night of the Toads followed The Brass Rainbow (1969). I was firmly and forever a “Michael Collins” fan, reading all 17 novels in that series over the years. But I discovered Mark Sadler and his P.I., Paul Shaw, before I found out that Sadler-was-Collins-was-Lynds. (Max Allan Collins once told me a similar story about himself, that he had books on his shelves by Donald E. Westlake, Richard Stark, and Tucker Coe before he found out that they were one and the same.) Also, Dennis and I did not become friends until the late ’70s, when I started a correspondence with him. Later, we shared lunches and dinners and favorite beers with each other.

So when I discuss The Falling Man as a forgotten book you should read, it has nothing to do with the friendship factor.

Dennis Lynds--as “Michael Collins,” as “Mark Sadler,” and also as “William Arden” (the name under which he wrote the Kane Jackson novels)--was, along with Bill Pronzini, the linchpin that took us from Ross Macdonald to Robert B. Parker and the resurgence of the P.I. novel. See, they were still turning out P.I. novels when P.I.s were not cool, and virtually kept the genre alive until others could discover how well a story could be told through the eyes of a private eye.

And protagonist Paul Shaw is not a Dan Fortune carbon copy. Shaw is the opposite of Fortune as The Falling Man starts. He has money, status, and a beautiful and successful actress wife. He has it all, until the evening he comes back from a trip, stops by the offices of Thayer, Shaw and Delaney--Security and Investigations, and accidentally pushes an intruder out a window during a struggle--an intruder who turns out to be a young man with no criminal record.

Far from a whodunit, this book then becomes a whydunit as Shaw tries to find out why the kid “made” him kill him.

Early in the novel, Shaw waxes eloquently on a variation of the “when somebody kills your partner” speech made by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon:
When you kill a man you want to know his name. I learned that as I sat there with Baxter. You want to know who he was and why you had to kill him. It was something I learned then and there. I wanted to know who he had been, and what reason he had for making me kill him.
Shaw, living in an entirely different tax bracket, nevertheless shares a code with Dan Fortune. He walks the same streets, only his suit and his shoes are of better quality. Both are cerebral men, though, who turn to action when it is warranted. Both have a conscience and a social awareness.

This post is not, strictly speaking, about a book that should be read, but a short-run series that should be enjoyed. There were six books in that series, listed here for your convenience:

The Falling Man (1970)
Here to Die (1971)
Mirror Image (1972)
Circle of Fire (1973)
Touch of Death (1981)
Deadly Innocents (1986)

Dennis Lynds wrote under the names Michael Collins, Mark Sadler, John Crow, Carl Dekker, and others. He gained the most fame with his Dan Fortune books, but the Paul Shaw novels hold their own against any of the limited series in this genre, most notably the “Mitch Tobin” books penned by Tucker Coe (aka Donald E. Westlake). The Coe books have been reprinted several times, but the Paul Shaw books have yet to be.

Point Blank Press is planning to reprint most of the late Lynds’ work, including all the Dan Fortune novels and selected installments of his other series, including those featuring Paul Shaw. It’s going to start with a mammoth Dennis Lynds Reader, which will contain the entire John Crowe Buena Costa County novel Bloodwater (1974), the Michael Collins short novel Resurrection, the Dennis Lynds short novel Talking to the World (1995), and a selection of Michael Collins and Dennis Lynds short stories. This is important, I think, because Dennis passed away in 2005 and he is not a writer who should be forgotten.

I’m hoping that Dennis Lynds’ work will be so well received that Point Blank--or some other publisher--will eventually reprint the Paul Shaw series in its entirety. For now, though, copies of The Falling Man are available online, in hardcover and in both paperback editions (Zebra, 1970; Manor Books, 1973).

Next week’s forgotten book will be chosen by Max Allan Collins, two-time Shamus Award winner for his Nate Heller detective series. Collins is also the creator of Ms. Tree, and the author of Road to Perdition (1998) and the more recent Black Hats (as Patrick Culhane). He has worked in so many different media--comics, film, short stories, novels, as well as music--that he is the very definition of a renaissance man.


Chris said...

Found your site and posted a link on my own blog. Really like the writing here. If you get a chance, visit mine and let me know what you think! I would love a link to my blog from yours.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks again, TRS.