Looking for a riveting stew of murder, sex, history and literature?
“One True Sentence,” by Craig McDonald, offers that and a lot more. The novel, part of a series featuring writer Hector Lassiter, is set in Paris during the 1920s. Lassiter, who writes stories for crime magazine Black Mask while pondering more literary ambitions, is one of the many Americans huddled in the City of Lights and spends his non-writing time drinking hard and hobnobbing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford and other writers and poets. When someone begins knocking off publishers of literary magazines, it naturally catches their attention. Soon Hector, Hemingway and the others find themselves poking around into the investigation and finding themselves in a great deal of trouble.
I enjoyed this book on several levels. It is a fine noir novel on its own, with great femme fatales and a terrific sense of time and place. Real people from history — along with those mentioned earlier you can add Aleister Crowley and William Carlos Williams, among others — mingle with McDonald’s cast of fictional poets and novelists. As they work to unravel the murders, they exchange thoughts on the tropes and traditions of mystery stories and the nature of literary versus genre novels. “One True Sentence” at times skewers those tropes, yet occasionally embraces them, and the discussions of fiction that run throughout the book are a real treat for any fan of mystery and crime fiction.
Hector Lassiter is an excellent protagonist, a man’s man and a ladies’ man with an independent streak and a sense of what is right and wrong. He is not particularly eager to stick his nose into police business, but finds himself embroiled in it all anyway thanks to his relationships with others. As some of those relationships deepen, Hector’s own sense of justice and concern for others kicks in, and he doggedly pursues answers to the puzzling crimes.
Those deepening relationships, of course, include women. That means romance, temptation, sex and secrets. Toss in a nihilist movement, some surprise attacks, shadowy stalkers and some explosive action, and you’ve got a real page-turner.
I definitely will track down other Lassiter books, and recommend you do, too. That should not be difficult; the first novel in the series, “Head Games,” is getting the graphic novel treatment, and publishing house Betimes Books is celebrating the tenth anniversary of Hector Lassiter’s literary existence.