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Crime Novels and a Modern Toff Character
21st Century Toff
Madman on a Drum: A McKenzie Novel
by David Housewright; St. Martin's Minotaur Press
John Creasey was a prolific crime story writer in the 20th century, writing (like Erle Stanley Gardner) under his own name as well as several pen names. His most well known crime solver was a rich UK gentleman (a "toff") in Brit slang, known as - The Toff. He and his man servant Jolly solved crime after crime, whereas Scotland Yard was stymied, for many years.
This style of crime solver was adopted also by author Lilian Jackson Braun after her first several "Cat Who..." mysteries of the late 1960s and the late 1980s (18 year gap) in which a recovering alcoholic newspaperman renews his reporting career and joins with an extraordinary Siamese cat to solve at least one murder every year. After a few years of this, James Qwilleran (Mr. Q to the town locals) inherits billions of dollars and becomes the rich crime solver with the addition of another interesting cat sidekick.
Both Creasey's and Braun's mysteries are intriguing and their lead characters interesting and good men. Since Creasy passed away some time ago and Braun is now in her 90s, a "toff" for the 21st century seems in order to fill the void felt by readers seeking a modern version of a toff crime solver.
Enter Rushmore McKenzie, of the same stripe as John Creasey's Toff, the rich Richard Rollison, and billionaire Mr. Q. The backdrop is Minneapolis-St. Paul and I can hear Prairie Home Companion radio show in the background of my mind as I read the book -- particularly the segments of Guy Noir, hardboiled and entertaining detective.
McKenzie is a former police detective that wants to solve crimes and help people as a freelancer, on his own terms. In the Twin Cities, he drives an upscale Audi that suffers regular bullet holes to keep his auto mechanic and body man in business. They do a lot of business with him.
Drumming Digital Voice From the Past
Rushmore McKensie's best friend is a policeman. Mac considers his friend's nuclear family his own only true family as well. The cop is a homicide detective named Robert Dunstan, who worked with Mac previously on the police force and kept a working relationship after McKensie became rich through an inheritance and set himself up as a PI of sorts - with his own operating rules.
McKensie would likely marry Robert's wife Shelby, if anything ever happened to Bobby. Mac also acts as an uncle and big brother to the Dunstan's daughter Vicky and her fourth grade sister, little Katie.
Victoria Dunstan is a 12-year-old middle schooler, bright, and attractive; and, she is in unknown danger.
She is kidnapped by a masked man with a van as her little sister stands agape on the sidewalk. Little Katie recovers quickly, though, and runs home to report tghe abduction.
Bobby calls McKenzie for help because there is less red tape with Mac than other PIs and cops, as FBI operations begin installation in the Dunstan living room.
Kidnappers demand $1,000,000 and will accept it only from McKensie - that's really why Bobbie called him, aside from the fact that he is a good private detective. McKensie and Bobby - Bobby obsessively - listen repeatedly to the kidnapper's recorded voice. It was disguised by a computerized voice program. However, something strikes McKensie as familiar, but he cannot grasp it -- and something about a drum set and an old acquaintance
McKensie and Bobby gather the ransom money required from different bank branches in a type of scavenger hunt scenario, followed by changing cars and myriad cell phone and pay phone calls in parking lots, warehouses, along lakefront beaches and everywhere else in the Twin Cities.
Mac also encounters murdered gangsters and parolees in danger of going back to the penitentiary. he can;t figure out all of the connections, except that someone is trying to "get to him" through Bobby's kidnapped daughter.
Meanwhile, the underworld network puts out a contract on McKensie's life.
Avoiding the hit and delivering the cash to save Vicky is extremely difficult. Every succeeding hour results in additional leg injuries to the PI, who must run faster and faster through more treacherous guanlets of mystery in pursuit of is goals.
Mac runs everywhere - along streets and through businesses, in and out of ravines, taverns, even though an eventual gauntlet of hit men. He fights off pit bulls, automatic weapons, and some very strange characters in the criminal world as well as in the FBI. Sometimes you can't tell who the enemy really is...
McKensie uses a running inner commentary to guide himself through all of his predicaments, sounding live a very real person that wwe all might know. He does not want to lose anyone he loves to murder and the criminal element in the Twin Cities and he is driven to protect his friends.
Recommended For Mature Teens and Adults
The only things I don't like about this story is the presence of profanity as a type of filler and outdated, ineffective methods of determining a liar. One other feature may be off putting and that is the number of negative references to the Bush 43 Administration.
Otherwise, the story is fast paced, exciting and believable - if you know any millionaire crime solvers, but even if you don't.
David Housewright and written several Mac McKensie novels to plans many more to which we can look forward.
Other titles in this series include the following, some that are award winners:
- A Hard Ticket Home
- Tin City - 2006 Minnesota Book Award Nominee
- Pretty Girl Gone
- Dead Boyfriends
- Madman On A Drum
- Jelly's Gold - 2010 Minnesota Book Award winner
- The Taking of Libbie, SD - 2010 Minnesota Book Award Nominee
- Highway 61
- Curse of the Jade Lily - The 2013 Minnesota Book Award winner
- The Last Kind Word