Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PRINT THE LEGEND - Craig McDonald

First Line: "He rose with the sun as he had every morning since childhood."

PRINT THE LEGEND is the third novel in Craig McDonald's Hector Lassiter series. This collection of adventures for the pulp fiction writer begins after Ernest Hemingway's death. Hector has returned to Idaho to speak at a convention of Hemingway scholars. Mary Hemingway is soliciting Hector's help in publishing some of Hem's work that didn't see print before his suicide. Mary has also agreed to let Richard Paulson, one of the Hemingway scholars, assist in writing her biography. What Mary doesn't know is that Richard suspects Mary of murdering Papa, and he's there to coax an admission of guilt from her.

Meanwhile, the FBI that hounded Hemingway in life, is still hovering around everything associated with him: his widow, his home, even his friends - including Lassiter.

As with both Hector Lassiter books before this, PRINT THE LEGEND is brimming with conspiracies, adventures, and crime. McDonald has taken the historic figures and events, weaving them brilliantly into Hector Lassiter's fictional world. The blending of fact and fiction is seamless, so much so the reader will find him/herself drawn to the history books (or Google, as it may be), driven to know more.

PRINT THE LEGEND focuses mainly on Hemingway and the legacy left after his suicide. While many people doubted Hem's claims of harassment from the FBI while he was alive, records have since come to light verifying many of those claims, as well as the harassment of others in the art world. McDonald brings the conspiracy to life as Hector gears up to battle it:

"Hector saw shadows everywhere he looked. Now it was about more than his own legacy; about more even than preserving Hem's long game.

Now it was a war to save his craft; a war against an enemy Hector couldn't yet figure out how to point a gun at."
As he did in TOROS & TORSOS, McDonald makes use of the third person limited point of view. He alternates the limited point of view between the major roles in the novel, which works to heighten the effect of the conspiracy theories. And again, we see the distinctive time line of McDonald's series. The time line stretches over several decades and intertwines, occurring concurrently, with events that occurred in both previous novels, as opposed to each novel occurring consecutively. We even see a glimpse of Bud Fiske and learn a little tidbit tied into HEAD GAMES. Likewise, TOROS & TORSOS takes on a new dynamic with information garnered in PRINT THE LEGEND. The books are like interlocking pieces. They are all interdependent on one another, but the order you obtain the data in is irrelevant, rather it is only essential that you have all the pieces.

Another element that rears its head in PRINT THE LEGEND is the conflict between "literary" writers and "genre" writers. This is a constant point of contention between Hemingway and Lassiter, but an especially insightful section has Hemingway sharing a different view than the one he expresses publicly:

"Hector was writing for the crime pulp magazines back home, and making good money. Everyone called him a crime writer but he was really a writer who wrote stories with crime and the est of his stories might have fit well in a collection of stories such as 'The Killers,' if I had yet written that story. Or with many of Faulkner's short stories with criminal or rather crime elements."
The twist to this section comes, however, in the question of authorship. It appears that Hemingway has written it, but Lassiter takes the entire chapter, from which this excerpt is taken, as a forgery. But repeatedly throughout the novel the idea is reinforced. Lassiter is a crime writer and therefore, lower on the food chain. Yet people read what he writers; they like what he writes; they find meaning in what he writes:

"'You might be surprised.' She sipped her extra-tall drink and said, 'A couple of years ago, a precocious and percipient student of mine wrote a paper: 'Hector Lassiter and the Agony of the Postmodern Detective.' My pupil made a compelling case for you as one of the pioneers of postmodern fiction, despite your classification as a genre writer by most critics.'"
And so the controversy goes.

Like Hemingway and Lassiter, this series is unlike any other in the annuls of American writing. At its core it is a crime novel. And from there it pushes and pulls and challenges the idea that a crime novel has to fit in a nice little compartment, limit its language, minimize its character development. PRINT THE LEGEND explodes out in every direction, leaving the reader breathless and stunned.

Lassiter says, in reference to Hemingway, "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But more accurately it's McDonald who exquisitely "prints the legend" of the man who "lives what he writes and writes what he lives." Regardless of whether you've read any of McDonald's work before this, make sure you add PRINT THE LEGEND to your must-read list immediately.

PRINT THE LEGEND will be available February 16, 2010, in hardcover from St. Martin's Minotaur (ISBN: 978-0-312-55437-8).

4 comments:

Naomi Johnson February 10, 2010 at 8:49 AM  

When a certain critic (who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this comment) decries the use of the term "transcends the genre," I think that said critic ought to take a closer look at McDonald's books. How many crime novels do you know would even dare to discuss post-modernism, let alone play with the idea of it? Ditto the surrealism in Toros & Torsos.

Excellent review. I'm already looking forward to the NEXT book in the series.

Jen Forbus February 10, 2010 at 8:57 AM  

Naomi, I love books that want to challenge the "rules." Those are the books that have changed literature through the ages. And I find absolutely nothing wrong with "transcending the genre." I tend to cringe when people define a book by their preconceived notions of what a genre is. As I know from reading so many books labled "crime fiction" or "mystery" or "thriller" they run the gammet. And yes there are many that fit within the nice little genre rules, but there are a lot more that extend beyond that, that blur the lines of those genre labels. Craig's work is a prime example. Wouldn't it be nice if one day we didn't need labels at all...that books were simply divided into fiction and non-fiction and then shelved by author's last name?

Thanks Naomi!

le0pard13 February 10, 2010 at 2:18 PM  

Great review, Jen. I'm looking forward to T & T, and then moving on to this one. Thanks, Jen.

Naomi Johnson February 10, 2010 at 9:29 PM  

When I go to a B&N, not often but occasionally, it drives me crazy to see authors like McDonald and Zeltserman in the Mystery section, and authors like James Patterson and John Grisham in the Literature section. I'm with you, Jen. One section for fiction is all I need. And the nearest library branch here got wise and began shelving "mysteries" with fiction.

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