A 1930s Kansas City ‘star’ detective novel by Jack Kline
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright
A sign of the times… or a rallying cry to break us free from the times? That is the question. What first-time-novel author Jack Kline has accomplished with But Not for Me is on par with any of the greats of the private eye genre—Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Tony Hillerman, Mickey Spillane, Stephen J. Cannell (TV: The Rockford Files), and, of course, Elmore Leonard. Well, okay, these are my favorites, anyway… in an admittedly rather large universe of outstanding detective-story writers that I know very little about. Thus the question, for me, is will Kline’s uniquely splendid, soulful voice break thru the conforming conventional literary fare we’ve become used to these days and start yet another fertile and fun whodunit universe for ordinary yet uncommon blokes like yours truly?
I vote yes. With all the proper praise to Mr. Kline’s mentors and writers’ groups—or from wherever or whoever he was led to initiate the novel vocation—Kline and his first book are a wholly unexpected diamond of pure originality. He’s that good. that different, with that towering a potential. There is a very special quality in play with the But Not for Me creation that transcends its technical superlatives.
What is it that makes a novel good? Most readers and writers will answer with some combination of (appealing or well-executed) plot, character, dialog, evocation of setting, the writing itself (its sharpness, emotional depth, original phrasings, fitness to subject matter), and something I’ll just refer to as ‘sociological richness.’ BNFM has all these in spades. Plus, as a bonus, it’s completely politically incorrect, a throwback, really, to the old school, “man’s world” of hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-and-soft relations toward the fairer sex. Continue reading