Friday, October 26, 2012

Act of Fear

Michael Collins
Act of Fear

Open Road Media/Mysterious Press e-book, 2012
(originally published in 1967)

«It began with the mugging of the cop.
Person or persons unknown jumped the patrolman in broad daylight on Water Street near the river, dragged him into an alley, and cleaned him out. No witnesses. This is the lower west side, the Chelsea district, where alley windows are boarded up and people do not see what they’re not sure they should see.
We all knew the cop: Patrolman Stettin. He’s a young cop, Stettin, not long on the force and still eager. We all heard that he felt so bad about being taken that he offered to quit. That shows how young he is. Sooner or later everyone is taken in this world. This time the mugger took it all: billy club, pistol, cuffs, summons book, watch, billfold, tie clip, shoes, and loose change. The mugger was good. Stettin never even saw a shadow, according to the report I heard.»

What a beginning! Everything really began with the mugging of a cop, and in a few days private detective Dan Fortune is hired by a young client. Pete Vitanza, college boy practicing as a mechanic, can’t find his best friend, Jo-Jo Olsen, also a mechanic who is obsessed with motors and interested in Vikings. The boy did not come for work, and parents say that he had gone somewhere, but Pete feels something’s wrong and pays detective fifty dollars (big money for a boy), that he’d find Jo-Jo. Fortune thinks Olsen certainly has gone with some girl and will soon appear, but to appease the conscience, decides to fulfill the received fifty dollars and ask around here and there. Fortune guesses that either the Olsen mugged the patrolman or saw who did it, that's why he went into running. Detective looks for a fugitive for three days and have already decided to quit the case, did not find any clues, as in the alley Fortune is attacked by a burly man who threatens that Fortune should forget about Jo-Jo and mind hos own business. The big man is the father of a runaway boy, and it finally convinces detective, that something is wrong with the Jo-Jo case. Later the local mafia is mixed in the case, the blood will spill, and apart from the search for Olsen Fortune will have to save his own life.

«Act of Fear» is the first book in the series about one-armed private detective Dan Fortune, and this book will knock you down. Friends, whom Fortune has got not much, called the PI Pirate: nickname stuck after Fortune in his youth had lost an arm. He does not like to tell the real story, which is nothing to be proud of, often inventing new and new stories about losing his arm. Detective though does not feel flawed: in the text, he never calls himself disabled, and others do not attach much importance to the one-armed (in the novel, there is one scene where a dumb girl begins to laugh at one hand). Despite the absence of the left hand, the detective did not allow himself to be an insult.

Fortune is a loner, a soul who cares for all the downtrodden. He walks down the mean streets of New York’s Chelsea, and his way is hard. He himself is a child of slums and musty apartment buildings, he traveled around the world, but now he feels in Chelsea at home. He wants people to strive for the best and go out of this troubled place, but he had already passed this stage, finally settling.

The plot of «Act of Fear» is replete with surprises, twists and revelations to the extent that would be enough for two dozen contemporary novels. For nearly 50 years the book is not outdated at all: people are still driven by greed, fear, self-interest and stupidity, honest and conscientious among them are one in a thousand.

Certainly one of the best PI novels of all time.

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