Friday, July 24, 2015

Vintage Mystery #14

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2015. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written between 1960 and 1989 inclusive and be from the mystery category.

I read this for the category I-6, “Something spooky in the title.”

I think this qualifies because “death” is pretty spooky.

Blue Death – Michael Collins, 1975

This is #7 of 19 mysteries featuring one-armed, Polish-Lithuanian PI Dan Fortune (Fortunowski) of New York City. Dan is asked by an old friend, an Armenian-American belly dancer, for assistance. Her husband wants to renew a lease with a huge corporation but he can’t find anyone in the company to handle the routine paperwork. Dan agrees to intervene in the runaround and find the elusive executive who theoretically handles that procedure. While on the hunt, Dan runs around Manhattan, the industrial wastelands of New Jersey, and pristine spots of SoCal like Ventura. Four murders occur, some for understandable reasons, some senselessly hinging on bad luck.

Dan ends up interacting with bosses and employees of International Metals and Refining Corporation (IMG). One of their lines is the manufacture of pure titanium. Collins had a degree in chemistry and was a technical/writer editor for chem-e journals. So, the technical side of the story feels real. I like credentials in an author

The mystery will feel real to readers of certain age, who were young adults forty years ago. Old-fashioned ideas pop up, such as the irresistible urge all women feel to have babies and the implacable will to power, property, and success in all men. As ecologically-minded as Ross Macdonald, Collins holds up Jersey as an environmental nightmare that was devastated by amoral corporations. The execs of big business smugly feel themselves beyond the reach of the law. But, middle-aged men, vulnerable to the rhetoric of assertive self-empowerment of the era, wonder about the impossibility of balancing real freedom with homey security, cozy benefits with clear and exciting risks. Like a Simenon character at the end of his tether, a 40-ish research scientist bemoans his fate: “When there’s nothing left to dream, you’re dead.  A blue death, oxygen-starved.  My life is over.”

The plot is ingenious, the characters persuasive, the tone matter-of-fact, the nostalgia disarming. Dan is an absolutist and idealist, looking for a perfect world in which human beings can run as free as dogs. Corporate robotoids are all moral relativists. Well-worth reading, and not just as an artifact of a bygone era.

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