Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Find more The Back Page
If you’ve read as much Florida crime fiction as I have, you’ve learned that snowbirds are usually objects of derision—those pale-faced, knobby-kneed, dark-socked galoots who pollute their way from the Panhandle to Key West, often managing to get themselves murdered in the process. Not wanting to become a character in a novel by Randy Wayne White, Carl Hiaasen, or numerous others, I’ve usually avoided winter trips to Florida. This year, however, was different. When the opportunity arose for a long weekend in Sarasota (home of the late, great John D. MacDonald, who took some of the first swipes at rampaging snowbirds), well, how could I refuse? The temperature was minus 5 when I climbed out of a cab at O’Hare and 75 when I arrived in Sarasota—an 80-degree jump in two hours. Call me a snowbird; I just don’t care.
Still, we birds were a pathetic lot, especially that first morning, stumbling from our rented condos and moving, zombielike, toward the beach. I happened to take my first steps onto the stunningly white sand at the same time as a young Boston couple and their two-year-old daughter. The girl, a baby snowbird just learning to fly, asked the all-too-logical question, “Mommy, why isn’t this snow cold?”
All went well for a couple of days (walks on the beach, lobster rolls, beer—and plenty of it), but then I made my crucial mistake: entering a bookstore. And not just any bookstore. A. Parker’s Books in downtown Sarasota is one of those overstuffed treasure troves of used books where you can lose yourself for hours at a time, sunny weather be damned. Naturally, I homed in immediately on the vintage-paperback section, thinking correctly—this being Sarasota—that I was bound to find a healthy selection of my book-collecting passion: Gold Medal editions of John D. MacDonald’s early, non–Travis McGee thrillers. Grabbing a handful, I made my way to the cash register, where the clerk noticed my selections and said softly, “Would you like to see some of the rare MacDonalds we keep behind the counter?” Words I’ve waited my life to hear.
Being a fiscally conservative sort, I limited my purchases to two heavenly numbers well beyond my usual price point. The first, A Bullet for Cinderella, boasts one of my top five all-time-favorite vintage-paperback covers. The second has a fine cover, too, but I bought it for what just could be the best title in the hard-boiled universe: One Monday We Killed Them All.
Ah, but there was a problem. These books, both objets d’art, were too fine to read, and I did need something to actually read, having finished off my stash the previous night. That’s when I caught sight of a used copy of Thomas Perry’s 1983 novel, Metzger’s Dog. I tossed it into the bag with the MacDonalds, and there went the vacation.
Perry is the author of both gripping stand-alone thrillers and the superb Jane Whitefield series, about a woman with a special talent for helping people disappear. Metzger’s Dog is something entirely different. It’s a comic-caper novel, and it’s a riot from first sentence to last. First, there’s the matter of Metzger’s dog. Metzger happens to be a cat, whose full name is Dr. Henry Metzger. His owner, an irrepressible L.A. con man called Chinese Gordon, also owns (or, rather, houses) a dog, one of those half-pit-bull, half-wild-boar creatures known to terrorize the urban landscape. The dog has only one friend, Dr. Henry Metzger, hence the name of both canine and book.
Chinese Gordon is no ordinary thief. As Carl Hiaasen notes in the introduction to the reprint edition I joyfully read in Florida, Gordon “drives around Los Angeles with a loaded M-39 aircraft cannon mounted in the back of his van while merrily improvising bawdy verses to ‘Bringing in the Sheaves.’” His cohorts are no less wacky, and while his girlfriend, the all-suffering Margaret, appears to bring a wisp of sanity to this band of merry bandits, she, too, has some larceny in her soul. The caper here is far too uproariously absurd to summarize; let’s just say it starts with a plan to steal some pharmaceutical cocaine from a UCLA lab, but Gordon and his pals inadvertently come away with something else: CIA plans for causing chaos in Third World countries. What to do? Blackmail the CIA, of course. The tale just keeps getting zanier as it moves to a conclusion that even has a touch of Jane Austen. Many readers will note traces of caper-novel maestro Donald E. Westlake in Metzger’s Dog, and that’s certainly legitimate, but the book’s true kissin’ cousins are the equally crazed Ross Thomas capers starring Durant and Woo. In my world, there’s no higher compliment than that.
But more about me. Sure, if my sunglasses hadn’t had an out-of-date prescription, I might have been able to read Metzger’s Dog on the beach, but, frankly, I didn’t want to be distracted by Frisbee-tossing snowbirds. So thank you, Thomas Perry, Chinese Gordon, Dr. Henry Metzger, and, of course, Metzger’s dog, for sending me back to Chicago nearly as sun-deprived as I was when I arrived in Florida.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe