Thursday, July 6, 2017

McNally's Risk (Archy McNally, #3)McNally's Risk by Lawrence Sanders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"It would be indelicate to describe those gifts that qualified her for employment in a topless car wash. Suffice to say that she was well-qualified."

What an unexpectedly pleasant read! The third novel in Lawrence Sanders' Archy McNally series, McNally's Risk (1993) is a light, breezy, entertaining book. An unassuming trifle yet such an agreeable waste of time! The readers will not need to exercise their brains to enjoy the plot and the writing.

Mrs. Smythe-Hersforth, a rich Palm Beach matron with pretenses to class, hires Archy McNally to discreetly investigate the bona fides of a young woman whom her son is planning to marry. The client suspects that Miss Theodosia Johnson is not refined enough to be worthy of her son. Indeed, Archy quickly finds out that Theodosia is not quite what she claims to be, but then she is so beautiful that the detective immediately falls in love with her. The infatuation even reaches the level of physical consummation. However, this being a sort of crime novel, we soon have a murder, then another one, and the plot thickens to finally get untangled in an implausible, though not criminally so, denouement.

To me the best aspect of the book is the intentionally florid language which somehow manages to avoid sounding grandiloquent and instead comes through as subtly funny. For instance:
"I mournfully reflected that if mein papa was correct [...], I would be horribly disappointed and possibly take up the lute to express my weltschmerz in musical form."
The vividly drawn character of Theodosia provides another surprise. While all other characters, even including Archy, are closer to caricatures, the young woman seems real from the pages of the novel. Lawrence Sanders is not known for deep psychological insights or for mastery in conveying dialogue yet, for instance, the conversation between Archy, Theodosia, and her father sounds completely natural and convincingly contributes to the plot.

Of course, we have the usual plethora of clich├ęs, the fictitious Palm Beach high society is depicted without much feeling, and the usual Archy McNally menagerie of characters (Consuela Garcia, Simon Pettibone, Lolly Spindrift, Sergeant Rogoff, Binky Watrous, and the one and only Prescott McNally, Archy's father, whom the son invariably addresses as "Sir") are annoyingly repetitive.

The novel is pure entertainment but after all one does need amusement and diversions from time to time. I am enclosing another funny quote after the rating.

Three and three quarter stars.

"I must inform you that anyone who attempts to make love on a sandy beach soon learns the meaning of true grit."

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