|“I.R.S.,” the man said.
Fletch slid the door open. “How do you spell that?”
“Internal Revenue Service.”
. . .
“April’s always a busy month for me. You know. In the spring a young man’s fancy really shouldn’t have to turn to the Internal Revenue Service.”
“You could always apply for extensions.”
“Who has the time to do that?”
“Is there any political thinking behind your not paying taxes?”
“Oh no. My motives are purely aesthetic, if you want to know the truth.”
“Yes. I’ve seen your tax forms. Visually, they’re ugly. In fact very offensive. And their use of the English language is highly objectionable. Perverted.”
“Our tax forms are perverted?”
“Ugly and perverted. Just seeing them makes my stomach turn.”
It’s conversations like this that make this possibly the most entertaining Fletch novel. My memory suggests there’s a one or two challenges to that coming up, but at least one of them gets too preachy and disqualifies itself (I’ll try to mention that when we get there). Fletch, shed of his fiancé from the previous book, is enjoying life in his home on the Riviera and puttering along on his biography of Edgar Arthur Thorp, Jr. One day, he’s accosted by a pair of CIA agents who blackmail him (using the above referenced lack of tax filing) into bugging the rooms of the most influential journalists in the US at a journalism convention.
He’s not crazy about this assignment, but at the very least he figures there’s a good story in there somewhere. So he heads back to the States and plants his bugs and starts to tape many of the most illustrious members of the press. The catch (of course there’s a catch) is that the president of the American Journalism Association and owner of many, many major newspapers is murdered the morning as conventioneers start to arrive.
So, not only does Fletch have to put up with attending a convention, and–under duress–to listen in on his colleagues — but he also has to compete with some of the most story-hungry people in the US to be the first to break the story unveiling the murderer.
We also meet for the first time Fredericka “Freddy” Arbuthnot — one of my chief complaints about this series is that we don’t get more time with her. She’s fun here, and her fans should rest assured that we see her again soon — used in a better way, too (not a complaint about her appearance in Fletch’s Fortune, I rush to say). She’s just one of the incredibly colorful characters assembled at this convention — which allows McDonald to skewer all the foibles and weaknesses of the contemporary media (at least for the late 70’s, which just sets the stage for now). I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve read this book, and I still find them all wonderfully fun to watch.
There’s a blink and you missed it moment that’s incredibly important for the future of the series, and it can’t have been planned. But decades later, McDonald is able to use to open up whole new avenues for telling his sores.
It’s so easy to get distracted by the fun conversations, the satirizing of the press and the general Fletch antics, to the point that you miss just how clever McDonald is to pull off one of his most clever whodunits. I’d rank this among the best mysteries that McDonald penned, too.
Once again, Miller delivers this one just right. I don’t know what else to say — he was the perfect choice for this series and I’m so glad I gave them a chance.
I’m just repeating myself now, so I’ll stop. Between entertainment value, construction of the mystery, social/media satire, and audiobook narration I can’t say enough good things about this audiobook. McDonald is at the height of his powers here and it’s a sheer pleasure to pick up again (no matter the format).