Review of Richard Lipez's (Ethiopia 1962-64) Red White Black and Blue

red-white-black-blue-140Red White Black and Blue (A Donald Strachey Mystery)
by Richard Stevenson (i.e. Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962–64)
Albion, NY: MLR Press
$14.99 (paperback)
236 pages
June 2011

Reviewed by  Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963–65)

CREATE A PLOT focused around an upcoming state election, party politics and brinksmanship including some convoluted candidate-must-win-at-all-costs skullduggery, toss in a highly motivated gay P.I. who is not averse to taking risks to life and limb, place it all in the hands of a skilled novelist, and what you get is very readable, fast paced detective story with overtones of social consciousness and contemporary political gamesmanship complete with Tea Party operatives and a lot of New York state politics (some of it invented, with apologies from the author).

Donald Strachey is a private investigator in the employ of a Democratic operative bent on getting the goods on his Tea-Party-supported Republican opponent. The choice of Strachey for the job was in part triggered by his homosexual identity as the Republican he is going after appears to have been involved in a questionably abusive relationship with at least one vulnerable young man who jumped or was pushed to his death several years earlier.

What P.I. Strachey uncovers in the course of his investigation is startling, including hypocritical (contrary-to-family-values) behavior. But it all comes at the cost of some serious physical and psychological bruising, and threats to the P.I.’s  professional future.

Along the way Strachey engages the help of an experienced hacker named Bud to do some of the dirty work necessary to get the lowdown on the Republican. When the identity of the hacker is revealed, and the behaviors of both Strachey and the Demcorat who hired him are about to become public, the true nature of the detective work ethic becomes clear. Some of the discussion around this theme demonstrates the author’s skill at both characterization and dialogue:

(Strachey to Bud the hacker): “I’m just glad all your cyberhackers are good Americans, and none of you are working for Muammar Qaddafi or the Syrians or anything.”
(Bud): “No, we’re all patriots at heart. What we do is as American as Hostess Fruit Pie.”
“Most of what you do is against the law, isn’t it?”
“Do you really want to get into that? Your own qualms and so forth? Okay. Sure. I’m a fucking archcriminal, no doubt about it.”
“You don’t worry about being prosecuted and being sent to prison?”
“Oh, yeah, I do. Prison sucks, I’m sure. But I pick and choose. I don’t do military secrets, and I don’t do Tom Cruise. I know what everybody else in the community is doing and I stick with that. It’s okay. ‘Everybody does it’ is a weak moral argument, I know. But law enforcement goes along. Cops have better things to do, like terrorism and clubbing persons of the colored races for backtalk.”

Richard Lipez is the author of 13 books, including the Don Strachey private eye series. Having read this one, I’m keen on reading the others. And as a well traveled writer, Lipez’s Crimes of the Scene: A Mystery Novel Guide for the International Traveler also caught my eye. Besides writing novels, Lipez reviews mysteries for the Washington Post and is a former editorial writer for The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), among other accolades. Lipez is married to sculptor Joe Wheaton and lives in Becket, Massachusetts.

The reviewer, Don Messerschmidt is an anthropologist, rural development consultant, writer and editor, and an avid reader of mystery novels. In the past he has edited Alaska magazine and ECS Nepal magazine, and is the author of several biographies and memoir including Against the Current: The Life of Lain Singh Bangdel-Writer, Painter and Art Historian of Nepal (2004) and Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas: A Personal Journey (2010). He lives with his wife Kareen in Washington state when not off on trek in the Himalayas.

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