The Big Hello, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 215 pages. Hardcover $26.99.
Michael Lister is the bard of the Florida Panhandle. His crime novels, distributed through several ongoing series, set a very high standard for originality, style, and impact. The Big Hello, the third and final installment in the Soldier series, features an ex-cop private eye named Jimmy “Soldier” Riley who is at once as tough as they come and as filled with romantic longing as anyone should be. In this series, both homage to and fulfillment of the hard-boiled Florida noir tradition, the story line is drenched with death.
However, the story line – easy to follow in some ways – is also something of a problem. In this chase to save the woman of his dreams, if in fact she is alive, Jimmy is tangled up in a chase after the super-perverse serial killer who abducted her. One thing is clear: Lauren Lewis in not in her grave!
One-armed Jimmy and his sidekick, a one-eyed Negro named Clip, are regularly arrested by members of the local constabulary (the action runs back and forth between Panama City and Tallahassee during the early 1940s), some of whom are competent, others less so, and others corrupt.
The number of characters juggled in a relatively short book, the nonstop mayhem, and the sketchy development of back story, can leave readers disoriented. I’m thinking this book is best enjoyed by those who have read the two previous volumes in the series, “The Big Goodbye” and “The Big Beyond.” Yet it is highly enjoyable, though a bit perplexing, in itself.
Perhaps the sense of chaos and disorientation is deliberate:
“What’s our next move?” Clip asked.
We were standing back over near the ambulance again, waiting on Collins.
“I have absolutely no idea.”
He nodded and seemed to think about it. “And how is that different from any other time?”
I managed a smile.
He was right. That was the job. Stumbling around in the darkness, being lied to and misled by some while others attempted manipulation, intimidation, and bribery, all while not giving in, not giving up.
Okay, I can groove on this.
The book has many spectacular scenes, including the gallery of macabre art by the serial killer, Flaxon De Grasse, who juxtaposes body parts in his surrealistic compositions (or decompositions). In portraying wartime Northern Florida, Mr. Lister projects – without excessive, show-off detail – the feel of the cars on the pre-Eisenhower roadways, the roadside saloons, motels and other accommodations, and the countless stops at payphones.
Jimmy and Clip comprise an odd couple, a black and white pair unusual in this time and place. Their respect for and loyalty to one another and their handling of situations in which Clip is disrespected or blocked from access are handled by the author with just the right touch. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 27, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 28 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Big Hello