Thursday, July 19, 2012

Done: "Devil's Rag Doll" by Mitchell Bartoy

Done: Devil's Rag Doll by Mitchell Bartoy, 2005, 9780312340889.

Pretty good novel.  I like stories with dumb guys struggling through problems.  I picked this from a pile of withdrawn books I bought from the library.

Pete Caudill is a one-eyed, 1.5 handed Detroit cop in June, 1943.  Pete has just been promoted to Detective, is looking after his dead brother's widow and teen son, has a dead cop dad, and is full of anger, bitterness, paranoia, and violence.

Pete's partner Bobby got them a off-the-book job to find the young daughter of a wealthy auto exec.  The daughter has jungle fever and Pete and Bobby search the black neighborhoods for her.  Pete roughs a guy up to get an address.  They get to the address and find her murdered body.  The crime is covered up as a horse riding accident.

Pete and Bobby asked to look deeper.  Bobby killed when stopping an alleyway fight.  Pete never really knows what is going on.  Pete finds out about a plan to cause more race trouble on the first day of summer.  Black people hate Pete because he killed a boy burglar.  Pete doesn't like them either.  Pete has hots for his brother's widow.  Pete finds out his cop dad did not commit suicide but was murdered.  A racist organization, The Legion, has a resurgence.  Everything works out after a deadly race riot.

290 pages but a lot is going on.  Political shenanigans in the police department.  Rich guys pulling strings.  A Ford-like character guiding Pete.  Race relations.  Summer heat.  Quick death.  Young street cops assigned to help Pete.

1.  I liked this.  Many times I criticize a story as being too long.  I'm thinking this would have been better if it were longer.  Quite a bit goes on in the story and I enjoyed reading it.
2.  Nice atmosphere and setting of wartime Detroit.  The city is busy and booming with blacks coming North  for work in the 24 hour factories.  Rich auto barons running the place.  Opportunistic cops.  Pete' weird, estranged relationship with his mother.  Pete's love and lust for his sister-in-law.  Pete's insecurities and paranoia due to his mutilations and lack of brainpower.
3.  Ellroy like setting with a dumb cop persevering.  Two opposing sides that, nominally, can be called good and bad.  But, the police only do good when it is convenient or the victims are the correct color.  Everyone else is either used or abused at whim.
4.  Pete knows he is dumb, that his promotion to Detective is suspicious, that he his mental connections are later than they should be.  He's not smart and makes up for that with violence.  
5.  Patti Abbott wrote that she knew Bartoy from writing classes and after his second novel he was dropped by his agent and publisher.  I have not seen anything else from him.  His web page was updated in 2006.  I did a brief web search and nothing recent showed up.  He had a good review from Kirkus, that is always impressive.

1 comment:

Steve Lewis said...

A book and author I didn't know about before. Going to school in Ann Arbor in the 60s means I know something about Detroit, so I always enjoy good mysteries that take place there. I'll have to hunt this one down, and maybe the other one by Bartoy. Too bad he never did more.