Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Drink With the Dead - Jay Flynn

DRINK WITH THE DEAD opens with our protagonist, Konrad Jensen, being questioned by the cops about a murder he’s suspected of committing. He gets beaten up and thrown into the felony tank. Being a long-time reader of hardboiled crime and noir novels from the Fifties, I immediately expected Jensen to break out of jail and spend the rest of the novel trying to find the real killer and clear his name.

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we eventually get, but instead of occupying the rest of the book, after that brutal opening author Jay Flynn takes us on an extended flashback in which Konrad Jensen—who’s a federal agent—investigates a moonshine ring in the northern California mountains. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way; Flynn clues the reader in on Jensen’s real identity almost right away. It’s Jensen’s partner who gets killed, giving him a personal stake in the case, and then his own life is on the line as the bad guys close in around him. Oh, and there are two beautiful women mixed up in the investigation, too, of course.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD was published originally in 1959 under the name J.M. Flynn as half of an Ace Double Mystery with a cover by Paul Rader. That cover has been preserved on the recent Black Gat reprint of the novel. Jay Flynn was as much of an intriguing character as any of those in his books, a writer of considerable talent eroded by booze and hard living and a generally screwball approach to life. He’s the subject of a great essay by Bill Pronzini, originally published in MYSTERY SCENE, that can still be read on-line. I’ve read Flynn’s novels off and on for years, and while he was inconsistent to say the least, I don’t think I’ve ever read one that failed to entertain me.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD is certainly one of his better efforts. Setting a moonshining yarn in California instead of Kentucky or Tennessee is a nice offbeat touch. A lot of the book is more G-Man Procedural than hardboiled action, but it’s well-done, and when the action does kick into gear, it really yanks the reader along full-throttle. The ending of this novel is great, with an effective final twist of the tail. If you’ve never read Flynn’s work before, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you’re already a fan, you’ll want to give this one a try. Recommended.

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