Monday, January 10, 2005

The Shoeshine Man's Regrets

"The Shoeshine Man's Regrets" by Laura Lippman, Murder and All That Jazz, Robert J. Randisi, ed., Signet Books.

Tess Monaghan rides again, short story style. I'm a big fan of Ms. Lippman's work, and I'm always pleased when a BNA (that's Big Name Author) exercises a series character in the short form. This story does not disappoint.

The story starts off with Tess and her friend Whitney Talbot being "congenially catty" about the sartorial skills of their fellow restaurant patrons while waiting in the valet parking line after a good meal. Into this congenial atmosphere comes an old shoeshine man and a rich troll. The shoeshine man points out the troll's messy shoes and things go downhill from there. The troll and the shoeshine man get into a donnybrook, and naturally Tess wades into the middle of it.

Cops are called, but everyone is about to be let off with a warning when the shoeshine man's name comes up on a 39-year-old murder warrant. He is arrested and immediately confesses to the crime. The detective assigned the case, Tess' friend Detective Martin Tull, doesn't feel right about it. He doesn't think the old man did the deed, but he can't pursue that line of investigation. So Tull convinces Tess to do it.

Tess goes to talk to the only people left alive that were involved in the original case, the shoeshine man's sister and the shoeshine man himself. The talk with the sister and knowledge of the murder weapon allow Tess to solve the case, but after nearly 40 years, it's hard to get people to listen.

I enjoyed the story but have two minor quibbles: one, the rather strong implication that shining shoes is a demeaning occupation because it puts one man standing above another man. Absolute nonsense! A street shoeshine man performs a legitimate service, and there ain't no other way to do it. Might as well say it's demeaning to sit in the lower rows of a movie theater because other people are sitting above you. But that's a personal issue, and such an attitude is in line with Tess' character.

The other quibble is one I get slapped with every so often. I suspect that if I had written this story, some editor (you know who you are) would have told me that my detective solved the case too easily. But then, I'm not Laura Lippman.

In short, an enjoyable read. It's nice to see Tess in the shorter form.