Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Jane Case by Michael Z. Lewin

“The Jane Case” by Michael Z. Lewin, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, May 2005

The story begins with Old Man Lunghi, founder of the Lunghi Detective Agency and head of the family. The Old Man is a little more than semi-retired, his extended family now running the agency. Mama, the Old Man’s wife, decides that he needs something to do, so she gets him to start going to a YMCA gym on a regular basis. One day while at the gym he notices the running style of one of the other male patrons. This guy “dishes,” throws his heels out to the sides, as he runs. While watching this guy a young woman comes up and tells the Old Man about how this guy stole her phone on the street a few days before. When she saw him in the gym and recognized his running style she confronted him. He laughed at her. She went to the police, but they wouldn’t believe that she could identify the thief by his running style.

The Old Man believes her and decides that he will help her. This pleases Mama, though, of course, she doesn’t show it. She begins manipulating the rest of the family into helping the Old Man, but on his terms. She wants him more involved, more interested in life. If the rest of the family takes over the case, the Old Man will just sink back into the lethargy she’s trying to get him out of. So the Old Man handles the case his way, bringing in one of the school-age members of the family to help him.

From a structural standpoint this is a textbook detective story. The Old Man discovers one small piece of information that leads him to another and another until, as Clouseau used to say, the case is solve-ed. It’s the writing that confuses.

Don’t get me wrong. Mr. Lewin is a good writer, but . . . . The story is set in Bath, England, but the writing style is pure American. The Lunghi family is ethnic Italian, but the Old Man and his wife speak with a Yiddish rhythm and language style. This issue of AHMM is called the humor issue, and maybe Mr. Lewin looked at this concatenation of ethnicities as the humorous part of his story. Written straight, set in the U.S., with either a Jewish or Italian extended family, this would have been an engaging, enjoyable story.

In short, a little too much of a mish-mash to be really enjoyable.