Friday, May 07, 2010

Forgotten Books: EPITAPH FOR A LOSER -- James T. Doyle

Epitaph for a Loser (Walker, 1986) was James T. Doyle's second book (and as far as I know the last) about private-eye Paul Broder. I haven't read the first one, and I probably wouldn't have read this one if I hadn't seen it on the shelf at a thrift store the other day and picked it up. I wasn't familiar with Doyle and his work, and Broder's not listed among the p. i.'s on the Thrilling Detective website. So I figured this must be a genuinely forgotten book.

If Epitaph for a Loser had been published by in the '50s, it would have been advertised as being "in the Spillane vein" because it's about a private-eye with a .45, and there's some heavy-duty violence in it. It's set in Florida, and I detect a little John D. MacDonald influence, too. Broder's an ex-cop who's doing okay in the p. i. game, not getting rich but getting by. One night his former brother-in-law shows up with a story that Broder doesn't think is quite right. He needs to disappear, he says, because of his gambling debts. Broder gives him some cash, and the guy leaves. Soon his body's found, and Broder thinks the cops have closed the books on the murder too quickly. So does Broder's ex-wife, who hires him to look into things.

As you can guess, there are a lot of people who don't want the investigation to continue, including a bent cop, his Broder's ex-wife's new husband, and a bunch of mobsters. Broder, in the way that fictional p. i.'s have, is undeterred, even when he's savagely beaten and tortured.

You might be way ahead of Broder on the way to the final twist in the tale, but Doyle tells it all well, and Broder's a fine first-person narrator. If you're in the mood for a p. i. story like they don't write anymore, this is a good one.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder why nobody writes PIs like that anymore. I guess angst came in with the more recent ones.

Bill Crider said...

There's angst in this one, too. Just not as much.

Steve Lewis said...

I have this book, Bill, but I doubt that I've ever taken it off the shelf it's been on since I bought it.

Doyle wrote only two mysteries, and Paul Broder is in this one and none other. A fellow named Dan Cronyn, also a PI, is in his other one, Deadly Resurrection (Walker, 1987), which I don't think I own a copy of.

What surprises me the most is that a book like Epitaph could be published in hardcover but never in paperback. From your review it sounds as though it should have sold like crazy in softcover, if not hot cakes.

In any case, you've convinced me. Time for me to go find it, dust it off, and read it!

Bill Crider said...

From the backstory in the book, I assumed there must have been a previous book about Broder. Maybe the late '80s weren't the time for a p.i. novel like this one, but I'm a little surprised it didn't sell to paper, myself.