A rollicking, at times extremely funny, tall tale disguised as a detective novel, careening with Hunter Thompsonesque panache through the restaurants, bars, and haunts of the corrupt rich in San Francisco, that classic mystery milieu. Polster's (A Guest in The Jungle, 1987) disheveled protagonist is McGee Brown, a Boston sportswriter and Harvard dropout, who quits his job and moves west to pursue a romance that quickly fails, leaving him desolate and destitute. His old classmate Fillmore, an obese Stanford psychologist, persuades Brown to set up as a shrink, easing Fillmore's overflow practice. In most of the scenes here, Brown, Fillmore, and swashbuckling patient Mr. Casbarian—a sword-carrying former producer of a 1960's TV show in the Erroll Flynn action mode—seem wasted on alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Meanwhile, Brown's first client, Mrs. Quilp, persuaded that her husband wants to kill her, is indeed dispatched by a gorilla in Mr. Quilp's menagerie, and the mystery is underway. Billionaire Quilp hires Brown to find his runaway daughter who, when located, asserts that her father is the devil. So do several other people, including an old man whose son was done in by a South American death squad—fingered, the man claims, by Quilp. Brown has no doubts as to his qualifications to practice psychology, learning quickly that ``you convolve everything the patient says and throw it right back.'' Then he himself is institutionalized and threatened with electroshock in a grossly fraudulent mental hospital. Finally, the rushed pile-up of an ending fails to fulfill the promise implicit in the taut, literary prose, which hints at deeper explorations of the characters' emotions and social milieu than ever materialize. Still, Polster practices the humorist's craft with a bold, sure hand that recalls Mark Twain. Good fun, if ultimately shallow.
Read full book review >