Fletch by Gregory McdonaldFletch by Gregory Mcdonald


byGregory Mcdonald

Paperback | March 12, 2002

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The acidly funny first book starring the subversive sleuth in one of the most successful mystery series of all time.

Fletch is an investigative reporter whose methods are a little unorthodox. Currently he’s living on the beach with the strung-out trying to find to the source of the drugs they live for. He’s taking more than a little flack from his editor. She doesn’t appreciate his style. Or the expense account items he’s racking up. Or his definition of the word deadline. Or the divorce lawyers who keep showing up at the office. So when multimillionaire Alan Stanwyk offers Fletch the job of a lifetime, which could be worth a fortune, he’s intrigued and decides to do a little investigation. What he discovers is that the proposition is anything but what it seems.
Gregory Mcdonald is the author of twenty-six books, including eleven Fletch novels and four Flynn mysteries. He twice won the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel, and was the first author to win for both a novel and its sequel. He died in 2008.

interview with the author

Q: Where did the idea for Fletch come from?

A: I was a journalist for the Boston Globe for seven years. I’d be sitting around in the City Room at three o’clock in the morning and we’d tell these crazy stories about this reporter who always, of course, worked for some other newspaper, who would do crazy things. One example was that he would call the city desk and tell them about a murder, identify the murderer, and then ask the city desk not to send photographers out to the house until the widow got home and discovered the body. Over the years this idea grew that there was a witty character here that might be fun for people to read, and the idea of Fletch just grew in my head for a long time before I ever put pen to paper. And when it won the Edgar Allan Poe award, I got letters, lots and lots of letters from people asking for more Fletch.

Q: Did you have any idea of another Fletch book, when you wrote the first one?

A: Absolutely not. If I had, I wouldn’t have left the son-of-a-gun in Rio de Janeiro with three million bucks in his jeans. I had a terrible puzzle as to how to continue the story, with this major thing that happened to Fletch. I couldn’t afford to go to Rio, with a wife and two kids and all that. So I spent the summer discussing this matter with my dog, and I finally—I think in September—I came to the realization that made it all possible. If Fletch didn’t care about money when he didn’t have any, then he shouldn’t care about money when he does have some. And it shouldn’t have changed his personality much, and it didn’t, in fact.

I’d set that book in Boston, because that was where I happened to be at the time and the only place I could afford to go, as it was only a one-toll road.

Some authors write the same book over and over and over again, and I was determined I wasn’t going to do that. I figured if I bored the reader that would be a big sin. So I was even more pleased when the second book, Confess, Fletch also won the Edgar. It was the first, and the last, situation in which a book and its sequel had each won the Edgar.

Q: How do you write?

A: When I get an idea I try to forget it. If it keeps coming back, fuller and fuller over two or three years, and I get to the point of being so focused on it that I can’t tie my shoes, then I start working on it. I figure anything I forget in this process is not worth remembering. I write three days, wear myself out, do something else the next day, then spend another three days writing. The seven-day week has never worked out for me.

Q: What did you think about the Fletch film starring Chevy Chase?

A: The film “Fletch” was made ten years after the first novel appeared and the Fletch novels were international bestsellers. Chevy Chase and director Michael Ritchie and all hands made a classic film out of it.

Q: And now Kevin Smith is slated as writer/director of the next Fletch movie. Have you been personally in touch with him? Will you work with him?

A: Yes. Kevin made an extremely courteous call to me. I enjoyed it. He sounded energetic, informed. I assured him that I am, of course, interested in his creative input in making a Fletch movie, but that I shall never impose upon him. If he has questions as to why I did this or that, or simply wants a touchstone I shall be available to him.

Q: What question do you get asked again and again?

A: These books have been enormously important to people, and I am always asked, “What do they mean?” When you write a book, you only know what you’re intending to do, you don’t know what you’ve done until two or three years later, when people have told you what you’ve done, what it means to them. I’ve had a lot of these kinds of experiences with the Fletch books, amazing experiences. I’ve heard how much these books have meant in the old USSR, as it was collapsing. For example, the great nine million person circulation Pravda, during its last days, was continuing to publish Fletch when they didn’t have the ink to publish the news, and they were publishing Fletch in the daily newspaper with blank pages for the rest of the paper. You know, of the awards that I have won, the one that has meant the most to me came in 1991, when the Moscow Review of Literature elected me “Best Foreign Author, Not Dead.”

Anyway, what does Fletch say? I understand what he says is, “A victim do not be.” Don’t be a victim. If you have a situation or a problem, work your way around it with wit, grace, intelligence, and maybe have some fun with it.

Q: Over the course of the last five years you have gradually forced all of the Fletch books out of print. Why did you want this to happen?

A: Because I had never planned on such a big thing happening in my life, or to have these books be successful here and everywhere, I began, purposely, with the help of my manager, driving them out of print. Which didn’t make me very popular. They were still selling well and doing well. People still wanted them, but they were here or there and everywhere, and no publisher wanted to buy them all together. And I can’t tell you, now that I went through these years of purposely getting the rights back, how happy I am to have them at Vintage, where they are being treated as a collective whole, an entity.

Q: Why has it taken so long for the fourth Flynn book to come out?

A: Everywhere I have gone for the last how many years, always the second or third question is, “When is a new Flynn book coming?” And there hasn’t been one. The reason there wasn’t a fourth Flynn book for so long was because the third Flynn book, Flynn’s In, was declared an instant classic before it was even published, and frankly that sort of intimidated me. And I thought I should maybe stand pat and leave that the way it was. It took me some years, actually, to get over the intimidation and to hear again from people how much they loved Flynn and Jennifer Flynn—the world is crazy about Jenny Flynn and her relationship with her father and of course her twin brothers. Finally I did come to work out, happily and joyously, a new Flynn book which has never been published, but will be published for the first time with Vintage next spring..

Q: When you were a kid professionally skippering sailing ships off the coasts of the United States, Europe, Latin America, ever, in your wildest dreams, did you expect to become an internationally famous author?

A: I expected to write. I never felt I had a choice. To me, writing is not a job, occupation, profession. It’s a response to life. My response to life. “Internationally famous?” No. No way. I was determined not to play the insider’s game, you know, New York, Los Angeles, nothing in between but United Airlines. I love to work, hate celebrity.

Q: You wrote for the Boston Globe for seven years. In those seven years you were nominated for the Pulitzer five times.

A: All that says is I didn’t win the Pulitzer five times.

Q: In 1985 Warner Books published a collection of your journalism. You were the first in the major media to write openly against the War in Vietnam. You also wrote on behalf of women’s rights, gay rights, and of course black American and Hispanic rights. You were beat up in the parking lot of the Boston Globe for your stand against the war. How did that make you feel?

A: I never wrote for or against anything. My daddy was a journalist and I am a journalist. However much I would like to have the comfort, I do not belong to a political party, church congregation, shul, or mosque. Such would give people a false prism through which to view and judge my works. The Boston Globe hired me to get the story from the streets, and I did. The people on the streets were against the war, in favor of women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights. They were angry at the press for not getting it. I just wrote down what the street people said and the Boston Globe published it.

Q: What is your purpose in writing?

A: To respond to people’s needs. Maybe to get people to stop hitting each other over the heads. To entertain. Sometimes to make you laugh.

Q: You now live on an antebellum farm in Southern Middle Tennessee?

A: Yes, a real farm with cattle and horses. Each has four legs sticking out. Each morning, we count the legs, divide by four to see how many we’ve got.

Q: Do you work this farm yourself?

A: Well, less than I used to. I still have enough kid in me that I like to go out and get hot, sweaty, muddy once in a while, you know, accomplish something real, physical, visible by the end of the day. Sometimes, you know, it’s as much as thirty years before I know if something I’ve written means anything.

Q: Sailor, Harvard grad, critic, author, farmer. How do you put all this together?

A: What’s the line? I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of not having lived.
Title:FletchFormat:PaperbackPublished:March 12, 2002Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375713549

ISBN - 13:9780375713545


Read from the Book

1"What's your name?""Fletch.""What's your full name?""Fletcher.""What's your first name?""Irwin.""What?""Irwin. Irwin Fletcher. People call me Fletch.""Irwin Fletcher, I have a proposition to make to you. I will give you a thousand dollars for just listening to it. If you decide to reject the proposition, you take the thousand dollars, go away, and never tell anyone we talked. Fair enough?""Is it criminal? I mean, what you want me to do?""Of course.""Fair enough. For a thousand bucks I can listen. What do you want me to do?""I want you to murder me."The black shoes tainted with sand came across the oriental rug. The man took an envelope from an inside pocket of his suit jacket and dropped it into Fletch's lap. Inside were ten one-hundred-dollar bills.The man had returned the second day to the sea wall to watch Fletch. Only thirty yards away, he used binoculars.The third day, he met Fletch at the beer stand."I want you to come with me.""Why?""I want to make you an offer.""I'm not that way.""Neither am I. There's a job I might like to have you do for me.""Why can't we talk here?""This is a very special job.""Where are we going?""To my house. I'll want you to know where it is. Do you have any clothes on the beach?""Just a shirt.""Get it. My car is a gray Jaguar XKE, parked at the curb. I will be waiting in it for you.""I want to drink my beer first.""Bring it with you. You can drink it in the car."Walking away through the beach crowd, the man looked as out of place in his dark business suit as an insurance adjuster at a jalopy jamboree. No one appeared to notice him.Keeping his shirt over it, Fletch picked up the plastic bag off the sand.He sat a few feet away from his group, his shirt over the plastic bag beside him. Looking at the ocean, he drank some of the beer he held in his left hand. With his right hand he dug a hole in the sand under his shirt."What's happening?" Bobbi asked.She was belly-down on a towel."Thinkin'."He put the plastic bag into the hole and covered it over with sand."I guess I'm splittin'," he said. "For a while.""Will you be back tonight?""I dunno."Slinging his shirt over his shoulder, he started away."Gimme a swallow before you go."Bobbi jacked herself on her elbow and took some of the beer."That's good," she said."Hey, man," Creasey said.Fletch said, "Splittin'. Too much sun."The license plate of the car was 440-001.In the car, Fletch sat with the can of cold beer between his knees. The man drove smoothly and silently. Below sunglasses, the man's face was expressionless. On his left hand was a college ring. He used a gold cigarette lighter from his jacket pocket rather than the dashboard lighter.In the shorefront traffic, the air-conditioner was making the car cold. Fletch opened the window. The man turned the air-conditioner off.He took the main road going north from town and accelerated. The car cornered beautifully on the curves going up into The Hills. He slowed, turned left on Hawthorne, then right on Berman Street.The house was what made Berman Street a dead end. If it weren't for signs on the iron-grilled gate saying PRIVATE PROPERTY--NO TRESPASSING--STANWYK, the road would appear to continue straight onto the driveway. There were two acres of lawn on each side of the driveway in front of the house.Fletch threw his beer can through the window onto the lawn. The man did not appear to notice.The house was built like a Southern mansion, with white pillars before a deep verandah.The man closed the door to the library behind them."Why do you want to die?"The envelope weighed little in the palm of Fletch's right hand."I am facing a long, ugly, painful and certain death.""How so?""A while ago I was told I have cancer. I've had it checked and had it rechecked. It's terminal. Nonoperable, nontreatable cancer.""You don't look it.""I don't feel it. A kind of general rottenness. It's in its early stages. The docs say it will be a while before it's noticeable to others. Then it will move very swiftly.""How long will it take?""They say three months, maybe four. Not six months, anyway. From what they say, I would guess in a month from now I won't be able to conceal that I have it.""So? A month's a month.""When you make a decision like this . . . that you're going . . . to be dead . . . you uh . . . decide to do it as quickly, as soon as possible. You try to cut the dying time."Hands behind his back, the man was facing the french windows. Fletch guessed he was in his early thirties."Why don't you kill yourself? Why do you need me?""My company has me insured for three million dollars. I have a wife and child. There is no point in losing the money, which I would, or rather my heirs would, if I committed suicide. On the other hand, for three million dollars it's not worth going through that much pain and unpleasantness. I believe I have made an entirely rational decision."The paintings in the room were not particularly good, in Fletch's opinion, but they were real."Why me?""You're a drifter. You suddenly showed up in town. You just as suddenly leave. No one will think about it in particular, or connect you with the murder. There will be no way of connecting you and me. You see, I have planned your escape. It is very important to me that you escape. If you were caught, and talked, as you would, the insurance would be voided.""Supposing I'm not a drifter. Supposing I'm just on vacation.""Is that what you're telling me? That you're on vacation?""No.""I've been watching you off and on the last few days. You're on the beach with the dregs of society. You associate exclusively with drug addicts. I must assume you are one yourself.""Maybe I'm a cop.""Are you?""No.""You have a deep body tan, Irwin Fletcher. You're as skinny as an alley cat. The soles of your feet are callused. You've been on the road a long time.""Why did you pick me over the other kids on the beach?""You're no kid. You look younger, but you're almost thirty.""I'm twenty-nine.""You're not as far gone as the others. You're addicted, I suppose. Otherwise you couldn't stand to live with those freaks. But you still seem able to operate.""I'm a fairly reliable-looking drifter.""Don't feel complimented."Fletch said, "What makes you think I want to commit murder?""Twenty thousand dollars. And a guarantee you won't get caught."After staring out the window, it took the man's eyes a moment to adjust to the room. He was unable to look at Fletch without an expression of mild disgust."You can't tell me you don't need money. Addicts always need money. Even beginners. Maybe your taking this opportunity will prevent your committing more genuine crimes.""Why isn't this a genuine crime?""It's a mercy killing. Are you married?""I have been," Fletch said. "Twice.""And now you're on the road. From where are you originally?""Seattle.""So you commit an act of mercy, make some money, and split. What's wrong with that?""I don't know. I'm not sure.""Are you ready for more?""More what?""More of the plan. Or are you ready to quit?""I'm ready. Go ahead.""I want to die next Thursday, a week from tonight, at about eight-thirty. It should look like the usual murder-robbery scene. The servants will be out, as they are now, and my wife will be at a committee meeting at the Racquets Club."These french windows will be unlocked. The damned servants always forget to lock them anyway." He swung the door open and closed it with his hand. "I used to complain about it until I realized their stupidity could be useful. At the moment, we do not have a dog."I'll be in this room alone, waiting for you. I will already have opened the safe, and in it will be twenty thousand dollars, in tens and twenties, which will be yours after you have murdered me. I don't imagine opening a safe is one of your skills?""No.""Too bad. It would look better if it were authentically burglarized. At least be sure to wear gloves. I don't want you to get caught."In the drawer here," he said, reaching inside the top right-hand desk drawer, "is a gun which is always loaded." It was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson. The man showed him that it was loaded. "I figure you should use my gun, so no one can trace it to you. Before you come, I will mess up the house a bit to indicate robbery."The trick will be to make it look as if I have caught you at burglary, you have already been in my desk, you have my gun, you shoot me. Can you shoot?""Yes.""Were you in the service?""Yes. Marines.""Either the head or the heart. Just make it quick and painless, and, for Christ's sake, make sure you're thorough. Do you have a passport?""No," Fletch lied."Of course not. Get one. That should be the first order of business, as that will take time. It's not tourist season, so it shouldn't take more than three or four days. But get started tomorrow."After you murder me, you will drive the Jaguar, which will be parked out front, to the airport. Leave the car in the Trans World Airlines parking lot. You will be taking the eleven o'clock flight to Buenos Aires. I will make the reservation, and pay for it, in your name, tomorrow. I figure twenty thousand dollars should buy you some fun in Buenos Aires. For a year or two.""Fifty thousand dollars would buy me even more fun.""You want fifty thousand dollars? Murder doesn't cost that much.""You forget you're to be the victim. You want it done humanely."The man's eyes narrowed contemptuously."You're right. Of course. I guess fifty thousand dollars can be arranged without causing suspicion."The man returned to stare through the french windows. Clearly he did not like looking at Fletch."I'm doing everything I can to guarantee that you don't get caught. All you have to remember are gloves and a passport. The gun will be provided, and a seat on the plane will be reserved and prepaid."The man asked, "Will you murder me?"Fletch said, "Sure."2"Clara?""Where are you, Fletcher?""I'm in a phone booth.""Are you all right?""Sure.""I was afraid of that.""I love you, too, bitch.""Endearments will get you nowhere.""There's nowhere I want to get with you. Listen: I'm driving up tonight.""To the office?""Yes.""Why?""I think I'm onto something interesting.""Does it have to do with the drugs-on-the-beach story?""As a matter of fact, no.""Then I don't want to hear about it.""I'm not going to tell you about it anyway.""Frank was asking for the drug-beach story again this afternoon.""Fuck Frank.""He wants it, Fletcher. That's scheduled as a major magazine story, and you were supposed to be in with it three issues ago.""I'm doing fine with it.""He wants it now, Fletcher. With pictures. Frank was pretty boiled this afternoon, and you know how much I love you.""You'd stick up for me, wouldn't you, Clara?""In a pig's ass.''"You can't take me off the story now, and Frank knows it. I've got too much time in on it. Besides, no one else in the office has my tan.""What we can do is fire you for failure to complete an assignment.""Why don't you stop talking, Clara? I said I'm driving up tonight.""There are some people who are just too goddamned obnoxious to have around.""Meaning me?""Which reminds me, Fletcher. Another sleazy lawyer was around the office again this afternoon looking for you. Something about nonpayment of alimony.""Which wife this time?""How the hell do I know? Don't you pay either of them?""They both wanted to be free of me. They're both free.""But the court says you're not free of them.""When I want legal advice, Clara, I'll ask.""Keep those bums out of the office. Your alimony problems are not our problems.""Right, Clara.""And don't come back here until you have that goddamned story done.""I can miss a day with the little darlings. I sort of told the kids I was splitting anyway. For a while. I can get back here by tomorrow night. And have another wonderful weekend on the beach.""I said no, Fletcher. If you've accomplished anything at all down there, you must have caused some curiosity. Going for your car now and driving up to the office would just expose everything. You shouldn't even be in a phone booth talking to me.""I want to come up to make some phone calls and do some digging.""On this story? The beach one?""No. The other one.""We don't give a damn about any other story until you finish this one.""Clara? I'm cold. I'm still in swimming trunks.""I care. Get off the phone and get doin' what you're supposed to be doin'. It's seven-thirty, and I've had a long day.""Bye, Clara. Nice talking with you. Don't get any crumbs in Frank's bed.""Prick."Running on the beach warmed him. The setting sun made his shadow gigantic, his strides seem enormous. There were people still on the beach, as there always were these days. Taking off his shirt as he ran made his shadow on the sand look as if he were Big Bird trying to take off.Near Fat Sam's lean-to, he threw his shirt on the sand and sat beside it. His aim had been perfect. Under the shirt he dug up the plastic bag. His fingers told him that the camera was still inside.With the bag wrapped in his shirt, Fletch ambled back along the beach to the residential section. The houses became more spacious and the distances between them greater.A checkbook was on the sand. Fletch picked it up. Merchants Bank. No depositor's name was printed on the checks, but there was an account number, and a balance of seven hundred eighty-five dollars and thirty-four cents.Fletch stuck the checkbook into a back pocket of his sawed-off blue jeans.A man stoking a barbecue pit yelled at him as he cut through a back yard. Fletch gestured at him in Italian.He picked up his keys in the office and padded over the greasepacked garage floor to where his MG was parked. In the trunk were long jeans and a sweater."Hey, jerk!" The guy in the office was fat and bald. "You can't change your pants in here. You can't strip in a public place.""I did.""Wise ass. What if some ladies were around?""There are no ladies in California."

Bookclub Guide

US1. When Alan Stanwyk contracts Fletch to murder him, Mcdonald turns the crime genre on its head by having his hero hired not to solve a crime but to commit one. How does this reversal of convention affect the novel as a whole? How is it ironic that Fletch must solve the very crime he is hired to commit?2. Unlike Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, his famous predecessors in the genre, Fletch is not a detective but a journalist. How does this difference affect the way the novel unfolds? What kind of reporter is Fletch? How does he regard his bosses and the newspaper business generally? How does he express his defiance of authority?3. Fletch is told almost exclusively through dialogue, with very few narrative intrusions, and chapters often begin abruptly in rapid-fire conversation without any clarifying description. What effect does this technique have on the pacing and dramatic tension of the novel? Why has Mcdonald chosen to tell the story in this way?4. When Fletch sleeps with Alan Stanwyk's wife, she observes, "You two don't look a bit alike. You're blond and he's dark. But actually you're just alike" [p 143]. In what other ways are Fletch and Stanwyk mirror images of each other? In what ways are they different? What are the ironic consequences of their similarities? Why has Mcdonald highlighted these parallels between Stanwyk and Fletch?5. When Fletch asks Stanwyk how he could justify murdering him, Stanwyk says, "Putting it most simply, Mr. Fletcher, I wanted out." Fletch replies, "Many people do" [p. 188]. How can Fletch relate to Stanwyk's plight? From what do they both wish to escape? Which other characters feel the same need? What means do they use? Is the novel a critique of a society that generates this need to escape?6. Fletch refuses to wear shoes in the office, defies and insults his bosses, ignores his Bronze Star, evades his ex-wives and his alimony payments, and at one point "belts" three policemen. What is the significance of this defiance of authority? How does it help Fletch solve the mystery?7. Why has Mcdonald chosen to juxtapose the main plot, Alan Stanwyk's hiring Fletch to murder him, with the subplot involving Fletch's investigation of drugs on the beach? How do these story lines complement each other? For discussion of FLETCH, CONFESS, FLETCH, and FLETCH'S FORTUNE:1. In what ways does Fletch's character evolve over the course of these three novels? How is he different in Fletch's Fortune than he is in Fletch? What traits remain constant in his character? 2. What methods of reasoning and investigation does Fletch employ in these novels to solve each crime? How does Mcdonald manage to keep the reader from knowing more than Fletch does? How surprising is the revelation at the end of each book? 3. Mcdonald has written, "The magic I attempt is to point the finger, as concisely as possible set the scene, then pull back my hand, disappear as the author, leave the reader alone with the characters" (From Gregory Mcdonald's official Website: www.gregoryMcdonald.com/mysteries1.html). What is the effect of this kind of writing? Why is it especially useful in the mystery genre? Does this technique require more from the reader than other types of writing? 4. In addition to the narrative pull provided by the suspenseful investigation of a crime, Mcdonald's novels employ a narrative technique common to all great fiction: conflict. With whom or what is Fletch most often in conflict? How do these conflicts affect the reader's relationship both to Fletch and to the novels as a whole? 5. If you have read any of the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, how does Fletch compare with other heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade? In what ways is he both like and unlike his predecessors? How has Mcdonald extended or put his own personal stamp on the mystery genre with the Fletch novels?

Editorial Reviews

“The toughest, leanest horse to hit the literary racetrack since James M. Cain, and it’s sheer pleasure to watch him make his run.” --Pete Hamill

“A top-rate thriller told in stripped down language that races to a climax.” --The Washington Post