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by Barry Fantoni
Polygon, June 2012
208 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846972272

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

HARRY LIPKIN, P.I. is subtitled "The Oldest Detective in the World." Harry is 87. He doesn't walk too fast, he keeps his teeth in a glass by the bed, and most of his friends have died, but he is still working. Harry lives in Miami and runs his business from his home, an architectural folly that shed half of its roof slates in a recent hurricane. He receives a visit from an elderly widow, Norma Weinberger, who is upset that someone is stealing from her. Harry takes the case, and finds that obvious candidates for the theft are the wealthy Mrs Weinberger's five staff: a butler, a maid, a cook, a gardener, and a chauffeur. He interviews them all and then looks a little deeper into their lives for a culprit, calling in a few favours from contacts. In the process, a lot about his suspects comes out, but more about Harry himself.

HARRY LIPKIN P.I. is a gentle and funny book. Harry is Jewish , as are his client and most of his friends, and Harry's speech and thinking are suffused with an almost Yiddish humour. The joke about his age is sustained well throughout the book there are regular mild reminders about the restraints this imposes on Harry's behaviour. His actions are described with a deliberation that echoes very well the rather fussy attention to detail that is associated with old age, at the same time being amusing and rather endearing.

The only other book that comes to mind that explores the humour of old age is Peter Tinniswood's THE STIRK OF STIRK, where an aged arthritic Robin Hood is not coping too well with forest life in midwinter. In contrast, Harry is easy in his environment, and remains urbane, imperturbable and mentally sharp, equal to all the people he meets, both friendly and not. If only we could all age with so little deterioration to our intellectual faculties. At the same time, his physical capabilities are never pushed beyond the bounds of credibility, which is more than you can say for some of the private detectives who have graced our TV screens.

Given Harry's age, Fantoni could be forgiven for indulging in lengthy episodes of back story, but references to the past are short, just enough to explain how Harry got where he is today. Unlike Harry, the writing is bang up to date. The dialogue is spare and deadpan, and the chapters short and punchy. Fantoni has a light touch, and his hero is compassionate and sympathetic. HARRY LIPKIN, P.I. is an altogether charming book that should appeal to a wide audience.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, June 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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