BOOK REVIEW: ONE OF THE MADDING CROWD

What’s so ominous about the comment, “Martin’s Neck appeared to be a little different from any other town of its time”? The shadows deepen just a bit, though the place lies between comfortable and prosperous. Marc Steadman, the narrator of David Dutton’s novel, One of the Madding Crowd, introduces himself in 1957, at the age of ten. Marc lets us know, even before me meet his lifelong friends Tom Powell and Fredrika “Freddie” Clifton, that he is mad, though he routinely hides it as part of the charade their families have fixed upon their lives. 

The half-century saga, its title an allusion to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, provide the richness in characters and setting I expected from a seasoned writer. Dutton, known along the Eastern Seaboard for tantalizing short stories, plots the tale deftly, taking the comrades, their classmates and their kin through the years. As a historian, I savored the manner in which the author ripened the characters, and indeed their snug Delaware town, each chapter keen in its particular time. And the madness, binding the decades with razor-edged ivy—well, that’s what flips the pages, sheets lit by a thunderstorm. 

David Dutton

One of the Madding Crowd

WHY THE FOX?

Oh the Fox Went Out

Traditional

Oh the fox went out on a chilly night,
he prayed to the Moon to give him light,
he had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o,
he had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o.

He ran till he came to a great big bin
where the ducks and the geese were kept therein.
He said, “One of you critters gonna grease my chin
before I leave this town-o, town-o, town-o,
one of you critters gonna grease my chin
before I leave this town-o.”

Well, he grabbed the grey goose by the neck,
and threw the gray goose behind his back;
he didn’t mind the quack, quack, quack,
and their legs all dangling down-o, down-o, down-o,
he didn’t mind the quack, quack, quack,
and their legs all dangling down-o.

Old Mother Pitter Patter jumped out of bed,
out of the window she poked her head,
Crying, “John, John! The grey goose is gone
and the fox is on the town-o, town-o, town-o!”
Crying, “John, John, the grey goose is gone
and the fox is on the town-o!”

Then John he ran to the top of the hill,
blew his horn both loud and shrill.
The fox he said, “I’d better run with my kill
He’ll soon be on my trail-o, trail-o, trail-o.”
The fox he said, “I’d better run with my kill
Cause they’ll soon be on my trail-o.”

He ran till he came to his cozy den.
There were the little ones eight, nine, ten
They said, “Daddy, Daddy, better go back again,
’cause it must be a mighty fine town-o, town-o, town-o!”
They said, “Daddy, Daddy, better go back again,
’cause it must be a mighty fine town-o.”

Oh he gave the gray goose to his wife
who cut it up with his carving knife.
They never had such a feast in their life
and the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o,
they never had such a feast in their life
and the little ones chewed on the bones-o.

The Fox

MEET JACK GRIFFIN

How do you tell a beauty who’s never seen a battlefield about the fear and exhilaration of parachuting into Normandy or being surrounded at Bastogne? How do you discuss over a rare steak what artillery does to human flesh, or the memories that haunt your nights?

“I’ve probably had my fill of camping.”

Jack Griffin is the only working detective at Aadlund and Griffin Investigations. Maybe that’s why he never gets the girl, and always has to put a steak over his eye. Maybe.

Washington in July. The ceiling fans swished the air around like wet laundry. They’d built the dining room on the rooftop, but you couldn’t get above the heat. 

Her dazzle turned my way. “What do you do, Jack?” I told her I was a private detective. She giggled. “You’re not here on a case, are you? Which of us are you investigating?”

“I’ve had my eye on you all evening, lady.”

She snickered. “How do you like being a private eye?” 

“The good part is nobody tells me what to do and I never know what the next day will bring. The bad part is about the same as the good part.” Leave the tedium and the tenuous income out of it. “It doesn’t involve nearly as many desperate, gorgeous women as I’d been led to believe.”

She smiled. “What a shame!” 

Jack Griffin wants the girl, wants her bad, but even that doesn’t persuade him to pin it on his competition for her affections, Jack Kennedy, the young earnest senator that Griffin genuinely likes.

It didn’t occur to me then that Kennedy was rich. All I saw was this skinny, unassuming guy with a New England accent. His suit hung on his bones as though he were still recovering from the South Pacific, but his grin was a Steinway piano. Kennedy had the kind of charm that made you like him even when he was winning the girl you wanted. How do you outmaneuver a romancer like that?

My book, the first in my Griffin series, Let’s Say Jack Kennedy Killed the Girl, releases this summer, from Hawkshaw Press. Follow my blog for more teasers from Kennedy, more info. on Griffin, and me, and a chance to get some exclusive content.

In the meantime, if you need a private dick: