Created by Andrew Bergman
“Private dicks aren’t known for being great abstract thinkers, Miss Lane, but we can get around town without a map.”
— Jack tries to reassure a client in The Big Kiss-Off of 1944
One of the first, and still one of the very best retro eyes, predating both Nate Heller and Toby Peters, was Andrew Bergman’s 1940’s New York P.I. JACK LeVINE, who appeared in two very well-received books back in the seventies.
When we first meet him, in The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 (1974), Jack’s thirty-eight, a former fellow traveler, a big guy with a big nose, bald and sweaty. “I don’t look half-bad when I keep my hat on,” he says in his defense. He’s divorced, and his ex has remarried. He blames the break-up of the six-year marriage on his job and its hours. He smokes Luckys, drinks beer, preferably Blatz, and reads Dick Tracy everyday. He enjoys a good poker game, and listening to baseball and the fights on the radio. And he’s Jewish, not that that seems to come much into play.
He has an office (complete with stuffed moosehead) in Manhattan, and commutes from his apartment in Queens on the Flushing L. He considers himself a “basic model 1944 prole,” and has few illusions about his job. “People hire a dick to do the dirty work, like they pay a colored girl to clean up the john… we do a job and disappear.”
Yet, for such a simple man, he seems to run with some pretty fast company: Thomas Dewey, Richard Nixon, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and various celebrities, including Ava Gardner, John Garfield , Lauren Bacall, and Humphrey Bogart, who gives Jack–literally–the shirt off his back, in Jack’s trip out west in the second in the series, Hollywood and LeVine (1975). Indeed, that’s part of the charm of the series–that this no-name shamus tromping through the corruption and chicanery of Cold War-era American politics somehow rubs up against the movers and shakers of the era, like some fedora-and-trenchcoat version of Forrest Gump.
And that was that. Two dark, politically tinged, well-received books and out. Bergman found other, more lucrative things to do, lie write hit movies. But then, a quarter of a century later, Jack returned, in 2001’s Tender is LeVine, which found Jack back in 1950 Manhattan, hired by a second violin for the NBC Symphony, who’s worried about his boss, renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini. The case eventually takes Jack through the corridors of power of NBC, the mob and even Cuba, ticking off everyone he meets along the way. Same old Jack.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In those missing twenty-five years, Bergman concentrated mostly on his film career, and created quite a name for himself as a screenwriter and director. His credits include Blazing Saddles (co-written with Mel Brooks), The In-Laws, Soapdish, The Freshman, Fletch, Striptease and Honeymoon in Vegas. Not too shabby a sideline for a damn good P.I. writer.
- “I love your new leVine…the character and the feel of your books are terriffic. I hope this one finds a wide audience, even beyond New York. After all, the others found me in the hinterlands long ago.”
- “Tender Is LeVine is a fabulous historical mystery that works because Andrew Bergman makes 1950 seem so real that it in turn anchors the mystery and Jack. The story line is fast-paced and the investigation is fun to watch, but this tale belongs to the period as history has never unfolded any better than this superb detective tale.”
— Harriett Klausner
WTF??? Could somebody tell me what the hell this means? Was Harriett on drugs?
- “Smooth as the bourbon Marlowe kept in his desk drawer. Bergman’s voice is assured from page one. Too bad there were only three outings over so many years.”
— David Vineyard (July 2016, Mystery*File)
- The Big Kiss-Off of 1944 (1974) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Hollywood and Levine (1975) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Tender is LeVine (2001) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- “In the Tank” (2002, Murder on the Ropes)
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- July 18, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: Still one of the best retro eyes, this gumshoe rubbed up against a ton of celebrity movers & shakers of the 1940s, like a fedora-and-trenchcoat version of Forrest Gump.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And a tip of the fedora to Dan Leissner for the nudge.