Thursday, May 18, 2017

Murder in Mount Holly: Review

It's the late 1960s. Lyndon Johnson is President and United States is deep in Vietnam. Herbie Gneiss is happily attending college when his widowed mother guilts him into leaving college to get a job and sending her enough money to keep her from starving...with enough extra to pop chocolate bonbons in her ever-hungry mouth all day long while watching television. He gets a job at the Kant-Brake toy factory which churns out military-style toys. He moves into Miss Ball's rooming house (to be close to work) and meets fellow-roomer Mr. Gibbon who also works at the factory.

Herbie has just settled into his new life when Uncle Sam decides another soldier is needed in 'Nam and drafts him. Exit Herbie off the stage and (spoiler alert) soon out of the story all together. During his brief sojourn at the rooming house, he introduces Mr. Gibbon to his mother and they fall in love. Pretty soon, Mrs. Gneiss gives up her house and moves into Herbie's old rooms at Miss Ball's. Led by the ultra-patriotic Mr. Gibbon (veteran of three wars!), the three decide they need to do something on the home-front while Herbie is off fighting for his country. What better thing to do than to show the You-Know-Whos (all the commie brown people taking over America) that "real Americans" means business? And what better way to show the You-Know-Whos than to rob a bank managed by a small dark man who is undoubtedly a communist? Probably. Maybe. 

The three elderly robbers-to-be set work casing the joint and making plans for a spectacular robbery that will put them on the front page as patriotic Americans saving their money (and the rest of the town's while they're at it) from the evil Reds who are stealing everybody blind. As is often the case, the best laid plans often go astray--but what's a murder or two, kidnapped policemen, and a stolen cop car among friends?

Paul Theroux's Murder in Mount Holly (1969) is the second non-traditional crime novel I've read from my birth year. It's starting to look like a trend. It could, just, be slotted into the inverted mystery category. There are definitely no surprises here--except for guessing how many corpses there will be littered about before the over-the-hill gang get done with their crime spree. But I don't think Theroux's real goal was a crime novel. It strikes me more as satirical commentary on the times in which he lived. He plays on the idea of patriotism--most obviously with the character of Mr. Gibbons, but also with Mrs. Gneiss's false pride in sending her son off to the battlefield. I definitely get the feeling that dear old mom is thinking more about her next bonbon than she is about Herbie off in Vietnam. And if her lover-boy, Gibbons, weren't so hipped on his particular brand of patriotism I doubt she'd give it another thought at all. He uses the casual violence to underscore the violence of the current war. Theroux also examine the fear of the other (all those brown people taking over everything) that strikes a chord with today's reader with the background noise of Donald Trump and his supporters chanting "Build the wall!"  

A thought-provoking novel that, like Blind Man With a Pistol, gives the reader another snapshot of America in the late 1960s. ★★

[Finished on 5/15/17]
This fulfills the "Blue Object" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

J.G. said...

Lots of weird stuff going on in 1969 fiction (how odd that the initial main character disappears early on) . . . but it sounds like you've got this one figured out.

I agree that some of it sounds oh so familiar!