A Country of Old Men - Joseph Hansen
Brandstetter #12 (the final one)
This is the last in the Dave Brandstetter series and if youíve got this far then I suspect you donít really need a review: youíre going to read this last one regardless. Given that, I wonít write a review but Iíll assume you have already read this one and you just needed to see what someone else thought about it.
SoÖ major spoilers coming upÖ donít read on if you havenít read this one.
When is a cliffhanger not a cliffhanger? Well, Iíd say itís when you know the book is the last oneóno sequels. Then a so-called cliffhanger is just a shock calculated to upset the reader. Did Hansen mean for that last sentence to stand for the whole of Daveís life? If he did, then I reckon thatís pretty unforgivable.
Iím angry at this whole novel. Yes, I know people age. But people shit and piss and snore, too, but you donít need to constantly remind the reader that these things are going on in the background of any characterís life. Toward the end of this series, Dave became old age. Every movement, every thing he did was defined by the fact that he was old. It was unnecessary. I wonder if Hansen himself was having a major problem with aging and took his angst out in his character.
Of course, Brandstetter wasnít as popular when Hansen wrote him as he is beginning to become now. He didnít have a huge following with fans writing to him begging him not to kill his character off. Maybe he wouldnít have listened if he had. Perhaps he had no idea of the impact that an ending like the one he gave Dave would have on his readers. Iíve followed this man through eight books, three lovers, countless injuries and trips to the hospital, death of his father and death of his friends. He was a good man. He was a nice man, and I feel very, very angry that his own creator cheated him at the end. Dave deserved more than to be left dead or dying on the floor like that, away from Cecil and everything he loved.
In fact Iím also too upset to continue this.
I think Dave would think heíd had a raw deal here.
I hate endings.† Saying farewell to a favourite fictional character hurts.† I get too emotionally involved.† Then I wouldnít get the same level of pleasure if I didnít.† Itís a tribute to Hansenís skill as a writer that he made a difficult character sympathetic without compromise. This is a book full of loss, death and change.† Dave admits he still misses Rod, his partner for 22 years whose horrible lingering end he had to watch helplessly.† Thatís not what Dave wants for Cecil.
Itís a book that anyone whoís enjoyed the other 11 volumes will have read.† To be honest I was distracted from the mystery plot trying to read the runes, though the case more than matches Daveís earlier puzzles.† The title is both apt and poignant.† The book is an experience tinged with sorrow, a kind of long good-bye filled with emotion, every page bringing you closer to having to leave Dave & Cecil.†
Dave keeps his phone unplugged to emphasise the fact heís retired.† Then a young boy turns up on the beach alone, traumatised and suffering from obvious signs of abuse.† Daveís old friend Madge finds the boy and calls upon Dave to investigate.† The child, Zach, claims he witnessed a murder and was kidnapped by the killer, but the police are sceptical.† One more final case.† Yeah, we know Dave is NEVER going to quit!
Hansen is vague on Daveís age but he HAS to be pushing 70.† Therefore itís wonderful he can still be cruised (a polite refusal)!† And a receptionist mistakes him for a fashion model.†† When Dave isnít working on the case he collapses exhausted into bed.† A single Martini knocks him out, but itís his vices that keep life worth living.† Cecil fusses over Dave like a mother hen, but Dave knows whatís good for him and not even Cecil can keep him at home.
Remember Kovacs, the crazy potter who tried to get into Daveís pants when he was with Doug?† He makes an appearance. Stepmother Angela is getting married again and wants Daveís blessing.† Thereís a character in the story who has to be Hansen himself: Jack Helmers is another of Daveís buddies from high school, a writer of detective stories Dave hasnít seen for 20 years when he turns up at his door.† Helmers is writing a memoir thatís got old acquaintances worried, and soon they start visiting Dave.† Detective Leppard is there too, investigating officer for LAPD still trying to protect him.† And doesnít Dave hate that!†
The book is subtitled The Last Dave Brandstetter Mystery.† A parting of the ways thatís elegiac but never sentimental, and always very real.† You get the feeling Hansen was feeling timeís passage as he wrote.† Dave wearily thinks about death, how many people have gone and how everything has changed, the world an altogether uglier place. More than physical tiredness itís a malaise of the soul thatís inevitable as we contemplate our own mortality.† All pretty deep for a genre novel purists would dismiss as escapist reading.† I only wish Hansen had given us a few more books, maybe delving into Daveís wartime experiences and the years with Rod when he solved his first cases.