Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Milan Jacovitch Book by Les Roberts

I want a cigarette because Milan smokes then so real in The Cleveland Creep. The book is tight, with no extra words at all. We immediately liked Milan and are drawn into the story from page 1: “A couple came into the bar and sat down next to me. They both had that kind of unremarkable, unmemorable face that you couldn’t identify ten minutes later, and the only reason I noticed them at all was that his head got in the way between me and the TV set at the far end of the bar.” There’s something about the way he talks that is very much Les’s voice, and I love it. I hear Les all the way through the book, and because I love Les, I love reading the story.

We learn about Milan gradually, but at the beginning of chapter two, we get “Maybe it’s the empty-bed syndrome after a lifelong marriage; maybe it’s just that I’m pushing forty and not terribly pleased with where my life has taken me,” which is followed by two paragraphs of his life story, his entire life summed up just like that and very naturally in the conversational tone that this first-person past-tense book does. While this is a book about solving a crime, it’s mostly about Milan, and I suppose that’s why people like it Les’ books so much. He has absurd conversations with people because he doesn’t hold back, doesn’t care much about what people think of him.

I find it interesting that he goes into discourses about art and places and it doesn’t bother me. For example, he gives a description of A Streetcar Named Desire and a critique of the actress’s performance, and it sounds like he’s just telling a story. On Cleveland locations, we recognize them: Sammy’s becomes Danny’s, and the Watermark becomes the Watershed. I’m glad Milan too Mary to the Watermark instead of to Sammy’s, which was always a bit obnoxious.

Descriptions. Get a load of this: “his face got tight like a woman’s leather clutch purse that had been stuffed too full with makeup and cigarettes and tampons and address books.” Since Milan is narrating this, that’s Milan’s description. Milan is smart. Some of the things he says, like “I’ll bet your dictionary of American clich√©s is falling apart from overuse” are gems.

The plot is easy to follow and intriguing. I want to find out what happened to the guy who was murdered, and I want to find out what is behind it all. What are the reasons human beings do these things to each other? Greed, hate, jealousy, anger, all those negative things that make us human are the things capable of turning us to murder.
At the end of the book we’re in Milan’s personal life, and his relationship with Mary and his thoughts on the whole matter, which is exactly where the book should go to at the end because the book is about Milan and not about the murder he solved. There’s a long sentence there, but I like long sentences. “And afterward, after we had moved into the adjoining room for reasons of comfort and greater maneuverability, and we were each smoking a cigarette and sharing a Stroh’s, I couldn’t help reflecting on the nature of the universe, and how from death comes life, from destruction comes rebirth, and from a particularly messy and brutal case that had pretty much destroyed my faith in human nature came my first moment of real peace and happiness in a long time.”

He struggles with having chosen the private investigator line of work, and he ends the book with “And maybe, just maybe, it might not have happened to a greengrocer or a rack jobber or the guy who sells ads on the phone for the Plain Dealer. And that made it all okay.”

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