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FOOL’S ERRAND by Jeffrey S. Stephens: Book Review

Fathers and sons.  They can have a warm and nurturing relationship…or not.  And since Fool’s Errand is a mystery novel, it’s probably the latter.

Blackie Rinaldi was a paradox, an enigma, a puzzle.  As the protagonist describes it shortly after the novel opens, his father disliked all ethnic groups (except Italians) equally, which in his mind meant he wasn’t racist.  He was a low-level gangster who read Shelly and Keats.  He loved his older brother Vincent and wanted his respect but pulled a knife out at Vincent’s daughter’s wedding when he felt he had been disrespected.

Six years after Blackie’s death, his widow gives their son a box of things that belonged to Blackie.  There were the usual letters and photos of a man’s life, but there’s also an envelope with “For My Son” in his father’s handwriting.  Reading the contents will change his son’s life.

The letter inside talks about Money with a capital M, his best friend Benny, and France, which is where Blackie and Benny were stationed toward the end of World War II.  Getting in touch with Benny seems to be the only way to find out more about what happened in France and why his father, who always talked about a big deal, had never told him about it.

A quick meeting with his cousin Frank helps him track Benny to his new home in Las Vegas.  Benny reluctantly admits that there had been something going on in France that involved Blackie, himself, and a Frenchman.  “You oughtta let this go….You don’t want to get yourself in a jam,” is his advice.  But since it’s obvious to Benny that he won’t let it go, Benny gives him the name of the Frenchman who was also involved in the mysterious affair and the last address he has for Gilles de la Houssay.

Flying back to New York the next day, he meets Donna, and as they disembark he invites her to dinner the following evening.  Then, on a whim, he invites her to go with him to France.  She agrees, and the two fly off to Paris to meet Gilles.

Over dinner in a Parisian restaurant Gilles recounts the story of Blackie’s time in France, how the two Americans were recruited by the army to find items stolen from families by the Nazis and their French collaborators.  And then Blackie’s son learns what it was that his father and Benny stole.

Now maybe you’re more aware reading this post than I was reading the book, and perhaps you’ve notice something “off,” something missing in the review.  If you haven’t, here it is–nowhere is the protagonist’s name. 

That’s right, he’s nameless throughout the book, something that was done so skillfully that I didn’t realize it until I went looking for his name in order to write this review.  He’s referred to as Blackie’s son throughout.  He introduces himself to other characters but not to us.  Neither his mother nor his sister names him, and neither do Benny, Donna, or the Frenchman.  So clever!  So I guess I’ll just call him The Son.

Fool’s Errand is a close look into family dynamics, the relationship between fathers and sons, and how that influences The Son’s life.  It’s filled with fascinating characters, an exciting plot, and, did I mention, a nameless protagonist?

You can read more about Jeffrey S. Stephens at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



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