On The Cavanaugh Quest (Thomas Gifford)

Over the years I have returned to this story of love and death, incest and suicide, murder, listening to the voice of a jaded and burned out Paul Cavanaugh as he tries to unravel a pretty seedy story of human shame and revenge. Cavanaugh doesn’t think anyone can sink as low as he is, on the verge of a mid-life crisis, but he soon finds out that looks can be deceiving, and that everyone is lying to him, except maybe his father. Of course, this novel is about facades, and nobody is really who they appear to be. Cavanaugh falls in love, but he’s a failed Lothario who’s affection go unrequited by one of the most interesting characters you will ever meet in a crime novel who-dun-it, Kim Roderick, who is straight out of an Poe short-story. Cavanaugh is an unlikely investigator, but not an unlikeable one, who isn’t afraid to share his shortcomings, whatever they might be. He’s a bit of a moral relativist, but even he is shocked by the crime that has been committed, especially in the end when all is revealed. Some of the book is a nostalgic, but cynical, look at Minneapolis, Minnesota in the early seventies set against the Ford pardon of Nixon. Minneapolis looks good, but it’s really rotten to the core, a moral metaphor for the ethics of the local rich and famous, upstanding citizens who are a little less than upstanding. The story evokes an end-of-summer atmosphere of sweltering heat, thunderstorms, and North Shore memories that will make any Minnesota yearn for just one more weekend up-north, at the cabin. Cavanaugh yearns to feel young again, but the decay and moral collapse around him only heightens his sense of lost youth and passing time. Though he does solve the puzzle, it’s not because he is Poirot, but because he just sticks with it until the end, as would most people. Readers will be able to relate to a “normal” guy who is not a “gifted” super-sleuth. Gifford hides the solution to the puzzle in plain sight—he’s the real genius in this novel. It unfolds slowly and methodically, and you won’t feel cheated or bamboozled at the end because the solution was more than obvious from about chapter two on. The prose flows fluidly, and although Gifford might be a bit verbose, he does it to pad the readers thoughts with lots of red-herring almost as well as Agatha Christie herself. If you are looking for something different, this might be your ticket. I highly recommend it.