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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris

Seventh Street Books, 240 pages, $15.95

The very interesting website, Lost Manuscripts, explains the tale of Hemingway’s missing suitcase. It is upon this true story that Shaun Harris builds his darkly funny, criminal-road-trip-in-Mexico story, “The Hemingway Thief.”

In a nutshell, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife packed all of his stories, carbons and all, into a suitcase, which was then stolen at a Paris train station. The as-yet-unpublished Ernest had to start from scratch, and we know how that turned out.

In contemporary times, an author, Henry “Coop” Cooper, has gone to Mexico to contemplate killing himself. In a strictly literary sense. His alias, Toulouse Velour, a scribbler of vampire love stories, must die, so Coop, the serious author, can live. Alas, Toulouse is a golden goose. His public and his publisher love him. His public pictures him as a shimmering goddess. Instead, he is a beer-swilling, pot-toking loser. The “serious author” in him is crying to be let out. Unfortunately, the “serious author” hasn’t written a damn thing while in his sleepy Mexican hideaway.

What Coop has accomplished is to get to know another American ex-pat, the local hotelier, Grady Doyle. It is in Grady’s bar one fine day that two villains come to roust a young man who has passed out at one of Grady’s tables. The young man is Eben Milch and, without knowing his story, Grady and a reluctant Coop come to his rescue. All three men now have acquired a serious enemy, Newton Thandy, a shady antiquarian. And now the three men are on the run, running from Thandy and running towards the fabled suitcase of Hemingway’s manuscripts.

Shaun Harris must have had a great time naming his characters. Digby is the hotel handyman who proves to be oh-so-much more. Pièta is a hitwoman. El Cuerno (The Horn) is a villain. Dutch is a weed grower extraordinaire. Elmo is the wise man on the mountain, or at least the philosopher on the mount. You get the idea perhaps that Harris has some wacky times planned for his adventurers.

Harris’ tale was fun to read, although during times of one-sentence exchanges, his characters were sometimes indistinguishable from each other. “The Hemingway Thief” reminded me of Johnny Shaw’s books, wacky and action-filled, but Shaw’s books have more depth and narrative strength. This would be a good book to read while on vacation in Mexico.

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