Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Augustus Mandrell is as American as hamburger

I'm rereading Shoot the President, Are You Mad?, Frank McAuliffe's long-awaited fourth book Augustus Mandrell. How long awaited? The book appeared in 2010, twenty-four years after the author died and following collections of Mandrell "commissions" (he's an international hit man) that had appeared in 1965, 1968, and 1971.  Here a post I made back when I first read Shoot the President, Are You Mad? When I'm done with it (the book, not the post), I just may reread the first three Augustus Mandrell books. They're that good.

I've mentioned the bracing mix of British manners and American sensibilities in Frank McAuliffe's books about Augustus Mandrell. McAuliffe, an American, made Mandrell a kind of outsider, apparently British. This gave him the luxury of observing American ways with amused detachment. Here are some examples from Shoot the President, Are You Mad?:
"There was certain to be some grumbling regarding the issue of `conspiracy' since the American people, despite their impressive history of individual action, appear rather keen on attributing dramatic events, particularly those of an anti-social nature, to shadowy groups."
"[A]s the days passed with still no apprehension of the despicable manufacturer of air conditioners, the president, now enjoying the role of spiritual leader to the electorate ... "
"`But no class, Man, no class,' the Doctor objected. `They underbid each other. "If Tony will do-a da job for 300 bucks, I'll tell-a you wot. I'll do it for 250, if you buy da bullets." How you going to get class when you're shopping around for the lowest bidder?'

"`My dear Doctor, are you questioning the "free enterprise" system? The very cornerstone of America's greatness?"
McAuliffe also pokes delicious fun at insecure Americans' worship of culinary luxury, having Mandrell issue elaborate instructions to a chef that include "a quarter pound of lean Argentine beef. You chop it into an even consistency and form into into a patty. Fry, over a natural gas flame for eleven seconds per side ... A folded leaf of California lettuce ... place just under the top bun a slice of Bermuda onion, one sliced within the past 12 hours."
"`Clifford,' says Mandrell's puzzled companion, `that concoction you ordered, do you know what it sounded like? One of those dreadful hamburgers the Americans are always eating in their backyards.'

"`Of course, my dear,' I smiled. `I've been dying for one all day. I was but attempting to spare the man the embarrassment of writing `hamburger, with the trimmings' on his pad. He'd have been the laughing stock of the kitchen.'"
Historical notes: It has been reported that McAuliffe submitted the manuscript of Shoot the President, Are You Mad? to his publisher just before John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and that the unfortunate coincidence was responsible for the decades-long delay in the book's appearance. But an afterword from McAuliffe's daughter says McAuliffe wrote the book in 1975. Even then, she wrote, "the mutual consensus was that the American people ... were not ready to make light of the demise of an individual who held possession of the highest office in the land."

The third Mandrell book, For Murder I Charge More, won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best paperback original in 1972. A second award would not be out of place in 2011.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010, 2014

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Blogger Philip Amos said...

Daft as it may seem to many, I always had the feeling that there was something of this sort lurking in Philip Marlowe, though I also thought I might have been reading this into the character simply because I knew Chandler's own background and education at Dulwich College (in common with our friend at Crime Scraps). But then I finally got around to reading Playback, and therein a conversation between Marlowe, in custody for the night, and a desk sergeant about the pros and cons of Artur Schnabel's and Artur Rubinstein's performances of Mozart, and I wondered anew. Not exactly the fat normally chewed by hard-boiled American PIs -- or desk sergeants, come to that.

April 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, desk sergeants are not paragons of civilized conversation in American crime fiction.

I knew Chandler and Norman had attended the same school as Simon Brett and P.G. Wodehouse, yes. I have also read Chandler's remarks about the importance of his education in England, so your speculation makes sense.

I'm reading some of Chandler's short stories now. In the earliest, at least, he seems to be sticking closely to what was probably appearing in Black Mask at the time. Maybe evidence of Chandler's background emerges in the later stories. Then again, conversations about Rubinstein and Schnabel are likelier in a novel, I'd say.

April 05, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love the Mandrell books. Talk about masterly plotting! And just plain fun. Great stuff.

April 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have read nothing else like them. They're a mix of James Bond and Huckleberry Finn, with a fair bit of P.G. Wodehouse thrown in.

April 09, 2014  

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