Death and the Language of Happiness (Cecil Younger Series #4)


Cecil Younger is a private investigator who takes comfort in the absurdity of the universe. And the universe is obliging him with a joint phone call from his lawyer and his shrink to convey a message from another client: Someone will pay Cecil well to get rid of a killing a man. Though the bank is about to foreclose on the house he shares with the autistic Toddy, Cecil knows he's not the man for this job. Common sense tells him that murder just isn't a good career move. But he does need the money, so...
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0792722221 Ex-Library with usual markings. In clamshell case. All tapes present (6) and intact **Tracking on all US orders**Most orders shipped within 24 hours.***

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Cecil Younger is a private investigator who takes comfort in the absurdity of the universe. And the universe is obliging him with a joint phone call from his lawyer and his shrink to convey a message from another client: Someone will pay Cecil well to get rid of a killing a man. Though the bank is about to foreclose on the house he shares with the autistic Toddy, Cecil knows he's not the man for this job. Common sense tells him that murder just isn't a good career move. But he does need the money, so Cecil decides to meet his potential client. Ninety-seven-year-old William Flynn is none too clear on what's happened this week, but he's razor-sharp on the events of eight decades past. What's happened this week is the murder of Angela Rameriez, a young woman who used to visit Flynn in the nursing home where he resides. And the subsequent discovery in Flynn's room of the gun used to kill her - which makes him the prime suspect. Flynn wants Cecil Younger to find, and kill, the man he believes is responsible for Angela's murder: her husband Simon Delaney. Cecil, his shrink, and Flynn's attorney all figure it may help Flynn's defense to find Delaney, so Cecil sets out on the trail. It leads him from a rough-and-tumble Aleutian Island town to the perilous streets of Seattle, from the pathetic murder of a drunken woman in a cheap hotel to a decades-old slaughter that is still reaching into the present. And its dark and chilly grasp may extend to Cecil Younger himself....
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Alaska's splendor and isolation are beautifully evoked in Straley's features starring down-at-the-heels PI Cecil Younger (The Music of What Happens, 1996). But like Cecil, who can't quite get his life together, this plot lacks coherence. Angela Ramirez, a local woman and alcoholic mother of two youngsters, is shot to death in a hotel room. The police find the murder gun in the room of 97-year old former labor agitator William Flynn, who claims he's innocent. Flynn hires Cecil to find Angela's husband, Simon Delaney, a union organizer who had recently decamped, and who, the old man insists, knows about Angela's murder and earlier deaths. Members of Cecil's entourage make their expected appearances: his iconoclast lawyer, Dickie Stein; his loving girlfriend, Jane Marie; and his autistic housemate, Todd. The case winds back to the Centralia Massacre of 1919, when a gunfight broke out between American Legion marchers and Industrial Workers of the World members during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia, Washington. Several men died and two Wobblies vanished. In the process of finding Angela's murderer, Cecil also discovers what happened to the missing Wobblies nearly 80 years before. The scenery and well-integrated historical detail provide a welcome dimension to the often confusing, unevenly developed plot. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In one of his more puzzling cases, Alaskan p.i. Cecil Younger (e.g., The Music of What Happens, 1996) connects the murder of a young mother to the disappearance years earlier of two boys. His source, a 97-year-old suspect in the woman's death, wants Cecil to locate the woman's missing husband. Cecil flies to the old man's abandoned island shack, where he finds a clue-laden trunk, then pursues the elusive but violent husband. An intriguing story, bolstered by familiar characters (girlfriend Jane Marie, roommate Todd), evocative backdrops, and well-crafted prose.
School Library Journal
YA--Cecil Younger, a private investigator, makes his fourth appearance in this mystery set in Alaska and Washington state. The latter was the site of a 1919 tragedy in which four American Legionnaires, marching in an Armistice Day Parade, were killed by Wobblies defending an IWW Hall. One Wobbly was lynched, several others were convicted of murder, and two were never found. Younger searches for links between that event and the modern-day murder of Angela Rameriez, a young woman who often visited 97-year-old William Flynn at a Sitka, AK, retirement home. The old man is quite confused about many things, but lucidly pleads his innocence even though the murder weapon was found in his room. He asks Younger to find and kill Simon Delaney, Angela's husband, whom Flynn believes is the murderer. Younger's therapist and Flynn's lawyer urge the investigator to find Delaney and thus the search is on, taking Younger to the Aleutian Islands and down to Washington, where he locates his man and solves both the murder and the missing pieces of the 1919 puzzle. Straley creates particularly vivid settings. This novel helps clarify the historical role of Wobblies in America by focusing on one event and creating a "what if" scenario. YAs wanting a short, fast-moving mystery will be satisfied by this tale by an award-winning author.--Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Sitka, Alaska, shamus Cecil Younger's willing to do an awful lot of things for money, but killing a man isn't one of them. So, naturally, he's reluctant to take a retainer from crazy old William Flynn, whose reaction to being accused of shooting his neighbor, abusive mother Angela Ramirez, is to babble a confession and then offer Cecil a down payment of $2,000 for finding and killing Angela's estranged husband, Simon Delaney. Cecil doesn't condone murder, of course, not even when he's committing it, but he hasn't worked for three months, and $2,000 is $2,000. Besides, Flynn rambles so much—he keeps going on about covering up for his brother Tommy, who's been dead eight years, and about another killing that took place nearly eighty years ago—that Cecil's hoping to earn his fee without actually having to pull the trigger. The search for Delaney will take him as far afield as the wilds of far-off Dutch Harbor, where the police welcome him with suspiciously open arms, and back in time to 1919 Centralia, Washington, where a post-Armistice labor rally sparked the violence that may have addled Flynn's brain for good. The highlight is Cecil's fumbling, funny attempt to hitchhike the last miles to Centralia with his retarded friend Toddy, but the whole book is really a road story in disguise.

In fact, Straley's fourth (The Music of What Happens, 1996, etc.) shows his Shandyesque love of loose ends getting the better of his logic: The mystery-mongering is as febrile as old man Flynn.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792722229
  • Publisher: AudioGO
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Series: Cecil Younger Series, #4
  • Format: Cassette
  • Product dimensions: 6.59 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

John Straley lives in Sitka, Alaska, with his young son and wife, a marine biologist who studies whales.  He is the Shamus Award-winning author of The
Woman Who Married a Bear
, The Curious Eat Themselves, and The Music of What Happens.  He is at work on his next Cecil Younger novel,
The Angels Will Not Care.

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Read an Excerpt

I was organizing a birthday party for my roommate when both my lawyer and my psychiatrist called.

"Hey, Cecil, are you busy?" Dickie Stein's voice echoed over the line as if he were in the bottom of a well.

"Take me off that goddamn speaker phone, will ya?" I yelled at him as I kept stretching a skinny blue balloon.

"Sorry, man, but this is business. I'm here with Dr. Trout. You know the good doctor, I believe?" Dickie had on his adult voice.

"The pill man," I said and held the balloon to my lips.

"Cecil, how you doing?" I heard the doctor's professionally calming voice above the rustling of paper.

I took the balloon out from between my lips. "Do you mean 'How you doing?' like am I witnessing alien abductions? Or do you mean 'How am I doing?'"

"Start wherever you like. But don't work too hard on your story. I won't prescribe you any more drugs."

"Damn the bad luck." I stretched the blue balloon, trying to loosen its skin. My memory lingered on the comical little buzz I used to get by abusing the tranquilizers Dr. Trout prescribed. I cradled the receiver on my shoulder and kept talking. "Basically I'm fine. Other than the fact that I'm nearly indigent and I find sobriety to be a tedious bore."

"Glad to hear it," my shrink chirped.

"Hey, I need the services of a private investigator, Cecil." Dickie's voice cut in out of nowhere. "Are you free?"

"Just let me look at my calendar," I said and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the party balloon. My face turned red, my eyes hurt, and the balloon was still a rigid blue spike. I spoke back into the phone. "I'm completely yours. What do youhave?"

"It's going to be a murder case." He paused and I could hear a sheaf of papers fall off his desk. Dickie generally believed in a composting style of office management. "You know William Flynn. Right?"

My stomach tightened. I knew William Flynn. I was in my forties but William Flynn had always been an old man, as far as I knew. He had lived with his brother in a remote anchorage to the southwest of Glacier Bay. William and his brother Tommy were fisherman and hunters who rarely made it to town. They were eccentrics of the cranky and opinionated sort you run into all over the North. I didn't know the Flynn brothers well, but had anchored in their cove one entire commercial fishing season the year I was trying to earn my college tuition. They were strange seditionists, as I remember. William would lure me to shore with hot meals and books from eastern Europe and Asia while Tommy would blister me with his opinions about the abuses of the ruling class. Tommy was gone now. I didn't remember when he had died, only that William turned up on the streets of Sitka sometime in the eighties and I would run into him walking through the gardens of the Pioneers' Retirement Home nodding and inspecting the flowers as if he were a collector at a rare art sale.

"Yeah. I know William Flynn," I told my lawyer.

Dickie's voice faded in and out. I imagined him picking up the file from the floor where I could also imagine the pizza box and the moldy cartons from Chinese take-out.

"Okay," Dickie blurted and his voice settled back into focus. "You probably know this stuff, Cecil, but I'll cover it all so we will all be reading off the same sheet of music." Dickie was at his most irritating when he tried acting like a real lawyer. It was just one of the ways that Harvard Law School had scarred him.

"Angela Ramirez is shot to death by a thirty-eight caliber handgun while in the hotel bathtub. The police respond. Witnesses see William Flynn walking unsteadily across the street back toward the Pioneers' Home where he lives. The police find an antique thirty-eight-caliber revolver that appears to have been recently fired. The gun's been sent out for tests. The old man makes statements. Garbled stuff. He says Angela was going to leave him and he couldn't stand it. He says something about castration. I can't make much sense of it but he acts like he is covering for his brother Tommy, but as you know Tommy's been dead some eight years now. It's real nutty stuff, Cecil. But that's okay because Flynn's statement is suppressible."

"That's the good news? What do you need from me?"

"Well, Cecil..." my psychiatrist's voice came cutting through, "Dickie has asked me to evaluate Mr. Flynn's competency to stand trial. And I've been doing just that ..." There was a pause in the line; no papers rattled.

"So, is he nuts or not?" I asked as I reached for a pink balloon.

"Let me get back to that..." My doctor was almost whispering now. "William is ninety-seven years old. He can walk short distances, but uses a wheelchair in the home. It's my understanding the DA's won't go to the trouble of charging him if he is not competent. It's a complex case so I'm going to keep my opinion to myself as long as the investigation continues, and as long as William Flynn remains a suspect."

"Okay...Again, what do you need from me?" I asked, beginning to feel a little jacked around by the professionals.

"Well..." he drawled out, "Mr. Flynn wants you to kill someone." The doctor's voice said it calmly.

"Really?" I stopped stretching the pink balloon.

"Actually, yes." He was speaking softly now so I could barely make out his words. "And the funny thing...Oh, not funny really...but the interesting thing is I think it could possibly help his legal situation. I know that sounds absurd--"

"What do you think, Dickie?" I cut Doctor Trout off before he sank deeper into his moral qualms. There would be enough time for those once we both started billing hours on the case.

"It's wacky stuff, Cecil," Dickie said. "But old Flynn seems to be talking about a possible witness to Angela Ramirez's killing."

"And the fact that he wants me to murder a witness to this woman's killing is good news? Isn't that a little optimistic?"

"Just go down and talk to Flynn, Cecil. Get a line on this guy. You have personal experience with this stuff." Dickie sounded happy.

"Which--insanity or tampering with a witness?" I tried the balloon again and my sinuses felt as if they were tearing.

"Both," Dickie said. "Just meet the doc down at the home and talk to Mr. Flynn, okay?"

"Give me a couple of minutes to blow up this balloon," I said cheerfully.

"Fine...fine," my lawyer muttered and the line went dead.

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