The Man Who Never Returned

The Man Who Never Returned

3.2 11
by Peter Quinn

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Judge Joe Crater's disappearance in 1930 spawned countless conspiracy theories and captured the imagination of a nation caught in the grip of The Depression.

Fifteen years later, Fintan Dunne the detective encountered in Quinn's novel Hour of the Cat, recently retired and bored, answers a summons to New York where he is asked to solve the old case for a

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Judge Joe Crater's disappearance in 1930 spawned countless conspiracy theories and captured the imagination of a nation caught in the grip of The Depression.

Fifteen years later, Fintan Dunne the detective encountered in Quinn's novel Hour of the Cat, recently retired and bored, answers a summons to New York where he is asked to solve the old case for a newspaper magnate only interested in making a profit from the story.

Peter Quinn once again has written a compelling blend of history and fiction that is simply unputdownable.

Editorial Reviews

Matthew Battles

Few threads have disappeared so completely into history's loom than the story of Joseph Force Crater. A graduate of Columbia Law and a darling of Tammany Hall, Crater rose swiftly in the avaricious milieu of Jazz-Age New York politics; by the time then-governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Crater to the New York State Supreme Court in April 1930, the once-upstanding young jurist was awash in chorus girls and shady business deals. Vacationing in Maine that summer, Crater was called back to New York on a mysterious errand. A few nights later, his wife in Bar Harbor awaiting his return, Crater stepped into a taxi on 42nd Street after eating dinner with friends. He was never seen again. Like the mysteries surrounding Amelia Earhart and infant Charles Lindbergh, Jr., Crater's disappearance fascinated a nation recently plunged into the Great Depression.

Novelist Peter Quinn begins The Man Who Never Returned when the trail has grown cold and Crater's fame is all but forgotten. Fintan Dunne, the anti-anti-hero of Quinn's previous novel, The Hour of the Cat, is a superannuated detective with the requisite thick skin: veteran of two world wars and years on the NYPD, he's straight out of central casting. But Dunne is done: having built and then sold a successful detective agency, struggling to enjoy an early retirement in Florida, he finds himself hopping trains to Chicago and Los Angeles to check up on branch offices and old contacts. Then a surprise: he's summoned to New York by a quirky, demagogue-ish newspaper mogul, by the name of Walter Wilkes, who wants to resurrect the Crater mystery in order to launch a new glossy magazine to compete with the likes of Time and Life. Wilkes's monologues are a bore, and his designs for magazine publishing and the Crater mystery are more than a little bit implausible. The case is now is a quarter-century old, its every lead exhausted. But Dunne can't resist a cold case?and Wilkes's young assistant, the driven and alluring Nan Renard, captures his imagination.

My friend Joshua Glenn calls the cohort born between 1894 and 1903 the Hardboiled Generation. It was, as Fitzgerald would write in his debut novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), one that had "grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken." The men in Quinn's book are born of this generation. Caught between the rigors of combat and the ennui of peace and pleasure, they bear all the hardboiled hallmarks: the brittle dialogue, the breakfasts of bourbon and toast, the small-time tribalism of old New York. But the pleasures of The Man Who Never Returned are not to be found in its fealty to timeworn conceits. "History is one damn thing after another" could be a hardboiled sentiment, but it was historian Arnold Toynbee, born too early to be a proper hardboiled, who coined the phrase. He used it disparagingly, arguing in essence that those who believe it are condemned to experience it. The past, he argued, only makes sense when we can step back and see it whole.

But when does the luxury of that perspective ever present itself? In fact it's never so neat as one thing after another; it's many things happening all at once, most of them beyond hope of sorting out. One of the pleasures of historical fiction depends on the author's skill in interweaving the fabular and the factual?knitting into the tangled skein of acts and things a single golden thread of story. The task is similar to that of the criminal, really?if it's done well, it's impossible to know warp from weft. Quinn works his jaded dicks and dames with scores to settle quite intimately into that weave, where they sparkle and gleam. Their tics and hangups tell us what we need to know not only of their characters, but of their times as well. Explaining the tough Dunne's aversion to airliners, Quinn writes, "Planes always brought back the war, the rush, the anxiety, the need to get everywhere in a hurry. The thrill of looking down on the world from several thousand feet wore off quickly." There may only be a hip flask's worth of psychology in that observation, but it's served neat.

Quinn's jaded cops quote Ecclesiastes and Poe, Dante and Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas's aesthetic of clarity is especially salubrious in Dunne's line of work?and true to the hardboiled genre, it arrives almost too late. But in the end it's not Aquinas but an older saint, Ambrose, who holds the key to the Crater mystery?and that's as close to a spoiler as this review will come. The presence of such ancient shades in The Man Who Never Returned seems fanciful, but they're a reminder that the diversions and demons Quinn's characters pursue are ancient ones, not limited to one era or generation. In the end, the mystery is unraveled?but history claims its prerogative, swallowing up the answers. Joseph Force Crater?his name like the open hole in which Fintan Dunne and his generation first saw death?remains missing to this day.

--Matthew Battles

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Product Details

The Overlook Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.54(w) x 11.28(h) x 1.18(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Gabriel Byrne
I read Peter Quinn's novel The Man Who Never Returned. It is an utterly compelling story with a charismatic flawed protagonist in Finton Dunne. Gripping from the first page to the last, Peter Quinn creates a unique and utterly believable world, part history, part fiction. He is an enviably wonderful writer.
William Kennedy
In The Man Who Never Returned, Peter Quinn shapes a tantalizing tale around the enduring mystery of Judge Joseph Force Crater, whose disappearance remains a major mystery. Quinn knows New York and its politics better than anyone. The talk and the story are as sharp and hard-edged as they city they embody. This is noir fiction at its finest.
James Patterson
Peter Quinn just might make it into the history books himself. He is perfecting, if not actually creating, a genre you could call the history-mystery. The Man Who Never Returned is a dazzling story by a fine writer. Fintan Dunne is a memorably hero who you want to meet again & again.
Thomas Kelly
The Man Who Never Returned is a winner. A masterful and evocative tale, set in a beautifully rendered 1950's New York, it combines true crime with vivid imagining. This is that rare book: A first-rate thriller that seamlessly weaves together page-turning narrative with richly detailed characters whose motivations—complex, suspect, hidden—always ring true. (Thomas Kelly, author of A Testament of Devotion)
Kevin Baker
Peter Quinn writes about the old New York the way that Allen Furst writes about Paris. The Man Who Never Returned is not only a gripping take on one of the city's most enduring mysteries, but also a world in and of itself. You may never want to leave. (Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row)
T.J. English
Peter Quinn brings wit, panache and a deep knowledge of the Big Apple to his latest Fintan Dunne novel. The Man Who Never Returned is a taut thriller but also a meditation on life in the big city, where a well-connected municipal judge can disappear overnight and leave behind a mystery that transforms lives, confounds investigators, and - fortunately for lovers of detective fiction - provides Quinn with a fascinating plotline that fully utilizes his skills as a storyteller. (T.J. English, New York Times best-selling author of Havana Nocturne)

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The Man Who Never Returned 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My students read Ragtime and believed all that was written about real people. The problem with faction is that it becomes the truth in the popular culture. Quinn should have made this a novel and eliminated Judge Crater and his poor wife. Even so it is cumbersome to read and I would not recommend it.
Michael-Lechter More than 1 year ago
When a book has praise on its jacket with sources as varied as James Patterson and William Kennedy it's hard to know just where the book is going to fall. I was enraptured by this book from the second I picked it up. The writing is incredible as is the story- a fascinating history I learned about without even noticing it as I was so pulled into the plot. Despite being written so well one could call it "literary" it was exceptionally accessible. The author really writes New York well- hard to do- and has a gift for dialogue and humor. It has it all. HOUR OF THE CAT is shipping to me as I write this. Can't wait for another outing with Fintan Dunne.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
The mysterious disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater fascinates to this date. You won't find any answers in Peter Quinn's novel, but you will find a rather sloppy story encumbered by numerous mistakes. Even the cover jacket gets the date of the disappearance wrong. Quinn invents a story that is not without interest, but his tangents and lack of writing skills make it a bit of a slog. I liked it better than some of the other reviewers, as old New York interests me and Quinn gets a lot of that right. So take your chances, it may interest you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wouldn't recommend this book. One dimensional characters, some scenes, it seems, were unnecessarily drawn out, which made the story drag. For me the distraction of the misspelled words and the omission of other words spoiled the story..
NSALegal More than 1 year ago
A chore in its first hundred pages, disappointing in its conclusion, with far too many asides and didactic statements throughout, the story flickers occasionally with sporadic turns of phrase as well as some interesting clue placement. This reasonably noir-y mystery is worth one read-through, but not a return visit.
silo-sill More than 1 year ago
I've read Quinn before (HOUR OF THE CAT & BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE), but this is his best book yet. Fintan Dunne is back and better than ever. The book actually uses real sources of information to solve the disappearance of Judge Crater. Amazing and well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really... ever- does for New York what Chandler did for LA.
HarryLimeofLeonardoNJ More than 1 year ago
I read Quinn's Hour of the Cat which was a very entertaining historical detective novel set in NYC in the 30s and was really looking forward to his take on the old Judge Crater disappearance. I was not disappointed. Quinn really evokes New York like no other writer. I won't spoil the ending but he does pull it all together in the end. It's a page turner!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JohnnyFrancis More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book, and read about the author's life-long interest in the disappearance of Judge Crater in The New York Times. Great atmosphere - New York in 1930 and 1955 - and wonderful writing. The last 100 pages are totally riveting - could not put this book down! Highly recommended!
RichardTofel More than 1 year ago
Peter Quinn is a terrific novelist. But is this the true story? To find out, read my book Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater and the Man He Left Behind