The Man Who Never Returned

( 11 )

Overview

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 ...

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The Man Who Never Returned: A Novel

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Quinn delivers a satisfying solution to the real-life mystery of Joseph Crater, a New York City judge who disappeared in 1930, in this stellar hard-boiled historical, a sequel to The Hour of the Cat (2005). In 1955, a New York newspaper magnate offers PI Fintan Dunne carte blanche to investigate the case in the hope that Dunne will provide him with a sensational exclusive. Crater vanished just as an official inquiry into judicial corruption, ordered by then governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was getting underway. Perhaps Crater fled to avoid prosecution--or someone bumped him off because he knew too much. Restless in retirement, Dunne accepts the offer, despite his skepticism that such a cold trail can be meaningfully pursued. Quinn not only makes the existence of clues at such a late date plausible but also concocts an explanation that's both logical and surprising. The depth and complexity of the lead character is a big plus. (July)
Booklist
Freely mixing history, mystery, and novelistic license, Quinn offers a noir-ish tale of Tammany Hall politics, sex, crime, Broadway moguls, and cops, populated by more than a dozen interesting characters...Quinn's rich, insightful, evocative descriptions of New York, both in Crater's time and in 1955, will certainly please fans of historical crime novels.
The New York Times
The nonstop sizzle of two new historical novels set in Manhattan makes them strong candidates for the beach this summer.
Round-up of books about New York government
Kirkus Reviews
A novel that suggests a fictional resolution to a historical mystery. The disappearance of New York's Judge Joe Crater in 1930 sparked speculation for decades that has never completely dissipated. After a restaurant dinner one evening, he stepped into a taxi and was never seen again. Was he a murder victim, silenced because he was about to expose the corruption that had bought his appointment? Was he a possible embarrassment who could derail the presidential ambitions of New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt? Was he a womanizer who fell afoul of a spurned lover or perhaps a lover's mate? Maybe there was even someone who had designs on Crater's wife and wanted him out of the way. Or perhaps he vanished for reasons of his own. All of these explanations are possible, some even plausible, within the fourth novel by Quinn (Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America, 2007, etc.), a former New York publishing executive and political speechwriter. Though the author plainly knows the lay of the land through experience and research, the framing seems overcomplicated. The novel takes place on the 25th anniversary of the judge's disappearance, when a Rupert Murdoch-like journalism mogul hires detective Fintan Dunne (from Quinn's Hour of the Cat, 2005) to reopen the case. The publisher's heavily bankrolled interest seems something of a mystery to both the detective, who had been uneasily retired, and the reader. The judge never makes an appearance in the novel, except through the recollection of others, and almost all of the characters are fictional, with the notable exception of the judge's wife (or widow). "As long as people are interested in sex, crime, politics and the big city, Crater will continue to be of interest," explains an "Author's Note." But since the detective doesn't enter the picture until 25 years after the disappearance, most of his research comes from reading. Thus, despite the obligatory interludes of sex and violence, the reader spends much of the book looking over the protagonist's shoulder at what the detective is reading. This hybrid of mystery and history builds a compelling case but sets a leisurely pace in the process. . . .
The Barnes & Noble Review

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

  • ISBN-13: 9781590203880
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 8/5/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 630,482
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Quinn is the author of the novel Banished Children of Eve (winner of an American Book Award) and previously served as speechwriter for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. A third-generation New Yorker whose granparents were born in Ireland, he is currently Editorial Director for Time Warner and lives in Hastings, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2010

    Faction Becomes the Truth

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    Simply unputdownable

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Masterful Job

    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!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2010

    The best New York mystery ever

    Really... ever- does for New York what Chandler did for LA.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Still Unanswered

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2010

    Interesting mixture of fact/fiction however the many spelling errors, typos and omitted words were a major distraction for me

    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..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    But is it true?

    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

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Lacks a compelling story flow...

    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.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fantastic Thriller Based Around the Case of Judge Crater

    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!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    Pretty damn good

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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