E.V. CUNNINGHAM. The Case of the One-Penny Orange (1977).

24 Mar

OnePennyCover.jpg A great many events crowd the pages of this very slim volume—events that agitate the otherwise Zen-clean mind of Sergeant Masao Masuto, chief of the Beverly Hills homicide squad. A burglar ransacks the home of porn producer Jack Briggs and his wife, Ellen, and takes nothing. A murderer shoots a .22-caliber bullet through the skull of Ivan Gaycheck, a dealer in collectible stamps. A young man, Gaycheck’s assistant, receives a fatal beating in his West Hollywood apartment.

Lurking behind this crime spree, possibly, is the quest for a lost postage stamp. Printed in 1847 by the British colony of Mauritius, it is the dearest stamp in the world, originally worth one penny and now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gaycheck’s real identity—he was an SS officer at Buchenwald—might bear on the case as well.

Masuto, a first-generation American of Japanese descent (a Nisei, that is), possesses a humble calm that sets him apart from all who surround him. He meditates on these goings-on and comes to see their true meaning. His method is one of conjecture, rather than detection, but his triumph seems well-earned nonetheless.

[ADDENDUM: “E.V. Cunningham” was a pseudonym of Howard Fast, a prolific novelist and screenwriter, best known perhaps for writing the novel Spartacus, which formed the basis of the 1960 film of the same title. In that novel and in some of this other work, Fast imported the concerns and the sympathies of his leftist politics, for which he was also well known. But, leaving aside the admiring portrayal of the non-white Masuto (along with the assumption that being an SS officer is a bad thing), One-Penny Orange has no politics to speak of.]

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Posted by on March 24, 2010 in American, Novel, Procedural


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