Three Chords and the Truth – Review
Hector Lassiter is one of the most compelling literary creations of recent years– a crime novelist who ‘writes what he lives and lives what he writes’. Lassiter was born January 1, 1900, and he witnesses some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Whether he finds himself at the heart of a murder mystery with the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris, or dodging the bombs and bullets with Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, Lassiter is never far away from violence and intrigue. Three Chords and the Truth is the tenth and final novel in the Lassiter series, and, needless to say, it was eagerly anticipated by the many fans of the series.
Craig McDonald is the author behind the author, the creator of Hector Lassiter and the writer of five more novels outside the Lassiter series. McDonald began his career as a journalist and still works in that field today. Before his own fiction was published McDonald interviewed such crime writing luminaries as Ken Bruen, Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin and the Three James’s (Crumley, Ellroy and Sallis). One wonders if McDonald’s conversations with these titans of the genre, creators of their own authorial personas, had a role in how he conceived Lassiter, an author immensely conscious of his own image. I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig last year (you can read our long discussion here) and we talked about the genesis and inspiration behind the Lassiter character and novels.
The novel begins with a depiction of the real-life 1958 incident when the US air force jettisoned a nuclear bomb off the coast of Tybee Island South Carolina after a collision between a B-47 Bomber and F-86 Fighter Plane. The (thankfully) unexploded bomb was never recovered giving free range for McDonald to concoct a wild fictional aftermath. Lassiter, as is so often the case, finds himself to be the right man in the wrong place: Nashville, 1958, Hector is stranded in a snowstorm and gets caught in a caper involving Federal agents, unhinged Country & Western stars and a right-wing racist cabal (who are the last people on earth anyone would want a nuclear weapon to fall into the hands of). There are shades here of the apocalyptic-themed film adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly (1955), but it’s not just the threat of a nuclear catastrophe that looms large over the novel, there is also a complete meta-fictional reworking of the Lassiter character and authorial persona which will make you question the nature of every page of the entire series. Take this description of crime writing in the novel:
The craft of fiction writing had earned the fifty-something Lassiter a good and steady living; nice threads, pretty women and a chance to roam widely: to see a bigger world than he would ever have glimpsed working some nine-to-five, wage-slave day job in his native Southern Texas.
It is the ‘bigger world’ that every reader and writer in their heart aspires to, and the one that McDonald has given us through the Lassiter series, which is given a radical new perspective in the final pages of Three Chords.
The best Lassiter novels are the ones that give you a vivid sense of era and setting. Fans of Country music and the Nashville scene and nuclear war paranoia will rank Three Chords as their favourite Lassiter tale, but for me, I marginally prefer Death in the Face as the novel is a tribute to Ian Fleming and the world of James Bond which resonated with my cultural interests more strongly. Still, Three Chords is a superb novel and powerful coda to the Lassiter series.