cover image Wake Up Little Susie: A Mystery

Wake Up Little Susie: A Mystery

Edward Gorman. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0665-5

In 1957 perhaps the only thing worse than a new Ford Edsel is a new Ford Edsel with a dead body in the trunk. Veteran crime writer Gorman painstakingly evokes small-town America in the late '50s for this nostalgic prequel to The Day the Music Died. Sam McCain is a young lawyer and PI in quiet Black River Falls, Iowa. Susan Squires is the body discovered in the ill-fated new car while the whole town is engaged in a parade sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Though the police are called to the crime scene, the bumbling efforts of the ruthless sheriff lead the local judge to assign Sam to the case on the q.t. Sam's prime suspect is Susan's abusive husband, David, a politically ambitious DA. Then David dies, and suspicion shifts to his ex-wife and to Susan's ex-lover. Gorman spends more time polishing up the period details, delving into the town's social intrigues and recounting Sam's love life than he does advancing the murder investigation. But his subplots converge when Mary Travers, a young woman who loves Sam and who was Susan Squire's best friend, vanishes. Gorman's assured prose fits his subject like a tailored suit. He mentions every song playing on the car radio as young couples neck in back seats, and the overall effect is a lot like a Bob Greene newspaper column set inside a mystery. Though the investigation moves slowly, Gorman's depiction of the town's rivalries keeps the tension strong. (Jan.)